Any time that I hook the LCD up to 5V+ on the VCC pin, and the ground to the VDD pin, the Arduino shuts off until the load is removed, ...
The LED on the LCD works, which is a good thing.
-Tried with just power going to the LCD (no data lines), still turns off the Arduino.
What I'd do is :put something like a 100-200 ohm resister in the 5V to the LCD and connect just that and GND, then measure the voltage drop across said resister. That will give you the current with ohms law, if its much more than 4mA its a faulty LCD or a fault in your wiring.
You haven't mentioned the presence of smoke, but how about heat? If your epoxy blobs are getting hot then your power leads (pins 1 and 2) are reversed. Some LCD modules, especially the inexpensive ones) have these reversed.
This is a very good idea. Try connecting just pins 1 and 2 again and check for heat. If it stays cool then use your 50K pot and see if you can get a display of a single row of blocks on your screen.
I Think you now have a Brick... If the data sheet was correct...Doc
You didn't answer my question about the series resistor for the LED backlight.Don
The LED backlight is fine ...
the LCD seems to be blown.
You didn't answer my question about heat.
Have you checked your wiring for shorted pins? Have you considered posting a photograph so we could check?
Add a resistor in series with pin 2. Measure the voltage across that resistor. Divide the voltage you just measured by the resistance of the resistor to calculate the current through the resistor.