News Digging > Culture > Zac Efron’s Tragic True Life Story – Looper
Zac Efron’s Tragic True Life Story – Looper
Zac Efron's Tragic True Life Story - Looper,Zac Efron, star of "Baywatch" and "The Iron Claw," has had a surprisingly turbulent, tragic true life story. Here are all the details on Efron's career.

Zac Efron’s Tragic True Life Story – Looper

Zac Efron has come quite a long way since his entertainment industry origins. The actor first took the spotlight in the now-iconic Disney Channel movie “High School Musical,” which spawned a franchise of films and TV shows that also launched the careers of stars like Vanessa Hudgens, Austin Butler, and Olivia Rodrigo. Efron has since made prominent appearances in raunchy comedies like “Neighbors,” as well as dramatic turns in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” and “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.” 

However, Efron has also faced a lot of turmoil off-screen in his personal life, with many of these moments plaguing him at the very beginning of his career. He’s dealt with the grief of losing family members and co-stars, the pressures of public attention on his romantic life and performances, as well as several near-death experiences that could’ve drastically changed the trajectory of his career.

Although Efron is on top of the world right now, with a high-profile performance as wrestler Kevin Von Erich in the A24 sports drama “The Iron Claw,” it hasn’t been an easy journey. These moments and stories from throughout Efron’s life showcase the darker times of the former “High School Musical” heartthrob.

Zac Efron struggled to fit in at school

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In “High School Musical,” Zac Efron portrays Troy Bolton, the varsity basketball star whose pursuit of singing at East High’s winter musical with Vanessa Hudgens’ Gabriella throws off the balance of the school’s social hierarchy. This was a far cry from Efron’s own experiences in school, where he was never a sports prodigy. According to a staff member at Efron’s alma mater (via The Mirror), “He wasn’t exactly the school heart-throb, he didn’t really mingle with the other students because he was always at the theatre and you never saw him with girls.” 

Efron instead found company in his own family, taking road trips where they would encourage him to pursue his passion. Despite Efron’s hesitance, his family wouldn’t allow him not to follow his passion, driving him to auditions for local musicals and film productions. This continued success made Efron stand out quite a bit from his teenage peers, but not in a way that made him a popular kid or an outcast. Nevertheless, it would likely have been difficult to maintain a steady social life and good grades if your primary focus was on auditioning.

Fortunately, it was all worth it, as Efron booked roles early on in TV shows like “Firefly” and “ER.” Though he eschewed a typical high school experience and social life, if his social media is anything to go by, he remains close to his family despite being a movie star.

Zac Efron felt left out during High School Musical

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By all accounts, the success that Zac Efron achieved after starring in the hit Disney Channel film “High School Musical” should’ve put him on cloud nine. However, Efron felt as though he had not earned the success, as he was the only cast member of the film to not sing his own songs. Although Efron had recorded Troy Bolton’s singing for the first film, Disney ended up overdubbing his singing parts with Drew Seeley without telling him.

In interviews, Efron rightly seems to feel a little embarrassed about it. “I was not really given an explanation,” Efron said of the dub in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “It just kind of happened that way. Unfortunately, it put me in an awkward position.” Efron explained to Rolling Stone that he felt like he didn’t deserve the many achievements of “High School Musical” after his singing was replaced: “What do you do when the en­tire cast is supposed to accept an award at the Billboard Awards and your voice is only on the album in a select few lines? I felt extremely guilty.” Efron did, however, sing the praises of Seeley, though, and fought to be allowed to sing for the subsequent films.

This decision ended up being for the best, as Efron ended up singing the now-iconic “High School Musical 2” tune “Bet On It.” Efron also provided his own vocals in 2017’s “The Greatest Showman” co-starring Hugh Jackman and Zendaya.

His dating life has attracted tabloid discussion

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Like many teen heartthrobs, Zac Efron’s dating life following the success of “High School Musical” became quite an interest to tabloids and entertainment media. Notably, after working together on the first “High School Musical” film, Efron was involved in a romance with his on-screen love interest, Vanessa Hudgens. However, their romance ended in 2010 after four years together. 

Since Hudgens, Efron has been romantically linked in the media to many co-stars and fellow celebrities, from future “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” co-star Lily Collins to Alexandra Daddario during their press junket for “Baywatch.” Rumors also followed Efron and his “The Lorax” co-star, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. During an appearance on “Ellen,” Efron and Swift were confronted about their alleged relationship, though both of them denied it, with Swift claiming, “You hear people get together when they’re shooting movies, co-stars. But not like animated movie co-stars.” 

Efron later told The Times that he struggled to keep a positive outlook on dating given the media scrutiny he faced: “Dating is something I’ll never be able to do. … A date has to be very long to dispel whatever people think about me.” He said social media, particularly regarding his dating life, has also negatively impacted his mental health: “I lost my mind because of the Internet. I’d read 30 positive things and one bad thing, then I’d harbor that bad thing. It drove me crazy.”

Zac Efron struggled with drugs and alcohol during his rise to fame

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The years after “High School Musical” weren’t exactly easy on Zac Efron, as media attention toward his personal life continued to grow. He said he developed a dependency on alcohol during those years, but Efron also turned to cocaine and ended up going to rehab in 2013 as a result of his addiction. As he told the New Zealand Herald in 2016 of his downward spiral, “There was a moment when my morning routine was, like, get up and Google yourself. … I wasn’t really being myself.”

Living sober hasn’t been easy on Efron either, particularly in 2016 when he played a spiraling frat boy in “Neighbors,” which nearly resembled his real-life struggles. Through the character of Teddy Sanders, Efron said, he was reminded of his own experiences being a bad neighbor, albeit those days are long gone now that he’s sober. Efron even kept it professional on the set of “Neighbors” when confronted with his past behavior in his character. However, like anybody, staying sober is a constant daily struggle for Efron, though he has not wavered in his sobriety since he sought rehab.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He got into a brawl with an unhoused person

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As much as Zac Efron has spent recent years trying to clean up his image, he’s been followed by some pretty peculiar gossip that’s turned out to be true. One instance was in 2014, when tabloids reported that Efron had gotten into a brawl with an unhoused person in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles, which invited both confusion and speculation about Efron’s condition at the time. 

Initial reports indicated that Efron and a person he claimed was his bodyguard were involved in a fight with at least three unhoused people. Their car had reportedly broken down along the freeway, they inadvertently instigated a fight with some unhoused people nearby, and the police eventually came to break it up. Later, Efron told a different story to The Hollywood Reporter, saying that he and his friend ran out of gas along the freeway very early in the morning and were waiting for an Uber. Efron alleged that an unhoused person approached the car and tapped on the window and that his friend got out to fight him — Efron only intervened when he saw the person had a weapon. Efron got punched in the face. Police arrived soon after.

Luckily, no arrests were made in the aftermath of the incident, as police determined it was “mutual combat.” Nevertheless, Efron called the confrontation “the most terrifying moment in my life.”

Zac Efron needed emergency surgery after he broke his jaw

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Though midnight brawls with knife-wielding people may seem dangerous enough for Zac Efron, the actor’s closest brush with death actually came inside the comfort of his own home. In 2013, Efron slipped and fell while running in his home, bashing his jaw into an indoor fountain. When he returned to consciousness, he said, his jawbone was hanging off his face. Thankfully, Efron’s younger brother was home at the time to get him to the hospital, where Efron required emergency surgery to have it wired shut. 

As part of Efron’s recovery from the accident, he began attending physical therapy to help heal his jaw. The immediate aftermath also saw him only consuming foods as liquids for six weeks, which caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight. 

However, Efron’s injury didn’t prevent him from public humiliation at the hands of his co-stars. While promoting his 2014 film “The Awkward Moment” with co-stars Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller — after he only began going out in public again in November 2013 following the accident — the future “Fantastic Four” stars took the opportunity to describe the accident happening as a result of bad sex on Efron’s behalf.

Training for Baywatch took a serious toll on his mental health

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Zac Efron’s streak of more adult performances continued in 2017 with the R-rated film reboot of the iconic “Baywatch” series, which formerly starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Efron starred alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Alexandra Daddario in the film as a former Olympic medalist who joins the team of lifeguards to help bring down a drug empire. As expected, playing an Olympian-turned-lifeguard required a lot of preparation for Efron physically.

Efron’s workout routine for “Baywatch” required real-life lifeguard training, weight-lifting, and a super-clean diet that consisted of mostly rice pasta and lean proteins. Part of his training also forced him to start taking diuretics, as well as seek out Lasix surgery, to achieve a nearly impossible look.

Years later, Efron highly criticized the amount of stress he put himself through to maintain that physique for “Baywatch.” As he described to Men’s Health, during production of the film he “started to develop insomnia … and I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out.” Though Efron achieved this near-impossible physique for “Baywatch,” it unfortunately took a massive toll on his mental health. The Hollywood fitness lifestyle he had spent years acclimating to suddenly felt destructive, and he realized he needed to dramatically reconsider his relationship to fitness, dieting, and his body after his prep for “Baywatch” messed him up so badly.

Zac Efron took a dark, disturbing role when he signed on to play Ted Bundy

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Though he had successfully moved past his Disney Channel reputation, Zac Efron’s film output in the 2010s still centered on comedies and music, with “Dirty Grandpa” and “The Greatest Showman” being his most notable work at the time. However, in 2019, the actor made a huge swing when he was cast in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

The film was Efron’s darkest, most dramatic lead role yet, and his casting was controversial among audiences. While the former “High School Musical” actor certainly captures Bundy’s charisma and looks, some were concerned the film would romanticize the killer. Efron was also understandably worried the film would be seen as disrespectful to the real-life families of Bundy’s victims. 

Efron struggled to pull himself out of the dark place required to go to for the character, telling Entertainment Weekly, “The demeanor [on set] was very thoughtful and serious. … On the way home I just do some TM [transcendental meditation] and try to phase out of it. Really, you can’t ever really let go of all of it. There’s always a little bit of you that knows tomorrow you’re Ted.” According to the Daily Mail, he told press at the London premiere, “I’ve never played a role in which I really have to separate myself from when I go home at night, and it was almost impossible.”

He was hospitalized during production of a documentary series


Outside of scripted projects, Zac Efron also ventured into unscripted documentary work in the late 2010s. One such project filmed in 2019 was “Killing Zac Efron,” a docuseries for the short-lived streaming service Quibi, where Efron was set to spend nearly a month off the grid attempting to survive in harsh natural environments. The title of the series ended up having an ironic pay-off when, while filming in Papua New Guinea, Efron contracted an infection believed to be typhoid fever, and nearly died. 

After being airlifted to Australia for treatment, Efron confirmed that he had survived the near-death experience on his social media, returning to the United States healthy and in time for the holidays. As he wrote on Instagram: “I did get sick in Papua New Guinea but I bounced back quick and finished an amazing 3 weeks in P.N.G.” However, soon after, the entire world went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put “Killing Zac Efron” in jeopardy.

The streaming service Quibi lasted less than a year, shutting down in December 2020 after less than seven months of being active. As a result, many planned shows for Quibi were sold to Roku, while “Killing Zac Efron” never saw the light of day, despite all that Efron went through to make it. However, also in 2020, Efron made up for it with Netflix’s “Down to Earth with Zac Efron,” a travel series with two seasons as of 2022.

Rumors of plastic surgery followed him after his jaw recovery

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Although Zac Efron’s jaw injury happened almost 10 years ago now, the recovery is still something that affects him both physically to this day, especially for his public image. After a virtual appearance in 2021 celebrating Earth Day with Bill Nye, many of Efron’s fans noticed a huge change in the actor’s jawline, prompting speculation that he had undergone cosmetic surgery. Despite the media’s affection for criticizing or pointing out the physical appearances of celebrities, Efron had to later explain this specific change was a result of his life-saving surgery. 

Efron said he stopped going to physical therapy for his jaw while filming for “Down to Earth with Zac Efron,” causing the masseter muscles in his face to work on their own to heal the damage done by his fall in 2013, which explained how much they swelled up in 2021. 

Efron later learned of the speculation regarding him seeking plastic surgery from his mother, who was curious herself if her son physically altered his appearance. He didn’t take the public’s reaction too personally, telling ET Online, “It was funny. … It sucks. I almost died, but we’re good.” He did, however, feel the need to correct people’s assumptions when the media speculation was getting out of hand. 

Zac Efron was impacted by the death of Matthew Perry

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The entertainment world was struck with grief in October 2023 when it was reported that “Friends” star Matthew Perry tragically died in his own home at the age of 54. In the aftermath, as his fellow celebrity friends and co-stars poured in tributes, it was alleged by entertainment news figure Athenna Crosby that Perry had wanted a biopic made about his struggle with addiction, which he described in his 2022 memoir “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.”

Particularly, according to Crosby, Perry wanted his younger self to be played by none other than Zac Efron, who portrayed the “Friends” actor’s younger self before in the film “17 Again.” Although there are no official plans for a Matthew Perry biopic, Efron was asked about Perry’s impact on him while doing press for his film “The Iron Claw.” “I’m really still devastated by the fact that he is gone,” Efron said.

As Efron told People, “I looked up to him, I learned comedic timing from that guy. I mean, when we were filming ’17 Again,’ it was so surreal for me to look across and have him be there, because I’ve learned so much from him, from his whole life.” Efron also confirmed that he would be excited for the opportunity to portray Perry in a film based on his life but that he was also just honored to have been considered.

The Iron Claw was one of his greatest challenges yet on screen


Although Zac Efron’s career started on the Disney Channel, he’s come a long way from his “High School Musical” roots. As part of the journey, he’s faced addiction, life-threatening diseases, brutal workout regimens, and the pressure of celebrity life. However,  Efron is about to shock the world once more with his performance in A24’s upcoming “The Iron Claw,” in which he plays professional wrestler Kevin Von Erich.

Remembering how much he suffered for “Baywatch” in mind, Efron kept a much healthier training regimen for “The Iron Claw,” which personal trainer Farren Morgan helped craft. As Morgan told British GQ of the plan Efron committed to, “As a wrestler, Zac would need to focus on bulking workouts to optimize his strength and mobility training so that he remains fast and agile.” 

Training aside, Efron also had to overcome personal shame when it came to filming wrestling scenes as Von Erich. As he recalled to Men’s Health about a scene that saw him wearing a Speedo in front of a crowd, Efron thought, “This is it. This is the end. How did you get here? What choices have you made?” Thankfully, his effort seems to have paid off this time around, as not only critics have praised Efron’s performance, but Kevin Von Erich himself approved of it, making Efron’s struggle all the more worth it.