By Stacy Jenel Smith
Their talents are phenomenal. Their charisma and charm overflows. They're physically beautiful people. They are the Roberts family, most notably noted for Julia
, the most successful Hollywood film actress in the world at the turn of the new millennium, and for Eric, who's riding high on a hit TV show, ABC's "Less Than Perfect."
Now, with Emma Roberts' appearances on Nickelodeon's "Unfabulous," and a starring part in the currently-shooting "Aquamarine" -- a film about two teens (the other's played by pop star JoJo) who find a real mermaid in a pool -- the 13-year-old daughter of Eric is stepping into the spotlight.
The Roberts clan, which also includes New York theater actress Lisa Roberts, is becoming a Hollywood dynasty.
Their saga is one of the heights of success and the depths of despair.
The famed siblings have been caught up in an estrangement for many years. At one time the three were close, living in New York, and it was Eric who helped launch Julia's career by convincing a director to cast her in the film "Blood Red."
Eric, now 48, was already a known actor who'd studied at both the London Academy of Dramatic Art and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, done daytime TV, and made a tremendous film debut in 1978's "King of the Gypsies," when Julia started coming up in the business.
He drew the kind of critical praise actors dream of for his performances in such movies as "Star 80," in which he played the psychotic husband of doomed Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, "The Pope of Greenwich Village," and "Runaway Train," the latter of which earned him a 1985 Oscar nomination. In the dust of his own personal problems and rush of his sister's fame, it's sometimes forgotten just how gifted an actor Eric is - but in those days he was about as hot as up-and-coming young movie stars get.
And yet, once Julia's career took off with "Mystic Pizza" in 1988 -- followed up by her trademark hit and nickname forever after, "Pretty Woman" and her first Oscar nomination, for "Steel Magnolias" -- it became obvious that her star was eclipsing his. This, it's been speculated, may have caused resentment on his part.
But Eric had no one to blame but himself for many of the problems in their relationship, and he has admitted as much.
At one point, he told The Advocate, "I was your basic drug addict. I was not responsible for what I was taking responsibility for. So I made my family hate me?my sisters (Lisa and Julia) decided I was more trouble than I was worth. And personally, I can't blame them." He has been reported as saying that his daily cocaine addiction started the week after his dad died in 1977 and did not end until 1991.
Ironically, daughter Emma's first big film was "Blow," the Johnny Depp picture set in the cocaine trade, with then 10-year-old Emma as Depp's onscreen daughter.
To make the situation more complex, Julia became very close to Eric's daughter Emma, by girlfriend Kelly Cunningham. After things got especially ugly in the breakup of Eric and Kelly - complete with accusations of domestic violence - Eric was widely reported to have evicted Kelly and Emma, then seven months old, from his house. And Julia was subsequently reported to have bought them a house of their own. She also was reported as taking Kelly's side in their 1993 custody battle.
During the years that Eric hardly saw Emma, Julia was there. Paparazzi snapped pictures of the Academy Award-winning, $20 million-a-movie making Julia doting on her niece, going on outings with Emma and then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt.
At one time, Eric told us that his family bitterness went back to his roots. Among other things, he said, he resented his mother (who remarried and in 1976 gave birth to the Roberts acting trio's half-sister, Nancy) taking undue credit for teaching him and Julia how to act.
Julia has termed them her "wonderfully dysfunctional" family. The Smyrna, Georgia-based Roberts family drama began with the split of parents Betty, a real estate agent/actress, and Walter, a drama teacher, when Julia was four years old. Julia and Lisa stayed with their mother, while Eric went to live with his father. It was only six years later that Walter died of cancer.
But now, the horrible times are more than a decade behind them. Eric's marriage to wife Eliza is 12 years old. Julia's settled in with husband Danny Moder and their three-month-old twin son and daughter. And Emma's star is on the rise, with Nickelodeon executives talking about launching her as a pop singer in addition to her acting career.
The stage is set for, if not reconciliation, at least rapprochement in the family, and there have been rumors of a thaw. One can only hope and pray they're true, for, like any famous, larger-than-life family, the Roberts cannot help but inspire legions of fans by their actions. And if they can get along after all they've been through, there'll be more hope out there for others to follow suit.