Why the death of the former child star is a sad cautionary tale
In 1989, Corey Haim made a promotional film about himself called Corey Haim: Me, Myself & I. Hot off a string of hits — the 1986 coming-of-age story Lucas, the 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys, and the 1988 teen comedy License to Drive — the 17-year-old actor was one of Hollywood’s most adored young heartthrobs, as the thousands of girls who wrote to him every week could attest. But word was out that Haim was battling drug problems, and he wanted to reassure fans and the film industry that he had his head on straight. Sitting on a leather couch, his familiar lopsided grin on his boyish face, he laid out his vision of his future: ”Ten years from now I’m hopefully going to be in Tahiti or something, kicking back, like, in my huge mansion, if everything goes right,” he said. ”It’s all up to me.”
A decade later, broke, in and out of rehab, and all but unemployable, Haim was selling an extracted tooth and locks of his hair on eBay. His body was ravaged by years of cocaine and prescription-drug abuse, his name a punchline to a joke that had long since stopped being funny. In the years that followed, despite numerous efforts to turn things around, Haim could never escape the tag of Hollywood’s lost boy. Those who nostalgically remembered the locker-pinup heyday of ”the Coreys” — Haim and his frequent costar Corey Feldman, who was the caustic yin to Haim’s more sweetly earnest yang — chalked him up as just the latest in a line of doomed teen idols. On March 10, when the news broke that Haim had died at age 38 after collapsing in the Los Angeles apartment he shared with his mother, it seemed the inevitable ending to his cautionary tale. ”It’s not a surprise,” says actor Seth Green, who worked with Haim on the 1992 comedy The Double O Kid and years later on a 2006 parody sketch about the Coreys on Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken. ”That’s the worst thing about it.”
The cause of Haim’s death is still unknown, pending a toxicology report. The actor had complained of flu-like symptoms, but whether the prescription medication found in his apartment played a role in his death is uncertain. Though Haim himself acknowledged he was a ”chronic relapser,” some who worked with him in recent years say he was trying to stay clean and was devoted to caring for his mother, Judy, who has cancer, and to rebuilding his career. ”I talked to Corey 20 times a day, and everything I saw was positive,” says Haim’s agent, Mark Heaslip, who signed the actor a year and a half ago. ”He didn’t OD. I’ll be right in the end.”
California prosecutors say Haim’s name was found on prescriptions linked to an illegal drug ring. Whether or not drugs ultimately took his life, though, there’s no question that they laid waste to his career — one that had begun with great promise when he was 10 years old. In 1984, having appeared in a sitcom in his native Canada, Haim made his film debut in the thriller Firstborn. ”He was naturally gifted and a real charmer — I adored him,” says Sarah Jessica Parker, who costarred in the movie and remembers Haim ”bunking over” many times with her and then boyfriend Robert Downey Jr., who was also in the film.
But it was Haim’s breakout turn as a lovesick misfit in the 1986 film Lucas that first endeared him to a wide audience. Critics took notice of Haim’s innate appeal, including Roger Ebert, who wrote, ”If he can continue to act this well, he will never become a half-forgotten child star, but will continue to grow into an important actor.” Unlike peers such as Johnny Depp and River Phoenix, who were tortured by their heartthrob status, Haim didn’t seem to chafe at the Tiger Beat attention. ”He took it in stride,” says Lucas director David Seltzer. ”Not in a negative way, but he was something of a magnet and he knew it.”
In 1987, Haim starred opposite Feldman in The Lost Boys and the two formed a bond that would endure on screen and off for the next two decades (see sidebar). Relishing their status as rising teen-comedy stars, the Coreys indulged in all the temptations, chemical and otherwise, that 1980s Hollywood could offer. ”There were some shenanigans behind the scenes,” says Greg Beeman, who directed the two in 1988’s License to Drive. ”They would disappear sometimes, but they always showed up for work.”
What first seemed like harmless fun, however, quickly began to affect Haim’s reputation in Hollywood. ”Certainly people knew about his addiction,” says Jon Hess, who directed Haim in the 1988 thriller Watchers. ”To see somebody so young and with so much talent already be chased by those demons was hard.” By the mid-’90s, Haim had burned so many bridges, the only work he could find was in straight-to-video movies with titles like Fever Lake and Demolition High.
In 2006, his image battered seemingly beyond repair, Haim began taping an A&E reality show with Feldman called The Two Coreys, which he hoped would relaunch his career. What began as a lighthearted, Odd Couple-style look at two former teen stars, though, soon took a dark turn as Haim, who had been struggling to get sober, relapsed. In the series’ most heartbreaking moment, Haim wept upon being told he wouldn’t be costarring with Feldman in the direct-to-video sequel to The Lost Boys. (Haim eventually made a cameo in the movie.) The Two Coreys ended after its second season, and Feldman publicly severed ties with Haim, saying, ”I am not going to watch him destroy himself.”
Addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky says Haim turned down numerous offers for help with his drug problems, including efforts right up until his death to get him on Pinsky’s VH1 reality show Celebrity Rehab. ”Dozens, if not hundreds, of people reached out to me about their concerns about him,” says Pinsky. ”I made myself available. He never followed through.”
In 2008, Haim took out an ad in the trade magazine Variety, asking the industry for a chance at a fresh start. ”I’m back,” the ad read. ”I’m ready to make amends.” After a small part in last year’s Crank: High Voltage, Haim took roles in a handful of straight-to-video films and planned to direct a low-budget movie. He clung to the hope that someone would give him one last shot at redemption.
”I want to be the guy they talk about when they talk about comebacks,” Haim said three years ago. ”I want people to learn from me, see I’m human, and understand that I make mistakes just like they do, but it doesn’t have to consume you. You’ve got to walk through the raindrops, and that’s what I’m trying to do.” (Additional reporting by Mandi Bierly, Whitney Pastorek, Sean Smith, Dan Snierson, Benjamin Svetkey, and John Young)