PEOPLE critic Tom Gliatto examines the actor's childhood trauma, early success and losing struggles
Corey Haim’s movie career probably reached its highpoint with one well-regarded, well-remembered vampire movie, 1987’s The Lost Boys. That title became the sadly ironic tag that followed his descent from success to his tragic end, another premature Hollywood death in a shockingly short span.
The cute kid with the tangled hair and the curling upper lip that hinted at hip self-awareness – well, he was sidelined. He was replaced by a spaced-out stranger who often looked bloated – he claimed at one point to have weighed 285 pounds after spending almost a decade as a shut-in, depressed and in bed.
For a long time, he seemed to stumble around, no longer able to clearly articulate a sad, complicated life story of drugs and sexual abuse. He truly was a lost boy.
“Corey had a tremendous saboteur inside of him. And that saboteur he surrendered to,” says Dr. Nicki J. Monte, Haim s on-screen therapist for the reality show The Two Coreys. “He was living under the spell of his addiction and he was never able to break that spell.”
Possible Drug Overdose
The 38-year-old actor collapsed at his mother’s apartment Wednesday morning and was later pronounced dead, possibly of a prescription drug overdose, according to the LAPD.
In the last few years of his life, Haim was probably best known for teaming up with Corey Feldman, his Lost Boys costar, in The Two Coreys. The show, which had been intended as a campily enjoyable train wreck, turned into clammy psychodrama when Haim revealed that, like Feldman, he had been sexually abused as a child.
Shortly after that he suffered a relapse and Feldman, himself a recovering drug addict, refused to continue to promote the show alongside Haim. “I am not going to watch him destroy himself,” Feldman said.
“Moments of Clarity”
Speaking to PEOPLE months after this debacle, Haim said he was sobering up: “It feels like raw bacon getting stripped out of every cell of my body. But you have great moments of clarity: I’m talking colors, I’m talking sounds, I’m talking, you know, my friend’s laugh, I’m talking everything. Now I’m talking about my future, and coming back, and having the opportunity to do just what I love doing, which is acting.”
He took out an ad in Variety, apologizing for bad behavior and asking for work.
Since then, Haim patched things up with the other Corey and began what appeared to be yet another comeback. American Sunset, a thriller shot in Canada in 2009, will have a release this year, and those on the set last summer said he seemed upbeat, despite the stress of dealing with his mother’s breast cancer battle.
“He was just in high spirits,” says his costar Angela Cullins, “so positive about everything and proud of his role. He was an inspiration on the set.”
Then last month, he wrapped another movie called Decisions, still seemingly happy, while still distracted by his mother’s health crisis.
“He seemed great, alive and vibrant and ready to go,” says director Jensen LeFlore.
Those who knew him, however, remained skeptical that the New Corey would last. “He got a million second chances in life,” says a longtime friend. “He was always changing managers, changing agents.” And changing women. He never married, although he once announced an engagement to a horror-film actress. “He got engaged and broke off engagements more times than he could count,” says the friend. “He actually told me he could not remember how many times he’d been engaged.”
Plagued by Drugs
The drugs, though, they were a constant. “It was always prescription drugs,” says the friend. “He didn’t drink, didn’t do meth, not coke – prescription drugs, all the way. Tons of them.”
Haim was a TV star in his native Canada by age 12 with a show called The Edison Twins. Not long before he’d made his first movie, Firstborn, starring two other kid icons of the era, Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. His breakthrough movie role was Lucas in 1986.
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He moved to Los Angeles with his mother (his parents divorced) and, he later said, quickly lost himself. The friend says he was introduced to drugs while shooting The Lost Boys.
“That to him was one of the best times of his life – but it was also the last time he was truly himself,” says the friend.
He was only 16 when he made his first public admission that he’d struggled with drugs – although he claimed to have kicked the habit on his own, “just stopped,” he said. But the addiction continued for years – he later described it in terms of lasting 20 or more years.
As an adult, he didn’t rule out that substance abuse may have been a response to the trauma of sexual abuse: That began, he said, when he was only 14 or 15 and his abuser (whose identity he never revealed) was in his 40s.
“I was ashamed, so I shut my mouth, and I just rolled with the punches, man,” he told PEOPLE.
But clearly he didn’t.
“Stuff happens when you are a kid,” he said. “It scars you inside for life. That is just how I look at it.”
• Reporting by OLIVER JONES, KATE COYNE, CHAMP CLARK and CHARLOTTE TRIGGS
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