Feldman, a former child actor and mainstay of beloved ’80s movies like The Goonies and Stand by Me, also became popular though his friendships with the now-deceased Corey Haim and Michael Jackson. Later, Feldman’s name became associated with drug problems and legal turmoil. Here, we look back at his progression from fame to online infamy.
The first chunk of Feldman’s career is well-documented: He got his start through over 100 television commercials. At the age of 3, the Clio Award-winning McDonald’s spot below was his first-ever television ad.
Feldman also notched roles in 50 different television series as a young child, including Mork & Mindy, Eight Is Enough and Cheers. Eventually, he branched out into a number of blockbuster films in the mid-1980s, including Gremlins, Goonies and Stand By Me. In 1987, Feldman appeared with Corey Haim in The Lost Boys and the pair subsequently became known as “The Two Coreys,” starring in films like License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream together.
Despite Feldman’s professional success during the time, his personal life was filled with any number of tragedies. He revealed in his 2013 memoir Coreyography that he was abused by his mother and molested by men in the entertainment industry for years, transgressions that led him to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
In fact, to hear him tell it, Feldman’s entire career started more or less against his will: Recalling the start of his acting career to The A.V. Club, Feldman said, “Well, at 3 years old, kids don’t really find their way into anything or make any type of decisions. At 3 years old, it’s called child slavery, and that’s what I endured: Child slavery. So I was a slave child who got very fortunate in his early career… or I guess my parents got very fortunate, I should say.”
In the same interview, he describes landing the role of Teddy Duchamp in Stand by Me because director Rob Reiner “connected with the fact that I had such an incredible amount of pain in my eyes.” But Feldman kept it largely under wraps: Director-producer Richard Donner, who worked on The Goonies and The Lost Boys, told PEOPLE in 2000 that, “I never realized the degree Corey was suffering,” he says. “He never let anybody know.”
That pain apparently started early. Feldman’s autobiography describes his father as mostly absent in his life – a bassist, his dad had been one of the many post-fame members of 1960s one-hit-wonders Strawberry Alarm Clock and got high with his son, but left most of the rearing to his mother. That was problematic; Feldman’s mother Sheila was a former Playboy model who belittled her son about his weight and force-fed him diet pills. The pair split up when Feldman was 11. Bulled by his classmates around that time, Feldman told PEOPLE in 1992 that he took a pistol from his grandfather’s gun collection and kept it under his bed.
“I used to hold it to my head every night and go, ‘God, why am I so ugly? Why am I so fat?’ I hated myself and wanted to kill myself.” He was introduced to marijuana and alcohol on the set of Stand by Me, his first steps towards full-blown drug abuse.
Drugs were hardly the least of Feldman’s problems: Feldman’s father, who was managing him, at one point hired an assistant named “Ron” whom the actor alleges introduced him to drugs and sexually molested him, which eventually became a common point with Haim: When the pair bonded on the set of The Lost Boys, Haim revealed that he’d been raped by an older man on the set of the film Lucas.
Feldman was declared legally emancipated from his parents when he was 15, though he’d lost the entirety of his acting fortune, save for a modest $40,000. Starting over, he moved into his own apartment and started climbing the ladder of success again with hits like Lost Boys and License to Drive. He also developed a cocaine habit and dabbled with psychedelics like mushrooms and acid. This eventually blossomed into a heroin habit that led to three drug arrests before Feldman entered into rehab in December 1990.
It was during his 10-month stay in Cri-Help, a live-in facility in North Hollywood, that Feldman revealed the extent of the sexual abuse in his past to his therapist, a woman named Marlene Nadel.
“You could see a lot of molestation issues in his behavior,” Nadel told PEOPLE in 1992. “He didn’t know how to trust.”
Feldman has had a history of failed relationships, aside from familial ones. His marriage to actress Vanessa Marcil lasted from 1989 to 1993, and his unlikely friendship with Michael Jackson – introduced by Steven Spielberg, the pair would hit Disneyland together, bonding over their mutually traumatic childhoods – fell apart in 2001.
Then, of course, there’s the tragic denouement to his friendship with Haim. The latter, whose own struggles with drug addiction consumed his life and career for most of the 1990s, costarred in a reality show titled The Two Coreys in 2008, ostensibly about Haim’s attempts to get his career back on track after getting clean and moving in with Feldman and his then-wife Susie Sprague. The show’s dynamic was intended to be a light one, but ended up painting a portrait of Haim’s struggle with sobriety and the pair’s troubled youth. They publicly discussed their shared history of sexual abuse in the show’s second season, and not long afterward, Haim relapsed. Feldman broke contact with him. In 2008, he told PEOPLE, “As a friend and somebody that cares deeply about the guy, I am not going to watch him destroy himself.”
Haim, who described himself to PEOPLE in 2008 as “a chronic relapser,” died in 2010 after “doctor-shopping” for over 500 prescription pills over the course of five days and overdosing on a combination of Valium, Soma, Vicodin and Xanax.
In 2013, Feldman became an unfortunate viral sensation when VICE covered the “360-degree interactive experience” of “Corey’s Angels.” At the time, a statement on Feldman’s website read, “Corey for the first time in his adult life is currently single. Corey also being an actor musician has the good fortune of traveling all over the world where he has the opportunity to meet gorgeous and beautiful women of all races and types of ethnicity. Now for the first time he is merging all of those worlds together by creating Corey’s Angels.” For $250, people were given the opportunity to attend parties at Feldman’s house with the “Angels.” (Extras, like an hour in Feldman’s hot tub, or a private poolside cabana, ranged from $500 to $2,500.) The article, which bizarrely enough, was apparently approved by Feldman before publication, portrayed the event as somewhat seedy and thoroughly depressing.
Earlier this year, Feldman turned to IndieGogo to raise funding for his album Angelic 2 the Core.
Though the campaign is currently closed after raising $14,902 of its started $105,000 goal, Feldman – as evidenced by his Today performance, is serious about his music and happy with where his life is right now.
“I feel very grateful and very lucky to be alive still, to have any kind of semblance of normal life,” he told the Associated Press in July. “I am blessed to have a beautiful child, a beautiful home, a beautiful girlfriend and a beautiful career … I don’t take any of it for granted.”
That was, of course, before the Today show performance, which found Feldman famous across the internet again – and the fallout has reportedly been intense on the star. “We put ourselves out there and we did the best that we could,” he said in a since-deleted Facebook post. “And, like, I’ve never had such mean things said about me. Like constantly.”
“Public shaming should not be accepted, no matter who you are,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re a celebrity or not. We deserve love and we deserve, like, normal life … It’s not okay, it’s not acceptable to call us freaks, weirdos, losers, whatever.”