March 10, 2010

Corey Haim 1971-2010: Personal Reflections

Corey Haim died in the early morning hours of March 10th, 2010. He was just 38 years old. The Toronto-born actor rose to prominence in the mid-80's first as a gifted child actor then as a teen heartthrob and one half of the 'Two Coreys', an on-screen partnership with fellow actor Corey Feldman that spanned several movies of varying quality. Haim's career started to go off the rails as the 80's closed due to drug and alcohol issues that he never got under control before his life came to a predictable end in the back of an ambulance.

I crossed paths with Haim both before and after the personal demons started to take over. As a kid, I did a bunch of commercials and I recall seeing Haim at Toronto auditions. I remember quite clearly being shocked to see his face on the poster for the movie Lucas because I recognized him as the kid I used to see at casting calls just a few years before. Then, many years later, long after he'd faded into obscurity, I went out to interview Haim while he was doing a junket for the DVD release of one of his cheesy teen comedies, License to Drive. At this point, Haim was long out of the public eye and was only working sporadically in straight-to-video fare. His struggles with drugs were now the stuff of Hollywood legend; a young actor who had thrown his career away and was virtually uninsurable even if he hadn't burned every bridge his early success granted him access to long ago. I wasn't prepared for the Haim I discovered as I walked in. He was at least fifty pounds bigger then I'd ever seen him, which he quickly explained was the result of him recently getting clean. He was very charismatic, very gracious and very humble. He made you feel like he was listening to you - something rare for a celebrity interview - and he went out of his way to let me know that he was familiar with the show I worked on and mentioned that he and his mother - who he described as his best friend - watched it together and enjoyed it. In the interview, he was everything you would want him to be; he was funny, he was witty, he was playful and he still got that twinkle in his eye that made all the girls in my Grade 8 class swoon. Off camera, he was different. He was nervous to the point of almost being agitated; he was raw. He paced the room like a caged animal at times. He was insecure and he was definitely hungry for attention and affection. He behaved like a puppy dog that had been left home alone all day. Above all, he seemed a bit sad.

The next day, as I sat at my desk, my phone rang, and it was Corey. "Hey brother, it's Corey Haim. Just wanted to talk to you about that interview we did yesterday." I've never had any interview subject track down my number and call me, so I was briefly taken aback, figuring it was someone in the office pranking me. "One of the interviews I did totally trashed me, dude." A local freebie newspaper went in for an interview with him, acted like they were on the up and up then the next day ran a particularly cruel piece mocking his drug use and some of the desperate things he had done in desperate times. It was literally a two page spread of the low points of his life played for laughs. He was clearly devastated. "I know I can't stop you from doing something like that, but I just want to know: Are you gonna trash me? 'Cause my mom and I really do watch the show, and I'd really rather not see that." I assured him my interest was in doing a fun, light piece with 80's icon Corey Haim and I was certain he would be happy with it. He thanked me and hung up the phone. When the piece ran, Corey called again to let me know how much he liked it and how pleased he was that I framed the shot in a way that obscured much of his weight gain. "You made the Haimster look like people remember me, bro." That wasn't the last time I heard from him. He called me a few other times, sometimes to comment on the show, sometimes seemingly for no reason. He just seemed a little lonely. There was something fragile about him. He made you want to root for him.

A few years later, when I moved to MTV, I pitched the idea of Haim, who at the time was Toronto-based, being our "80's correspondent" for MTV Live. We pitched the idea to Corey and set-up a lunch. Haim would cancel and reschedule the meeting several times before finally telling us he couldn't do because a major deal in the States looked like it was about to come through. He seemed flaky and odd and frankly not worth the risk. We stopped pursuing and didn't, for a second, believe that any US deal existed. A few months later, it was announced he was doing a series with A&E that would co-star Corey Feldman. Deep down, I felt a tinge of pride. I was pleased to see something go his way. I believed that he really desperately wanted to get his shit together and all he needed was a second chance. And now he had it.

The series, however, didn't aid Haim's cause, though, because ultimately, his demons were still overwhelming him. The second season of the show took a dark turn, essentially documenting his friendship with Feldman dissolving over Haim's drug issues. An increasingly angry and erratic Haim spent the bulk of the series enraged and agitated about the accusations, but the final episode left little doubt about their validity as Haim was unable to leave his trailer on the set of Lost Boys 2, the sequel to his most iconic film. After not being included in the script for the follow-up, a slight that nearly devastated him, he was given a token cameo, but the pressure lead to drugs, and ultimately he was too messed up to arrive on set. The production was not impressed, and in the end, his appearance in the film was limited to a single shot at the end of the movie. There was no other useable footage. Reality TV has been described as "car crash television," but watching Haim destroy the opportunity he's been waiting twenty years for is about as uncomfortable as I've ever been watching television. It's so fucking sad and so fucking predictable.

Shortly after that, I crossed paths with Haim one last time. He was back in Toronto prepping to shoot a low-budget Viveca A. Fox flick called Shark City. This was a different Corey. Slicker, like a used car salesman. More damage had been done, more hope had been lost. We interviewed him for 'MTV News' and he spoke very candidly about his drug battles not pretending to be clean, but rather, someone who is taking his relationship with sobriety on a day to day basis. Once again I was struck by his honesty. He spoke in a very raw way about his experience being famous so young. "What happens when you become famous and become the breadwinner is, you become the CEO of your family." If your parents quit their jobs to move out to Los Angeles it's a lot of pressure on a young kid to earn, so when that starts to slow down, and it's because your partying is getting out of control that can be overwhelming. When asked if he could change one thing about his past, he said the harm he had done to his family. He talked about how every time the phone rang his mother thought it was "the call" where she would get word her son was dead.

In the end, it turns out she made the call, rather then received it. Haim's mother found his lifeless body and it was her that made the agonizing phone call to 911. En route to the hospital Corey Haim, aged 38, was pronounced dead. Truly a Lost Boy.

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