Lucas, Laughs, and the Shortness of Life: Remembering Corey Haim
I woke up this morning to the news that teen actor Corey Haim died. Actually, the details are a little messier than that. He didn’t just die. He essentially killed himself—by an accidental overdose or drugs.
Those of us who are old enough to remember know that Corey Haim, along with Corey Feldman, comprised “The Two Coreys,” who throughout the Nineteen Eighties were the dynamic duo of teen idols. Haim starred in hit movies such as The Lost Boys, Dream a Little Dream, and License to Drive.
What I will always remember him for, however, is his breakout role in the movie Lucas, a 1986 teen tragicomedy about a nerdy 14-year old outcast who forms a friendship with a pretty girl who is new in town. The two spend a memorable summer together, but when she catches the eye of the nice-guy captain of the football team, the scrawny Lucas tries to win her affection by going out for the football team. In addition to starring Kerri Green (easily one of my top 5 all-time crushes) and eventual Hollywood stars Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder, and Jeremy Piven, Lucas exudes a mixture of teenage angst and antics, melancholy and mirth. It was filmed at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and when I began my freshman year at Wheaton College—not fifteen minutes from Glen Ellyn—you can bet I visited the campus where the movie was filmed.
Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Lucas as one of the Top 50 high school movies of all time. In 1986, the well-known film critic Roger Ebert included the film in his top 10 of the year. He called Lucas “a movie about teenagers who are looking how to be good with each other, to care, and not simply to be filled with egotism, lust and selfishness, which is all most Hollywood movies think teenagers can experience.”
When I was a seventh grader at Liberty Middle School, and struggling to fit in myself, I couldn’t have put it exactly how Mr. Ebert did, but I knew there was something special about the movie. Awkward and anxious myself, and lovesick for the pretty blonde daughter of a Baptist minister, (and not having one shred of hope that she would reciprocate my affection), I remember loving this exchange between Lucas and Maggie, the girl who held his heart:
Lucas seemed to emphasize what teenagers are capable of at their best—meaningful friendship, loyalty, sympathy, deep reflection on life, and encouraging one another. (What a contrast to movies like American Pie and Eurotrip.)
I didn’t know Corey Haim personally. I honestly have no idea what kind of heart or character he possessed. But I am sad that his life did not appear to follow the same trajectory as the character he played in Lucas. After attaining near god-like status as a teen actor in the Decade of Reagan, Haim pursued a fast-paced life of entertainment and excess, which eventually led him into the substance abuse issues that claimed his own life.
I don’t know about you, but when a famous person dies, and that famous person is somehow bound up in my childhood memories—whether she is a world leader or he is a teen actor—it has an interesting effect on me. I feel a little emotion stirred in my heart. Not necessarily because I lost a friend or someone I greatly admired, but because someone who represented a fun and painful and weird and wonderful time in my past has now also…passed. My teenage years are gone and now so are they. And in a very unique and hard-to-explain way, it reminds me—as I sit here in a Kansas coffee shop far from Haim’s Southern California home, a thirtysomething with graying and receding hair living in the greatest college town in the world populated by the greatest people in the world—it reminds me that life is short.
“A thousand years are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night…men are swept away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass in the morning.”
Here is another one of my favorite moments from Lucas:
Lucas: I guess everybody has their own idea of fun. Some people go to football games. Other people do less superficial things.
Maggie: Look, just because you don’t approve of something, doesn’t mean other people don’t have a right to enjoy it. You’re in the band aren’t you?
Maggie: So the band goes to football games!
Lucas: We’re totally different!
Lucas: Because the band does not have fun there!
Every time I see that scene, I still laugh hard at the last line. As I just read it now, I laughed again. Later on in the day, I will probably go to YouTube and watch a scene or two from Lucas. And, as strange as it may sound to you, it will prompt in my heart joy, sadness, an appreciation for the good things in my life, and a renewed motivation to live well. And it will lead me to pray:
Teach us, Lord, to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom…
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us…
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.
Posted in Memoirs, Stories, and Anecdotes