The Tragic Truth About Josh Peck

Josh Peck has been in the public eye for two and a half decades. Throughout his career, he has been able to transition from a lovable child star who was always cast as (in his words) the "fat, funny kid" to a versatile adult actor. He's established himself as someone who can play both comedic and dramatic characters, even flexing his drama chops with a small part in "Oppenheimer." Peck began his career doing stand-up, gaining enough notice that he was invited on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" when he was only 10. His fame rose, at least amongst youngsters, when he was cast on "The Amanda Show" in 2000, and Peck made his feature film debut in "Snow Dogs" that same year. His career hit new heights when he and Drake Bell were given their own Nickelodeon show, "Drake & Josh," in 2004.

"Drake & Josh" ran for four seasons, and Peck's career looked promising when he was cast in "The Wackness" and "Drillbit Taylor" shortly thereafter. The next handful of years were rough, however, as the actor dealt with addiction issues and a worsening reputation, leading to a big acting dry spell. After getting sober and in need of income, Peck began to use social media to showcase his comedy skills. He eventually began booking more onscreen work and has subsequently starred in television series such as "Grandfathered" and "Turner & Hooch," while maintaining his career as a voice actor and social media influencer. For the tragic truth about Josh Peck and his bumpy trajectory, keep reading.

He never met his biological father

Josh Peck has been very open about his family background and the fact that he never met his father. Though Peck knew of his identity, the man had washed his hands of his son before he was even born. In fact, Peck's father already had a family when he met Peck's mother, and he was still married — despite telling her he was separated. "They weren't close enough to share a sandwich, let alone a baby, and I'm sure when my father found out my mom was pregnant, similar thoughts came crashing through his philandering head," Peck wrote in his memoir (via Us Weekly).

Peck believes that his father — who he did not even see a photo of until he was 24 — did not claim him in order to protect his three older children, which is something he eventually came to terms with after creeping on a half-sibling's Facebook page. "He gave (my mom) a little bit of money and never showed his face again," Peck said on "The Adam Carolla Show." "By the time I was interested enough or had the guts to kind of look for him, he had passed away and I realized I had this whole other family – but I also didn't have a desire to blow up their image of their dad." The actor was 26 when his father died in 2013.

Growing up, his mother was financially strapped

Growing up in a single-parent household can be a stressful situation, not least of all because living on only one income can cause financial stress. For Josh Peck, that reality meant that he and his mother were not always able to afford luxuries. In fact, living in New York City, they were forced to live in one-bedroom apartments prior to Peck's success, which meant that one of them always had to go without their own room. "Money was scarce," he told USA Today, "so sometimes I'd have the couch, she'd have the bed, and then we'd switch off."

In 2023, Peck told Variety that he was always stressed about his family's financial situation, which is what pushed him to do well in school and, later, to become a working actor at a very young age. The actor became the sole provider for the family once he found Hollywood success, but he never forgot the lessons he learned from his mother in those early days. "Growing up with a single mother meant nothing was promised," he told Forbes. "We were constantly adapting, pivoting, restructuring. It took a herculean amount of strength and confidence to not only be a single mom, but also a businesswoman in what was a man's world at that time, so I watched as my mother fight for every inch."

He struggled with food addiction for most of his childhood

Though he did not realize it was stress-related at the time, one way that Josh Peck coped in early childhood was with food. By the time he was a teenager, Peck already weighed close to 300 pounds. Peck continued to rely on food — which he called his "first love" in his book — as a crutch even after his career took off, and his weight is sadly the defining part of his childhood. "For me, when I think of childhood, the singular, powerful, and all-consuming memory that comes to mind is being fat," he said in his memoir. "I have good memories from childhood too, of course, I grew up with a deep awareness that I was loved, decent, cared for, and blah blah blah, but FAT, very very fat."

Peck has said that his own preoccupation with food was also modeled by his mother, who herself struggled with food addiction. Eventually, eating became his fix, and he would stop at nothing to consume junk food. "I would observe friends who would freely pop open a bag of fruit snacks and not obsess over the other six in the cabinet. Kids who when their parents washed their clothes didn't have melted chocolate bars in their pocket," he wrote. "I obsessed over it, enough to lie, cheat, and steal just to get my fix. If that meant sneaking into your family's snack drawer when I came over, like an addict rummaging through a stranger's medicine cabinet? So be it."

He was bullied and body-shamed for his weight (and sometimes still is)

The world is not always a kind place to those who are overweight, and this can be amplified for children, who may not have the tools to deal with negative comments about their body. For Josh Peck, comedy was the way that he coped with bullying about his size as a child. "If I thought a kid was going to make fun of me, I might make fun of myself first," Peck told USA Today when he was a teen. "I immediately went to comedy as my defense." Peck began performing stand-up in New York City clubs when he was only 10 years old, three years before his big break on "The Amanda Show."

Peck eventually lost 127 pounds, after reaching a high of about 290 when he was in his late teen years. "In a weird way, you know, I lost the weight for me," he said on the "Tamron Hall Show" in 2022. "But in a roundabout way ... it's been slightly inspirational to people also, you know, working on getting healthier." Peck still has a great sense of humor about his weight loss — for example, poking fun at how he had to lose weight naturally because there was no Ozempic, in a 2024 Instagram video featuring the "All that work and what did it get me?" lyric from the song "Rose's Turn." Still, the actor has said that he doesn't like that people continue to create memes using images of him as a teenager to body shame him. 

He was so uncomfortable in his skin that he wore homemade Spanx

Josh Peck started to have food issues around age 8, and within the next two years, his weight escalated to about 180 pounds. As this happened, he felt himself becoming less and less comfortable in his own skin. "I'd walk into most rooms at that age and at my weight at a disadvantage, that people made a snap judgment about me that I was, you know, slothful or lacked willpower or something," Peck told "TODAY." "And that it was incumbent on me to sort of not necessarily even stand out; I just wanted to be on the same level as everyone else." Though he started on television pre-social media, being a child actor certainly did not help ease his awareness that his body was larger than most.

Peck was at his highest weight at age 15, right around the time "Drake & Josh" started in 2004. Others could sense his discomfort with his body, which led a kind costume designer to ask if he wanted to wear a compression shirt underneath his costumes. "This angel of a costume designer had built me homemade SPANX. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, a man girdle, a Lycra bodysuit that smoothed out every roll and every bulge," Peck wrote in his book. "Wearing this magical tunic, I no longer resembled a gigantic muffin and now looked more like an overstuffed bag of bread. It wasn't perfect, but it was better and I felt better. So I wore it, every day, for five years."

After losing weight, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope

It is common for people with addiction to substitute one addiction for another, called addiction replacement or transfer addiction. According to the Gateway Foundation, "This usually occurs when the emotional or psychological need that drove the initial addiction is still present and compels the individual to switch addictions." It is not surprising, then, that once Josh Peck dealt with his food addiction, he turned to substances to cope with his unresolved emotional issues. He was 17 when he lost the weight, and what proceeded was four years of chaos. "I got in shape, and I thought I'd hit this finish line but, of course, I had the same mind. And so, I just needed something different," he said in an interview for "Steve-O's Wild Ride!" podcast.

Peck was 17 the first time he tried drugs, but he liked the way it made him feel about himself and his life in general. "I had this illusion of becoming more confident and attractive when I was partaking," he told People, noting that cocaine was one of his drugs of choice. "I was trying to quiet that voice that woke me up every morning and told me I wasn't enough." The actor spent four years misusing substances, in part because he felt like he had to make up for the years when he held himself back due to insecurity about his weight. After four years of overindulgence, the actor decided to get sober — and he has remained that way since 2008.

He was scolded by a famous director-producer for his poor conduct

In his memoir, Josh Peck admitted that, during his four years of substance misuse, he was using drugs and drinking alcohol every single day. This obviously created problems for him in both his personal and professional life, and he found himself isolated from loved ones and on a path of destruction. If this happened today, the actor's every misstep would no doubt end up in the tabloids, but Peck was able to keep his problem hidden from the public in the era before iPhones made everyone an amateur journalist. He even had a close call with an arrest after cops noticed him driving erratically, but this information was never made public until Peck chose to share the story in his book.

While the actor was able to maintain his clean-cut image with the audience, people in Hollywood began to notice his unreliable and unpredictable behavior. This included director-producer Judd Apatow, who was producing the film "Drillbit Taylor," released in 2008. Apatow eventually sent Peck an e-mail about his on-set conduct, which the actor has admitted was less-than-stellar. "I showed up late, was less than professional when it came to my preparation, and inevitably was just a liability," he said in the book. Around that time Peck was reportedly in the running to star in Apatow's "Superbad," but that didn't pan out when the director observed Peck's self-destructive behavior. Peck has since made things right with Apatow, but he regrets how his actions affected his career and professional relationships at the time. 

His Nickelodeon earnings did not secure his future

While the kid actors from "Modern Family" or the "Harry Potter" movies are set for life, the overwhelming majority of child stars do not make so much money that they never have to work as adults. This is misconception that Josh Peck has tried to bust, and he has not shied away from sharing his childhood salary. "With kids' television at the time, you're making a nice living, but it's reflective of maybe a dentist starting out," Peck said in a Business Insider interview. "So while you're doing it, it's great. But when you're done, you certainly only have a year or two of runway to find your next job." Peck earned $15,000 as the co-lead on "Drake & Josh," which filmed anywhere from 6 to 19 episodes per season.

Peck has publicly shared that he cleared about $100,000 per year back then — after taxes and paying all of the people involved in his career — which had to support both him and his mother. During tougher points in his career, he claims to have made as low as $40,000 in take-home income, which is partially why he started to produce content on social media. He started on Vine and, after its 2017 shutdown, moved over to YouTube to make longer content. Peck's acting career eventually rebounded, but he still produces comedic videos on Instagram, where he has 17 million followers. His YouTube channel is also still active, but it is now entirely devoted to videos of his podcast interviews.

The pressures of Hollywood made him turn to plastic surgery

It is not uncommon for female celebrities to discuss the appearance pressures they feel as part of their job, or even the surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures they have turned to in order to deal with such pressures. But the unspoken expectations of hegemonic masculinity, and the belief that it is somehow weak for men to discuss their own aesthetic insecurities, has resulted in the vast majority of male stars keeping mum on their own procedures. Plenty of big-name stars — everyone from Matt Damon to Tom Brady — have been speculated to have used Botox, but most of them have either remained quiet on the issue or, like David Beckham, outright denied the accusation as if it were the most offensive thing in the world.

Josh Peck is the rare male celebrity who feels comfortable enough to be open about his insecurities, most likely because of his early experience as an obese teen actor and the internal work he has done to move past that time in his life. He has admitted that his motivation to lose weight was driven by the desire to expand the movie roles he was able to book, which developed while shooting the 2004 film "Mean Creek." The vanity of Hollywood is the same reason why Peck went under the knife years later, after being told his eye bags made him hard to light by a crew member. He underwent an under-eye surgery, known as blepharoplasty, in July 2023, and he said, "It's worth every penny," on Howie Mandel's podcast.

He was incredibly scared to become a father

It is always scary to become a first-time parent, even if one has had a lot of exposure to babies. While preparatory classes can teach people to change a diaper or swaddle a newborn, they cannot mimic the real-time emotions a new parent is going to feel when they bring their child home from the hospital. People who come from more difficult family backgrounds may have even more anxiety about becoming parents due to not having stellar role models — which is exactly how Josh Peck felt about his own impending fatherhood. "I never met my Dad and was scared that I wouldn't know how to do it. Thanks for teaching me, Max, and getting me in the club," he posted on Instagram, alongside a slideshow of photos with his older son, to mark Father's Day in 2020.

Interestingly, Peck has said that having his first son in 2018 (he welcomed a second one in 2022) is actually what allowed him to finally find closure with his own daddy issues. It also allowed him to quiet his fears that maybe he was not masculine enough to fill the role of parenting a male child — which is the reason why he was originally hoping for a daughter. "I'm a formerly chubby musical theater kid from New York...anything that was masculine, I never thought I had the prerequisites for," he said on "The Diary Of A CEO" podcast. The actor said he now looks to his father-in-law as a role model for manhood.

He had a public falling out with former co-star Drake Bell

Josh Peck and Drake Bell will be forever linked in the minds of an entire generation, but whereas the audience wants to envision the actors as lifelong besties, that is not the reality. A rift became public when Peck neglected to invite Bell to his 2017 wedding, causing the latter to rattle off a series of tweets (and also rage text Peck) despite the actors' lack of ongoing communication. "I knew that Drake and I didn't stay in touch for the 10 years since we had made the show. But no one needed to know that," Peck said on "BFFs with Dave Portnoy & Josh Richards." "Like, I was happy to just die with that secret that we made this thing that people really love but maybe we weren't that close."

The actors seemingly made up at the 2017 Video Music Awards, where Bell agreed to apologize directly to Peck's wife for the uproar he caused. But Peck — who even posted a photo of them hugging at the event — claimed in 2022 that this was the last time they saw each other. Still, when "Quiet on Set" was released in 2024, fans attacked Peck for not immediately speaking up in support of Bell, who recounted his sexual abuse in the documentary. Bell published a video in which he clarified that Peck had reached out privately, and he asked people to lay off his former co-star. However, neither this nor Peck's statement fully stopped the flood of negative comments and accusations on Peck's Instagram.