I remember the day I learned that the Coreys had a drug problem. My cousin had loaned me a copy of Tiger Beat from a few years before (I jumped on the Coreys bandwagon a little late, being born in ’81, and by ’92 everything was all Jonathan Brandis and Jonathan Taylor Thomas). I was rifling through the magazine, giddy at the prospect of obtaining any information I hadn’t already dug up, since I had already delved into the school library and photocopied many issues of Seventeen from previous years. I turned the page to see the Coreys, circa 1989, both looking thin and rather pale behind sunglasses, with leather jackets and wild hair.
I read the text. I read it again. My world changed. The illusion shattered.
How I got to the Coreys—or how we got to the Coreys, I should say, since I indoctrinated my little sister Llana right away in to the Cult of Corey—starts just as I left childhood for the preteen stage, just as I moved from my friends and started a new school. We decided early on, my sister and I, that Feldman was my Corey and Haim was hers. We watched every film they had ever made. At some point I somehow managed (note: begging and pleading) to let my dad tape an edited version of Round Trip To Heaven for me to watch, even though it was rated R. We knew (and still know… and occasionally lapse into) every single scene in Dream A Little Dream. For God’s sake, I even watched Prayer of the Rollerboys. But before the Internet was mainstream, it was pretty easy for a kid to miss something like a drug bust.
By the time I held that issue of Tiger Beat in my hands, the Coreys were a daily facet of life in our household. The winter of our move, my sister and I began roleplaying their lives, pretending to act out what it must be like to live in their brilliant Hollywood lives (of course I was Feldman and she was Haim). In a way, they became imagined brothers to us, and their lives intertwined with our own. Except, of course, it was all blissfully drug-free and innocent. We tried desperately to piece together their real personalities from all their roles on film, and we felt that we were as close to them as anyone could get. It was our secret, our escape.
My first thought when I found out about the Coreys’ drug problems was, “I can’t tell my sister.” Then: “I can’t tell my parents.” I wanted to cry; I felt this overwhelming wave of embarrassment, shame and betrayal. Still, I eventually told my sister about the drug thing. I remember the room we were sitting in when I told her—it felt like the biggest burden in the world at the time. (Shortly after, River Phoenix—another idol of mine—died of a drug overdose. Years later, Jonathan Brandis committed suicide, which lead to the first blog post I ever wrote. Too many lost from that generation…)
But directly from the Coreys, my love of movies and, later, movie culture exploded: from The Lost Boys to Kiefer Sutherland and Young Guns to Flatliners; from Goonies to Toy Soldiers and Stand By Me. I picked up Stephen King books and began reading… then I began writing my own stuff. I watched films, I went to the library and learned everything I could related to the films, from vampires to cowboys. Doing cursory internet searches on my favorite actors in the early days brought me to Wil Wheaton. Not long after, I started blogging myself. It’s one of my main geek points of departure, really, and certainly my first fandom.
So this morning, I got out of the gym and found a text from my husband. “Did you hear about Corey Haim?” I stared at the text a moment, then sighed. I hadn’t heard, but I knew anyway. While my fandom has dissipated over the years, I’ve still checked in on IMDB every once in a while to see what they were up to; I almost saw Feldman and his band when I was in college, but chickened out at the last minute. I knew that Corey Haim had survived a serious overdose before, but I always hoped he was getting his act together; I knew they had the show on TBS but just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Contrived or not, it was too painful for me to watch. The kid inside me squirmed at the scenes that played out. It was just too discomfiting to bear, that version of reality television, in comparison to the stories my sister and I told to each other dark winter, before we had friends, before we really had identities, even. Just plain weird.
An hour later, my sister—who now lives in California and is a voice over artist—called me up.
“Hey,” I said. “How are you?”
“Sad. Just sad.”
“Yeah… I know.”
We didn’t say it, it didn’t need to be said. A part of our youth extinguished, just like that. We talked about addiction. We talked a little about Corey Feldman, about their show. About the generation of lost actors, and how it’s become all too common to hear, even when it’s prescription rather than street drugs. But then, after a while, there was nothing more to say.
Looking back on life at 12—my life with the Coreys—I can’t help but wonder what my parents must have endured with my obsession. Film after film, book after book, my walls plastered with magazines, blasting “Rock On” from the Dream a Little Dream soundtrack… I mean, one year I even dressed as Feldman for Halloween. No kidding. But, like so many things, eventually the Coreys ceased to be the be-all, end-all. They served as a springboard for all sorts of geekery and pop culture, though. And thankfully, even in the thick of it, my parents never discouraged me when I told them I wanted to be an actor, then a director, then a writer… they let me be myself. Turns out that the teenybopper stage, as slightly embarrassing as it is to me now, shaped me more than I can really say. (When my parents found out today, they were both agape. “Which Corey?” my dad asked. “The one that dressed like Michael Jackson or the other one?” He could hardly believe that Corey Haim was nearly 40.)
As I write this I’m saddened and conflicted with the news of Corey Haim’s death. I’m an adult now. I’m married. I have a kid. When I was in love with the Coreys, they were 22 and largely considered has-beens—already battling addiction and the pitfalls of fame—and now I’m almost 30 and I feel like I’m just getting started. I never lived a life like theirs, I can’t say what it’s like. I can’t judge them, really, can I?
I know that to this day, when someone says “Corey Feldman” my ears perk up. I know that the Coreys are vastly different people from what I think, that the whole “Coreys” concept was put forth by teen magazines to sell an image. I know that it’s gotta suck to be Corey Feldman right now. I know I really don’t know them, that I never did. And yet, that’s the weird thing about fame and about our idols—we make them just as much as they make themselves. I still feel sad. I feel terrible that Corey Haim is gone, that he endured what he did in the culture that blessed him and cursed him. I feel a little guilty, too. I don’t feel like I lost just Corey Haim the person, but Corey Haim the figment, along with Sam, Les, Dinger, Lucas (sweet, sweet, geeky Lucas!*), and the rest.
Today teen idols still rule the screen and the airwaves, and are still held up to impossible heights and expectations. But so many of them fall. As parents, it’s so important to teach our kids the necessity of finding their own identities, of forging their own selves amidst their fandoms and obsessions. It can seem daunting, and horrifying, when their idols falter and fail, when you’re confronted with issues bigger than you imagined, like drugs and death. But it can be a lesson—it can be life-changing. You never know where it might lead, after all, even if you don’t understand it.
Rest in peace, man. And thanks… for more than you know.
*Roger Ebert just posted this to Twitter: In “Lucas” I wrote, “Haim creates one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age in any recent movie.”)