Image by Courtney Nicholas
I think I can learn a lot from Corey Feldman’s autobiography, Coreyography. He was a child star in the 80s who was pushed into acting by his parents. His mother was a former Playboy bunny at one of the clubs, and his father was a struggling musician. Once Corey started booking commercials at age three, he became the family’s breadwinner; with that came a host of unfair responsibilities for the young Corey, which seems to have warped his perspective on his place in the world and his relationship to filmmaking; it must be hard to shake that feeling importance. He was, like all child actors, working in a professional environment filled with and designed for adults—having to play child characters but performing a job that required the stamina and perspective of the adults who worked alongside him.
Because he was the major earner for his family, the pressure for him to continue working was extraordinarly—abusively—high: he was beaten with belts and wooden dowels if he didn’t perform well in school (bad grades would prevent him from getting a work permit), if he ate too much (his mom had an obsession with his weight), or if he didn’t book jobs or had problems on the set. As a child, Corey was in some of the most important movies of the 80s, Stand by Me,The Goonies, The Lost Boys (the first of the contemporary teenage vampire projects—decades before Twilight). And he was part of the pop phenomenon “the Two Coreys,” alongside Corey Haim, and was a close friend to Michael Jackson; Corey was at the center of most of the popular youth projects and events of the era. By tracking his story, one gets to a peak behind the scenes of many of the projects that shaped the culture of my generation.
Corey had a crazy secret life going on that eventually affected his public life: the book reveals that after the abuse of his childhood, he was repeatedly sexually abused by an employee, had to emancipate himself from his parents as a minor, and became addicted to cocaine. The way that this information is structured and delivered in the book creates a tension-filled story that uncovers a somewhat uncharted aspect of the crazy world of Hollywood: the crazy world of young Hollywood.
Corey starts the book with the death of his best friend, Corey Haim. This creates a frame for the narrative and a reason to go back to the beginning of their Hollywood journey: to figure out how everything happened as it did. After the introduction, Corey re-starts the story with his childhood. His first memory ever is filming a McDonald’s commercial for Christmas coupons when he was three. This kicks off the sad and destructive period we already kind of know about: being pushed into professional performance by both his mother’s need to support the family and her drug habit, and by Corey’s love for performance. This dual drive distorted Corey’s relationship to the world by professional entertainment by the norm and the necessity in his life. He was unable to fit in at his schools when he was working on films because the students viewed him as an outsider because of his acting career.
On the other hand, he was getting more and more acceptance and praise as a performer. So, his perspective was corrupted and he came to believe that success in entertainment was the only way to be fulfilled, that success in entertainment was the only end worth pursuing because it would bring the money his family wanted, the friends that he couldn’t get at school, and the fame that would fill the hole created by the lack of love he didn’t receive from his parents. And for a while he was one of the most successful child actors around, even as all this crazy stuff was going on. So what happened to him? How did he turn into the guy who throws the most depressing birthday parties ever? There was his growing dependence on drugs to escape the emotional battlefield of contradictions and pressure created by his mother, and the sexual abuse he and others suffered as a child actor. Amid all his private darkness, Michael Jackson emerges as his savior, the one safe friend in the chaos. He is ironically portrayed as Corey’s mentor. The pop star befriended Feldman on the set of The Goonies when he was a young teen and became a role model for Feldman, the voice of sane professional and personal advice.
The book is fascinating because, on one level, we are brought to the sets of the famous movies of the day: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, and License to Drive, so that is interesting to hear about. The nostalgia factor. Corey reveals all the sadness that was beneath these projects. In his case, much of the darkness was created by his family’s expectations, irresponsibility and drug abuse. Their lack of attention led him into situations where he was given alternate guardians and parental figures—some of whom introduced him to drugs and molested him. Plus his best friend with the same name died tragically at a very young age... Corey Haim became an extreme reflection of everything he was going through: he suffered more abuse and started acting out more, destroying more hotel rooms, having more sex, and doing more drugs.
Well, it’s arguable who did more drugs. It is a portrait of two boys slammed together in the zeitgeist of youth culture, while at the same time, they pushed each other into a life of destruction, a dichotomy of public success and private darkness—and only one of them survived to write a book about it.
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