Kirk Thomas Cameron was born in Panorama City, California, to Barbara Cameron (née Barbara Jeanne Bausmith), a homemaker, and Robert Cameron, a teacher. Though his parents initially did not project show business aspirations onto their children, a family friend in the business noted to Barbara that both Kirk and his sister, Candace Cameron Bure, were cute enough that they could easily pick up lucrative work in commercials. After Cameron began appearing in TV ads for “Polaroid”, “McDonald’s” and “Count Chocula” cereal, he found himself wound up in Hollywood’s notorious child-star mill, netting minor cute-kid parts in a handful of TV movies, including a couple of Disney projects and two ABC Afterschool Specials (1972) (1972-95). In 1983, he landed a regular gig, as a precocious kid, in ABC’s Two Marriages (1983), a show that remained on the air less than a month. He found a more winning formula in 1985 with Growing Pains (1985), playing the oldest son of a family headed by a psychiatrist (Alan Thicke) and a journalist (Joanna Kerns), one in a sequence of family network sitcoms characterized by with-it parents and mischievous-but-squeaky-clean kids. On the show, Cameron played the incorrigible but dumb “Mike Seaver” and his winning portrayal won over a large number of teen fans. In spite of scathing critical notices, “Growing Pains” ranked among Nielsen’s top 20 network shows for its first four seasons, rising to No. 5 in its 1987-88 year. On the heels of his sitcom success, Cameron appeared in his first feature film in 1986, the Robin Williams/Kurt Russell glory-days comedy, The Best of Times (1986).
ABC would pump up Cameron as its “It” boy, and his trademark smirk in coming years would grace covers of a raft of teen magazines. Meanwhile, job offers cropped up to exploit his proverbial 15 minutes; he played the son/father of Dudley Moore in Like Father Like Son (1987), one of Hollywood’s periodic flavor-du-jour retreads of the mystical parent/sibling body-switch comedies; netted the starring role in a high-profile Pepsi Super Bowl XXIV commercial; rated top-billing in Listen to Me (1989), an overwrought, widely-panned college drama about debate team wonks arguing against Roe v. Wade; and did a guest-shot, alongside sister Candace, on her ABC sister sitcom, Full House (1987) (1987-1995). Firmly established as the resident star of “Growing Pains”, Cameron saw his pay jump to $50,000 a week and his fans sending him some 10,000 letters a week. But his coming-of-age took an unexpected turn, at least for everyone who worked with him. As he would later recall it in his autobiography, “Still Growing”, the family of his first girlfriend initially exposed the 17-year-old to evangelical Christianity. Cameron experienced what he would later describe as a “life-changing encounter with Jesus” and declared himself “born again”.
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