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License to Cry: Why Corey Haim's death matters (sort of)

March 12, 2010 |  8:00 am


The death of Corey Haim earlier this week didn't register high even on the meters of the celebrity- and tragedy-obsessed tabloid media. Corey Feldman appeared on "Larry King Live," a few commentators intoned a few serious-sounding things about the dangers of getting too famous too fast in Hollywood, and that was that.

But for a certain age group -- many of us in our thirties, and maybe a year or two in either direction -- the actor's apparent accidental overdose resonated more deeply. When the news first broke on Wednesday morning, there rippled across Twitter accounts and Facebook pages a sense of loss and even surprise.

It wasn't that Haim's death was, on most rational levels, a shock, or that we thought about him in life as much more than a passing trivia question -- ask us about him a day before he died and our eyes would have lit up with recognition while a quick joke about him and Feldman might have passed our lips, but that would have pretty much been it. Still, many of us were struck by the fact that we could be here again, watching someone we loved so unquestioningly as kids come to such a hard-bitten adult end. We saw in Haim, for all his campiness, his modest theatrical output and -- let's face it -- his less-than-abundant acting skills, a reflection of much that mattered to us back then, an era that seemed like one of such worldliness but in retrospect was, both for us and for celebrity-dom as a whole, one of such unadorned innocence.

I can't speak to what someone who came of age in the1960s or 1970s might have felt when experiencing the untimely end of someone famous from their youth. But it strikes me that before the mid-'80s (commenters and fans of "One Day at a Time," feel free to disagree) there was less blind affection for a personality simply because they were famous and because all of one's friends liked them, and so in turn less of a reflexive wince when hearing that personality had come upon hard times.

A new generation's interaction with youth-oriented celebrities, by the same token, also doesn't feel comparable. Young people these days have a different relationship with their pinup idols. They are just as preoccupied as we 30-somethings were with the youth-skewing stars of our day, perhaps more so. But they know these stars more intimately and hold fewer illusions about them. To be 18 and love a celebrity these days is to tear them down as much as it is to build them up, to engage in the complicated to-and-fro of love, hate and eye-rolling. If one of the current-day Hollywood bad-boys or bad-girls would tragically die, the reaction, while equally potent, would be far more emotionally guarded.

My generation's feeling for Corey Haim, on the other hand, was -- as it was with other personalities from the time -- simpler and, as a result, more permanent. Even if we were aware of the silliness of the whole enterprise, as we certainly were with Haim, we also relished and took seriously their every career development and on-screen role -- in Haim's case, the serious "Lucas," the darkly affecting "Lost Boys" (a kind of "Twilight" for young males of that time, only a lot better) and the freewheeling silliness of "License to Drive," which to this day I still can't believe was actually a hit).

We didn't really know much about Haim personally except that he was troubled (and even that came later). And so, at that age when one needs a sports or a movie star to identify with and there was no TMZ or US Weekly to warn us otherwise, Haim and his counterparts fit the bill nicely.

It's eerie that the actor's death came just three days after we were reminded of that period, not only of American pop culture but of our own lives, via the tribute to John Hughes at the Oscars. With roles like Ferris Bueller and John Bender, and in the lives of Molly Ringwald and Corey Haim, we first learned about a larger world even as it seemed these people were speaking directly to us. Most of us who grew up in that world of the 1980s indeed won't forget about them, not because their legend was that shiny, their mark that indelible or their work even that great, but because our affection for them was once so uncomplicated.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Poster of "License to Drive." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Comments () | Archives (18)

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You captured exactly what it is I've been feeling. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

My heart goes out to the Haim's family. I grew up watching Cory's movies, such a talented young man who had the potential to be a very talented adult. May God bless his beautiful soul, and keep him safe. Rest In Peace Cory, you deserve it.

Well said. I couldn't agree with you more.

Strange but I am also in my thirties and I could not understand why other people did not get our reaction. You did a nice job of summing it up. Though for us true 80's kids we could talk about it for hours. We have the attention span to do so. Atleast I think we do.

Perfectly said. Completely captured exactly how I have felt since hearing the news. Fitting, I'm 31!

I don't know, Zeitchik. I think if one of those Twilight kids died, you'd see an outpouring of grief that wasn't so 'guarded.' They're just as susceptible to the Tiger Beat mentality as we were.

Also, I disagree that Haim was a bad actor, and I'm supported in that assertion by people like Roger Ebert, etc. Lucas was terrific, and Haim fantastic. After that, he made some bad choices (License to Drive, and I'm happy to say I didn't see it, although I did see Can't Buy Me Love, so it's not like I made great choices, either) in every aspect of his life, it seems. Such a shame.

Also, Lost Boys was one of the *best* movies of the 80s, totally.

When River died, that was shocking. Corey... it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Similarly, I wasn't surprised that Michael Jackson died, either. Some lifestyles... the end seems inevitable. But still tragic.

My condolences to Corey's family and friends on his death. I grew up with him..he's actually only two years older than I am. And I had tons of posters of him on my wall back when I was a teen. I kept thinking about him over the years, and was hoping to see a comeback of him in films. I was excited when the two corey's was out, I watched every episode. I always thought he was funny and cute, and I just loved the way he smiled and laughed. I wish I had a chance to meet him. May God Bless Corey's soul on his passage way to heaven!!!

To Corey Feldman: You are an amazing friend to Corey Haim, not many people can say they have a friend like you and I know it helped him having someone like you in his life. You always seem to be there for him.

So Sad..I wish he went on Celebrity fit club like they asked him..or celebrity rehab,,,then a show like "who wants to love Corey Haim"...I mean if Flavor Flav could at 50 yrs old why couldn't he? He wasn't washed up..Everyone gets back in the biz w/ these goofy shows..I will always love him..so sad.

Wow. What a beautiful article.

I'm glad I stumbled upon this article. You took my feelings about many of the last year's celebrity passings and put them right into words, in a way that I probably never could have. With each death of someone I idolized as a kid, I have such an intense sense of loss, only it's inexplicable. The death of Corey Haim, to most people in my life, means absolutely nothing, so they would surely wonder why on earth it would to me. For this reason I am lucky to be a kid of the '80s...after losing Michael Jackson, John Hughes, and Corey Haim in such a short period of time, I now know this for a fact. We were blessed to grow up when we did; it's only too bad future generations will never have a chance to be kids the way we were. RIP Corey Haim, you will always be a part of one awesome generation.

I wish that there was something that we can do about it, because there are people in my real life and people who's careers that I follow that I kind of have to prepare myself for their last breath. (That's so dark and glib.)

Like you said it wasn't that he was mega famous but he became a part of childhood memories and with the way that it happened makes it harder to hear about.

Well said Tina, I don't think our generation is any more enthralled with our teen idols than kids are today. The affinity a teenager feels for their celebrity idols is always skewed by some level of obsession/blind love, I don't care how much more negative information is available today. The Twilight reference is a perfect example. The idea that there are fewer illusions about pinup idols today because there is more media on these stars via reality shows and the internet is silly. Teenagers, us included at one point, are dramatic, immature, and completely illogical when it comes to celebrity. When we get older, we all look back on our teenage years with some sense of fondness, so it makes sense to feel a deep sense of loss with a celebrity's passing. This just happens to be our generation's time. Soon, kids born in the 80's will go through the same thing, and the cycle will continue. Sorry Steven, our generation is not special.

Maybe unbeknownst to you and a lot of other people out there obsessed with the celebrity du jour, there were quite a number of us "Haimsters" who still carried a torch for Corey Haim and were very much aware of more personal things about him besides an issues with drugs. There were fan pages, websites and fan clubs dedicated to him. And to us, yes, his death was a shock. As for referring to his acting skills as "less than abundant", I think you need to go back and re-watch some of Corey's movies prior to Hollywood cashing in on the teeny-bop obsessed cash cow of the two Corey's. A Time to Live, Murphy's Romance and Lucas were unbelievable performances by a young actor. His facial expressions, tone and ability carried on even into the silliness of License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream. Characters that you could imagine being friends with and having a crush on. Your article while voicing some truths, was still filled with some of the remarks that I feel prevented Corey from succeeding in beating his demons until just before his death. Now another amazing and beautiful soul is lost. RIP Corey. Kim, fan since 1985 and beyond.

Wow, this is an excellent article. You really captured what I've been feeling: that the passing of yet another childhood star means that we all are truly getting older. I am 32 now. I can still remember the theater that I went to to see License to Drive, not to mention the countless times I rented The Lost Boys at Blockbuster.

To lose a silly-heart like Corey Haim hurts even worse. I pray he knew Jesus as his personal Savior. My deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends.

I am not in my thirties (10+ years younger), but I have grown up with Corey Haim's films and have never stopped being a fan (if you can believe it, I still have a pin-up poster of him hanging in my room). I still love this article and can relate to much of it.

My heart goes out to his family. RIP Corey...

I am 67 years old and had just watched Corey in Murphy's Romance a few days before his passing. I loved his genuineness and open-faced style of acting. He touched something in me and anyone who can do that to us will be missed.

I had a rough time growing up as a kid during the early 80s. I was awkward, felt like I didn't quite fit in. But I loved it because people like Haim gave me an escape. Artistically films such as License to Drive was questionable, but Lost Boys was bad ass...excuse me, AWESOME! The scene where he and the other Corey were loading up on holy water is forever in my mind. I was just hoping not for his film comeback but more so, a life comeback. I hope he finds peace now.

Well stated. I have found myself deeply saddened by the lack of sympathy for Corey and his family. Perhaps it is true, you had to have grown up in our generation to have been able to appreciate the young, blue eyed darling Corey Haim. I keep looking back at his pictures from his youth and compare them to they years thereafter. There appears to be such a loss of innocence in his face and pain in his eyes. What a loss. I will continue to keep his family and Corey in my prayers.


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