Stand by Me, Rob Reiner’s touching coming-of-age drama, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The film’s tagline notably stated, “You’ll never have friends like you have when you are 12,” but for these former child actors, the question is, will they have careers like when they were 12? Here is a look back at the film and a look at where the actors are today.
The film’s central character was “Gordie.” Richard Dreyfuss famously voiced the adult Gordie fondly looking back on his wild journey through the woods of Castle Rock, Oregon, but it was Wil Wheaton who took the journey onscreen. Wheaton made his acting debut in 1981 in the ABC made-for-television movie A Long Way Home, opposite Timothy Hutton and Rosanna Arquette. Five years and several roles later, he got the lead in the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Body, re-titled for the big screen as Stand by Me.
A year after the film’s release, Wheaton won the role of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a job he would have throughout the show’s first four seasons. A self-professed geek, Wheaton has worked largely as a voice actor on a vast array of cartoons, Japanese animation and video games including Family Guy, Naruto and Grand Theft Auto. In addition to several TV appearances, he is best known today for his recurring role on the CBS hit The Big Bang Theory. Playing the arch-nemesis of the show’s leading character, he portrays an actor and former Star Trek star aptly named Wil Wheaton.
The part of Chris Chambers, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who refused to let his life be dictated by the stigma of his less-than-perfect family, was brought to life by the late River Phoenix. Born River Jude Bottom, Phoenix along with brother Joaquin and sisters Rain, Summer and Liberty made up what would become a famed acting dynasty. At the tender age of 10, River began working in commercials and TV, and at the age of 15, he landed one of the most iconic roles of his brief, but brilliant career.
Two years after Stand by Me launched Phoenix into the public eye, he earned his first and last Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for the 1988 film Running on Empty. A year later, he portrayed a young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and in 1991, he played what was perhaps his most famous role, Mike Waters in Gus Van Sant’s indie classic My Own Private Idaho. Two years later, at what seemed like the pinnacle of his career, River passed away at the age of 23, becoming a cautionary tale for the excesses of Hollywood.
One of the biggest stars of the 1980s was none other than Corey Feldman. Having started his career at the age of three, Feldman appeared in over 100 commercials and 50 television shows before he could legally vote. He also starred in several high-grossing films – including Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
and The Goonies
– before landing the role of the eccentric Teddy Duchamp in Stand by Me
. He then spent the rest of the 80s racking up hits including The Lost Boys, License to Drive
and Dream a Little Dream.
The 90s were not as kind to Feldman who struggled with addictions and his career. The 2000s saw Feldman return to TV in a different medium – reality TV. Feldman has been making the rounds doing cameos in everything from the 2010 direct-to-DVD sequel to his hit The Lost Boys to Katy Perry’s music video for “Last Friday Night.” He currently has three films slated for a 2011 release.
Finally, we come to the Stand by Me actor who undoubtedly would be voted least likely to turn into a heartthrob and marry a supermodel, but who ultimately ended up proving everybody wrong. Jerry O’Connell portrayed the pudgy Vern Tessio; it was the young actor’s first film role, but it would certainly not be his last. O’Connell spent the large part of his teenage years on the Canadian TV series My Secret Identity before heading off to NYU to study film and practice his competitive fencing skills.
O’Connell has had a steady career on both TV and film throughout the 90s and 2000s. He starred for five seasons on the sci-fi hit Sliders, and then did another five seasons on the NBC hit Crossing Jordan. He recently headlined the now defunct courtroom drama The Defenders with Jim Belushi. On the big screen, O’Connell has been seen in Jerry Maguire and Scream 2. In addition to acting, O’Connell is also a director, producer and even screenwriter, having written the 2008 Katie Holmes vehicle First Daughter. Not content to just conquer Hollywood, O'Connell enrolled in Southwestern Law School in 2009.
For more scoop on Stand by Me, pick up the 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray. DVD features include annotations from director Rob Reiner, as well as actors Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman.