She was famous by 7, abusing drugs by 11, and at 15 was washed up and on her own. She may have come from acting royalty, but in many ways she was an orphan, a wild child raised by crews on movie sets. She is 34 now, and though she still sometimes talks like a teenager, she has become one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, succeeding far beyond what anyone could have predicted.
How did she do it? That's what we wanted to find out.
60 Minutes and CNN's Anderson Cooper met up with Barrymore on Broadway in New York. At the height of afternoon rush hour, she stopped traffic.
It has been a while, but a Barrymore on Broadway was something generations of New Yorkers were once used to.
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre on 47th Street in Manhattan is named for her great-aunt, a legendary stage actress in the early 1900s.
Standing under a photo of her great-aunt, Cooper noticed Drew Barrymore shares the same profile with her ancestor.
"I don't wanna be too self-congratulatory about it, I just love the fact that we have this sort of family stamp," Barrymore said.
That Barrymore stamp graced silver screens from silent movies through the 1940s. Her great-aunt Ethel and her grandfather John Barrymore were considered the greatest actors of their generation.
Barrymore's great-uncle, Lionel, was a famous character actor, who will forever be known as the sinister banker Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life."
Acting has been the family business for hundreds of years.
"Going back to Georgiana Drew and John Drew, and my great-grandfather Maurice Barrymore, and it was such a sort of circus of odd, interesting people that loved acting," Barrymore told Cooper.
"There are Barrymores that have been acting since George III was in power," he noted.
"Like the 14th century, it dates back to the family tree and I thought, 'Well, I'm not crazy if I feel this magnetic bloodline pull to do this thing," Barrymore said.
She felt the pull as a child, but she'd been pushed into the business long before that: when she was just 11 months old, she starred in a commercial for dog food.
Her big break however came at the age of 6 in the blockbuster hit "E.T."
Her scene-stealing portrayal of Gertie made her an international star; movie audiences loved the precocious little girl, and so did director Steven Spielberg, who Barrymore calls her "Godfather."
"I've always said about Drew that she's tenaciously optimistic," Spielberg said. "And she had really the kind of imagination that not only invited E.T. into a reality within herself, but it invited all of us to believe that what Drew was seeing was true."
On the set between takes, Barrymore used to talk with E.T. She'd tell him her secrets.
"I liked hanging out with him. And I would bring him lunch, and put a little handkerchief around his neck," Barrymore remembered.
She knew he was a fake, but, "that red beating heart just said so much to me. And I just felt like I could talk to him."