Whatever Happened To Punky Brewster's Actress?

Nearly 40 years ago, she was one of the most successful, omnipresent, and widely-liked child stars on the planet, and it was all thanks to one unforgettable role. From 1984 to 1988, Soleil Moon Frye carried the sitcom "Punky Brewster" as Penelope "Punky" Brewster, an abandoned child with a big heart and funky fashion sense who thawed the icy demeanor of lonely, elderly photographer Henry (George Gaynes), who reluctantly became her caretaker and adoptive father.

Frye was so famous so young — she was eight years old when "Punky" premiered — that the transition to adulthood, and grown-up roles, proved rocky, as it does for many child stars past and present. Part of a showbiz family, Frye continued to work in and around the entertainment industry, in mainstream and indie projects and in adjacent fields, all the while showing a lot of agency for exploration and entrepreneurship. Here's what's been going on for the last 35 years or so in the life of the real person behind Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye.

She had major surgery as a teenager

Soleil Moon Frye was 12 years old when "Punky Brewster" ended its run in 1988. Soon thereafter, puberty hit hard, as Frye's body matured at a faster-than-normal rate. "I started developing. And I started developing rapidly, going from a B to a C to double D, to almost filling into an E. And this all happened between the time that I finished Punky 'till I was 15," Frye told Entertainment Weekly. Subsequently, and in an unnerving way, casting agents and productions sought to cast Frye in parts that she felt were too mature, or that sexualized her. "So the roles that I was getting offered at 13, 14 years old are all t*** and a** roles and I'm 13. I went from living this amazing childhood to almost being forced into adulthood."

At age 15, Frye was diagnosed with gigantomastia – excessively large breasts — a condition that can be both physically and mentally painful. "It was hard for me even to give somebody a hug," she told People. "I couldn't sit up straight without people looking at me like I was a prostitute. My breasts became an insecurity." In early 1992, just before her 16th birthday, Frye underwent a surgical breast reduction procedure. "I am making a transition in my life. I want kids to know that it is okay to make a change in order to feel better about themselves," the actor said at the time. "I didn't know I would be so happy."

She moved into voice acting

After the end of "Punky Brewster," Soleil Moon Frye was somewhat stymied professionally. In 1988, she starred in a TV pilot, "Cadets," that wasn't picked up for a full series, and she was given many roles she felt were exploitative, such as idealized crush objects on episodes of "The Wonder Years" and "Saved by the Bell." During her time on "Punky Brewster," Frye had played the title character on the Saturday morning cartoon version of the series, "It's Punky Brewster," and from the '90s on, Frye was able to find consistent work as a voice actor in animated projects. She guest-starred on many fondly remembered '90s programs of the animated variety, including "Tiny Toon Adventures," "The Ren and Stimpy Show," "Johnny Bravo," and "What a Cartoon!"

Since 2004, Frye has been the go-to voice actor to play Jade in non-theatrical projects based on the line of Bratz dolls, including the direct-to-video "Starrin' and Stylin'," "Genie Magic," and "Passion 4 Fashion – Diamondz," the animated "Bratz" TV series, and the video games "Rock Angelz" and "Forever Diamondz." Frye is also a long-standing member of the cast of Disney's "The Proud Family" franchise, giving voice to Zoey Howzer in the original 2001-2005 series, "The Proud Family Movie," and the 2020s reboot show "The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder."

She had some high-profile romances with Hollywood rogues

Soleil Moon Frye worked sporadically as a live-action actor in the 1990s, but remained in Los Angeles to attend school and step up her involvement with charitable organizations. A famous, well-connected teenager and young adult, she also dated a string of celebrity men, nearly all of them notable for a hard-partying, dangerous, or rebellious lifestyle.

Frye briefly dated Mark Wahlberg, after his imprisonment for acts of racial violence, and right when he was emerging as pop-rapper Marky Mark. "I had a huge crush on Mark and we did go to a party together and we were friendly," Frye told "Watch What Happens Live." "And then I would go to his performances because I was so crushed out." In 1991, the publicist for the teen star of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Edward Furlong, convinced Frye to go out on a date with their client, and a long-term romance blossomed. 

At age 18, as Frye revealed in the documentary "Kid 90" (via Us Weekly), her first sexual experience was with actor Charlie Sheen, who was 29 at the time. A few years later, Frye dated Danny O'Connor, also known as Danny Boy, a member of the '90s one-hit wonder rap group House of Pain. He was heavily addicted to drugs at the time, and broke up with Frye to not pull her into his lifestyle of substance abuse. "We had a really cool run, but in the end, I was on a downward spiral," O'Connor told Page Six.

She started writing and directing films

As Soleil Moon Frye's acting career slowed down in the late 1990s and early 2000s, consisting primarily of indie films, B-movie roles, and one-off sitcom appearances, she took an alternate approach: writing and directing her own projects. In 1998, Frye teamed up with her older half-brother Meeno Peluce — also a 1980s kid actor, best known for the sci-fi show "Voyagers!" — to both write and direct the low-key indie drama "Wild Horses." Frye also appeared in the ensemble cast of the film, alongside House of Pain rapper Danny Boy, LA billboard model Angelyne, and Cypress Hill's B-Real, as a group of young people convinced they've only got hours left alive.

Six years later, Frye went behind the camera again, helming the documentary "Sonny Boy." A very personal project in which she also appeared on camera, the film examined Frye's father, boxer and movie makeup artist Virgil Frye. Frye filmed "Sonny Boy" over the course of a two-week road trip with her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and looking to repair his relationship with his daughter before he died.

She got married, had some kids, and got divorced

Following some high-profile romances with actors and musicians, Soleil Moon Frye found the man she wanted to marry. Jason Goldberg also worked in the entertainment industry, albeit behind the camera as a producer, most frequently shepherding along reality TV projects with his professional partner, Ashton Kutcher. At age 22 in 1998, Frye married Goldberg, and soon thereafter, they started a family. The couple raised four children together, including daughter Poet Sienna (born in 2005), another daughter, Jagger Joseph Blue (born in 2008), son Lyric Sonny Roads (in 2014), and second son Story (in 2016). In between kids numbers two and three, Frye and Goldberg renewed their vows, in 2008.

In December 2020, Frye's representative told People that the actor and her producer husband had decided to end their marriage after 22 years. "Soleil Moon Frye and Jason Goldberg quietly separated this year," the rep said. "Their priority will continue to be their four beautiful children as they move forward with love and compassion." A complicated legal battle ensued, with the former spouses agreeing to a plan in April 2022, that included Goldberg paying Frye monthly spousal support and child support payments totaling just over $36,000, and Frye ceding $631,000 to Goldberg to retain the family home in Venice, California.

She joined the cast of a popular teen show

In 2000, Soleil Moon Frye landed her first regular role on a network sitcom since the demise of "Punky Brewster" in the late 1980s. She joined the cast of the long-running "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," opposite fellow former child star Melissa Joan Hart, whom Frye knew from the early '80s kid acting circuit; Frye beat Hart for the lead role on "Punky Brewster." The family-friendly sitcom had reinvented itself after four years and 100 episodes, moving from ABC to The WB, and removing Hart's character out of high school and into a college setting. Frye portrayed Sabrina's wisecracking friend and roommate, Roxie King. "Melissa and I have been friends for a long time, and she told me about the part," Frye told Entertainment Weekly of her sudden return to series TV.

Frye remained a part of "Sabrina" for 66 episodes over the course of three seasons, which would end up the last three of the series. While still best known for "Punky Brewster" and its 88 episodes, Frye spent almost as much time playing the best friend of a young witch as she did a self-reliant little kid.

She started a children's clothing business

Shortly after welcoming her first child, actor Soleil Moon Frye and two friends who'd also just given birth to their first children, Paige Goldberg Tolmach and Beth Birkett, endeavored to open a store that sold clean, environmentally sustainable baby and kid stuff. In 2007, Frye helped open The Little Seed, a shop in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Larchmont Village. Frye helped establish the store, also a parenting education center and gathering place. It sold eco-mindful skincare products, toys, bedding, and clothing for babies and children, as well as housing an area where women could comfortably nurse, new parents could take classes, and kids could participate in arts and crafts activities. In 2010, The Little Seed expanded with a house line of environmentally friendly, domestically produced children's clothing made from organic materials.

Just two years later, The Little Seed's retail outlet in Larchmont Village closed down – Frye helped convert the business into a fully online-only store.

She positioned herself as a parenting expert

After the birth of her first two children in the 2000s, Soleil Moon Frye de-prioritized acting in order to focus her attention on raising her kids. Within a few years, she'd taken what she'd learned as a parent and made it to a business for herself. Across several outlets, Frye offered parenting expertise and advice, building what was one of the most influential and widely read "mommy blogs" of the 2010s. That led to such a robust social media following for Frye — with more than 1.4 million followers on X (formerly known as Twitter) — that Target hired her to be a consultant and pitch-person known as a "Mommy Ambassador," recommending favorite products to new parents.

To that end, Frye expanded her instructional empire to include a web series called "Her Say," and in 2011 she published her first book, "Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between." Partially a memoir of her "Punky Brewster" days and acting life, Frye wrote mainly about her parenting-oriented business endeavors and experiences as a mother.

Soleil Moon Frye knows how to party

Just after the birth of her third child in 2014, Soleil Moon Frye co-founded a business that had little to do with acting: a party supply company. With a couple of other entrepreneurs, Frye started P.S. XO, a business that sold big boxes packed with everything necessary to stage a themed party for children. The signature product of P.S. XO: Celebration in a Box, a $100 package that included favors, decorations, food service items, and craft activities, available in three styles: safari, pirate, or fairy. P.S. XO at launch also sold Celebrate, a kit for outdoor baby and bridal showers, geared toward adults. "My entire life I've loved throwing parties, and aesthetics have always been important to me. This has been a true labor of love and something fun that I've been able to work on with my kids," Moon Frye told People.

The company was so successful that within a year of its launch, Frye and her business partners sold the whole thing. Seedling, a similar company based in New Orleans that makes toys and crafts, merged P.S. XO into its operations via an infusion of venture capital. Frye gave up her role as Chief Creative Officer and joined Seedling as a creative consultant.

She made a documentary about the kid actor life

Fully aware that she's still famous in the 2020s due to the goodwill generated by her acting work in the 1980s and 1990s, Soleil Moon Frye decided to reflect on and reckon with her unique form of celebrity via documentary filmmaking. Frye directed the 2021 film "kid 90," built around the hundreds of hours of home movie footage the actor captured with a constantly present camcorder as a teenager and young adult in the 1990s. Other materials like diaries, photos, and saved voicemails comprised the rest of the raw material for "kid 90." "I kept it all in Tupperware and locked it away in a vault for 20 years," Frye told "Entertainment Tonight." "And it took an entire lifetime to really get the courage to go back into Pandora's box."

Intending to make a documentary about her friends — young Hollywood stars of yore, like Brian Austin Green, Charlie Sheen, Jonathan Brandis, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar — "kid 90" became accidentally autobiographical. "I didn't want the documentary to be anything about me," she said. "I kept peeling back the onion and the deeper and deeper I got, the more it became this personal coming-of-age story." Picked up by Hulu and presented as a film exclusive to the streaming service, "kid 90" earned rave reviews and won a prize for best streaming nonfiction project at the 2021 Hollywood Critics Association Television Awards.

She rebooted Punky Brewster

In the late 2010s, a TV industry-wide reboot craze saw the return of favorites from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s to the small screen. Joining the new and updated versions of "Will and Grace," "Murphy Brown," "Boy Meets World," "Roseanne," "Charmed," and "Full House": a 10-episode "Punky Brewster" continuation. Before it launched in 2020, the NBCUniversal-owned, NBC-affiliated streaming service Peacock ordered reboots of some cherished chestnuts, including "Saved by the Bell" and "Punky Brewster." 

Soleil Moon Frye starred as a grown-up Punky, a divorced mother of three who takes in Izzy, a plucky foster child extremely similar to young Punky. "To our incredible fans who have stood by us, thank you for believing in me and I will do my best to make you proud. I love you. Punky Power forever!" Frye said in a statement announcing the new series (via Variety).

When Season 1 of the newer "Punky Brewster" finally debuted on Peacock, a year after its announcement in February 2021, it was met with so-so, vaguely positive reviews from critics. "There's nothing here that strives to be remotely novel," wrote Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times. "But as a new season of 'Punky Brewster,' it is unimpeachable." While fans gave the show a 74% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, there evidently weren't enough viewers to justify continuing the reboot. Six months after Season 1's upload, Peacock canceled "Punky Brewster."

She's a meningitis vaccine advocate

Soleil Moon Frye reunited with her childhood friend and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" co-star Melissa Joan Hart in 2023, for a project that blurred the line between commercial and public health advocacy. Drug manufacturer GSK paid for the production of a 17-minute film (and a condensed, three-minute version) on the subject of meningitis B. Presented as a series of interviews with doctors and meningitis B patients, "I Never Thought to Ask: A Mom's Quest for Answers" stars Frye and Hart as themselves, parents seeking to learn more about the communicable disease, characterized by inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord and brain, which can be fatal.

GSK makes and distributes a vaccine to prevent the spread of meningitis B, apart from the aims of its Ask2BSure campaign to raise awareness of the disease. "I am grateful to the women who shared their personal stories as part of this short film," Frye said in a GSK press release about the project, distributed digitally and aired on the Lifetime cable network. "They echo my hope that its message encourages parents to talk openly with their teens and their teen's doctor about the potential serious dangers associated with meningitis B."