- Maggie St. Thomas
Kids can be deprived of their childhood in any number of ways. But the ones we hear about most often are the child actors who are cut off from their peers, pushed into pre-adolescent stardom by single-minded stage parents, and ultimately filed under "Where are they now?" until something goes wrong: an addiction here, a reality show there, maybe a tell-all biography along the way. Even in the case of Michael Jackson, whose celebrity never faded, those anything-but-normal formative years led to lifelong attempts to compensate for a lost childhood.
Corey Feldman knows the feeling, having transitioned from child actor to post-adolescent trainwreck, and now — thanks in large part to last September's still-infamous Today Show performance — an unlikely middle-aged pop singer embarking on a 40-date national tour, which includes a stop in Colorado Springs at Sunshine Studios.
Feldman cites lyrics from John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" — "They've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years / Then they expect you to pick a career" — to summarize a predicament he's faced since childhood. The song, he says, speaks to him, which is why he covered it on his most recent album.
"When I heard those lyrics the first time, I said, 'Oh my God, that's me," recalls the 45-year-old performer. "You come out of being a child actor and, all of a sudden, you're in your 20s, and you've worked for 20 years, and they say, 'Oh well, you can't work anymore, because you're not cute enough, you're not this, you're not that. So that's over, now go find something else to do.'"
It wasn't Corey Feldman's idea to get into show business, any more than it was JonBenet Ramsey's or Macaulay Culkin's. That, he says, was the choice of his overzealous stage mother. "Three-year-olds should not be in this industry," says Feldman, "because most 3-year-olds can't make business decisions for themselves. And even if they could," he adds, "they probably wouldn't be very good at it."
Be that as it may, Feldman did make his acting debut, at the age of 3, in a McDonald's Christmas commercial. You can find it on YouTube: Corey creeping down the stairs in his pajamas and placing a 50-cent McDonald's gift certificate next to the cookies and milk that have been left out for Santa.
Over the course of the next decade, Corey would be featured in more than a hundred television sitcoms and commercials. By the age of 16, he'd earned Hollywood celebrity through leading roles in blockbuster films like Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand by Me and The Lost Boys. He even appeared in a music video by his childhood hero and mentor Michael Jackson.
All of which made the transition from teen magazines to tabloid headlines that much more difficult. Feldman also fueled the fire with his own tell-all tome, Coreyography, in which he recounted his bouts with heroin and maintained that pedophilia is the entertainment industry's No. 1 problem. He also urged parents of kids in the industry to get them out of Hollywood and allow them to live normal lives.
All that said, a life in the spotlight may still have its bright side. A few weeks ago, the lifelong Southern Californian moved from his previous "Feldmansion" in Encino to a new one in the tony Woodland Hills neighborhood. And while he'll never match Michael Jackson's Peter Pan-inspired Neverland Ranch and its collection of exotic animals, Feldman has found a more economical way to indulge his childhood fantasies: He collects Corey Feldman action figures.
"Every single one of them!" he declares, with a guileless enthusiasm that's hard not to find endearing. "I actually have a whole wall in my house that's dedicated to paraphernalia and memorabilia. As a kid who obviously grew up in a pretty disorganized environment, I didn't hold on to many things from childhood. So I try to collect as much of the stuff that's out there as I can."
So what exactly is out there? Corey, who speaks in paragraphs at twice the speed of your average human, begins with the action figures.
"Well, there are several Mouth figurines from The Goonies," he says, referring to the wisecracking Clarke "Mouth" Devereaux character he played at the age of 14. "And then there is the little Funko Pop version of him, you know, the ones with the big heads. Also, the action figures that look like the figures from Star Wars. Then there's the kind of bigger version of those."
Feldman's shelves are also populated by licensed merchandise from his voice-over characters. "There's Donatello and Slash, which are both Ninja Turtle characters; my character from Fox and the Hound was turned into a doll; my character from Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go was turned into a talking doll. They lent my voice to that one. So yeah, there are many different versions of Corey dolls, if you wanted to go and take the time."
Look hard enough, he says, and you may also find backpacks with Corey's face on them, tennis shoes and a lunchbox. "I found that two years ago," he enthuses, "and apparently there's a Goonies one that I never knew about."
Best of all — or at least strangest of all — are the one-of-a-kind gifts that fans send him.
"I've even got a toaster now with my own face on it that plays audio clips from my films. And I've got to tell you, when you put a piece of bread in your toaster and hear your own voice, it can get a little annoying."
But while enthusiastic fans and eBay searches bring some measure of comfort, Corey's interactions with the outside world can still be confusing. And that may be more true than ever with his return to the media spotlight, this time in the unlikely role of a touring pop musician.
For that, Feldman credits "God's architecture" and, more specifically, the aforementioned Today Show performance. What began as a routine daytime-show booking instantly turned into something else entirely. Corey and his band's quirky performance of an electronic dance music number called "Go 4 It" quickly went viral — it's since racked up views in the millions — while inspiring YouTube comments that range from curiosity to ridicule. The mainstream press quickly jumped on the backlash, churning out countless articles in which the word "bizarre" would appear nearly as often as the phrase "former child actor."
If you've yet to see it, the video is definitely worth watching. It opens with a dub-step vamp laid down by Corey's Angels, an all-female backing band that includes Corey's wife Courtney Anne Mitchell deejaying. Although dressed in slinky white angel-wear — complete with furry halos and wings — they turn out to be no match for the spectacle of Feldman, hunched over in a black hoodie, side-stepping his way to the mic in a manner that's equal parts Nutcracker Suite and King of Pop. With breathy, raspy, and apparently autotune-free vocals, he comes across as a voiceover actor grasping for drama at all costs. If there was a tongue-in-cheek element to the performance, Feldman's wide-eyed countenance kept it well concealed.
Later that week, the despondent performer appeared in a live, quickly deleted Facebook video in which he broke down sobbing. The following day, Corey and Courtney uploaded a new, more composed video.
"We love you, and we're gonna keep going no matter what," said Corey. "So therefore, for all the people who really love us, if you really want to show your love and your support, please continue buying the album and continue buying the single, because there's no better way to show the haters that they're wrong."
In the days that followed, artists like Kesha, Pink and Miley Cyrus came to Feldman's defense on social media. "Fuck judgment!" declared Cyrus. "You have more courage than any of those hatin motha fuckas!!!!"
It's easy to see why the former Hannah Montana would feel empathy for Feldman, having herself faced more than her fair share of backlash after outgrowing her TV teen persona. I ask Feldman why he thinks it is that the media treat child stars so unkindly once they grow up.
"I don't know if it's child stars, or if it's just anybody that they feel is the weaker party," he says, "but I think that there is unfortunately a running theme in society which says that, if somebody's chips are down, now is the time to start stomping on them. And unfortunately that is a very sick and disturbing outlook on life. If somebody's down, bend down, lend a hand, and lift them up. That's the way that I view things. And I just can't wrap my head around why people feel the need to, I don't know, demonize these people. It's like, 'Oh my God! Can you believe Miley Cyrus?' — or Lindsay Lohan, or whoever it is — 'Look at how awful they are.'
"And is that because, in our society, we're so insecure with our own lives that we have to feel better about ourselves by putting someone else down? Or is it because we think that they've had some charmed, super life and that we should be jealous of the fact that they've never had to work a real day in our life. Do you know how many times I've been told that? Well, I've got news for you. These are people coming to me that are working 50-hour workweeks and complaining about it. I work 50 hours in two days!"
While that's not technically possible, Corey does have an unusual number of irons in the fire these days. In addition to moving the Feldmansion, he's rehearsing his Angels and ironing out tour details. He's also producing a film about his life story for Lifetime that he expects to air this fall.
Feldman's other big project is a return to the vampire roots he explored 30 years ago in The Lost Boys. His appetite already whetted by a blood-sucking cameo in the short film Saturday Night Slaughter, he's currently in the middle of filming a new feature-length movie called Corbin Nash, which he's hoping will be out by October.
"I actually play the lead vampire, who happens to be a tranny. So I have to completely become this character, which is about as far removed as I could get from my real person. So that was a challenge and fun. Anyway, that's a small handful of the things that I'm working on. I've also got several websites, and merch, and stores, and this and that.
"The reality is that it's a lot of work, and it's a lot of people saying very unkind things about you. You have to have rhino skin. You have to have a very tough layer of protection around you to be able to weather the storm."
And with that, we inevitably return to the music. Feldman, it turns out, has music in his blood; his father, Bob Feldman, was a member of The Strangeloves, a mid-1960s songwriting and production team best remembered for their hit "I Want Candy."
- Maggie St. Thomas
Fewer still may realize that Feldman has five albums under his belt, including 2002's wistfully titled Former Child Actor. Those records have largely slipped into obscurity, although an eBay search will likely turn up one or two alongside Corey Feldman action figures and videos.
Most of the material on Feldman's current tour, meanwhile, will come from his overly generous Angelic 2 the Core, a two-CD set that suggests Corey is being kept awake at night by the ghosts of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Manson. (He'll also trade on his film success by performing non-album songs from The Lost Boys, Stand by Me, The Goonies, and Dream a Little Dream on this tour.)
In addition to "Go 4 It" and Feldman's John Lennon cover, Angelic 2 the Core includes guest appearances by one of the strangest groups of vocalists in recent memory. Among them are East Berlin "Godmother of Punk" Nina Hagen, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, ex-Pussycat Doll Kaya Jones, and former Death Row Records inmates Kurupt and Snoop Dogg.
Feldman is hoping the current tour will lay to rest the assumption that Corey's Angels were miming their Today Show performance, much like the glamorous models in black dresses who pretended to be Robert Palmer's backing band in '80s videos like "Addicted to Love."
"One of the harshest critiques that we got on the first appearance was everybody trying to say that the girls weren't really playing," says Corey. "And yes, of course I like the visuals in the Robert Palmer videos and the idea of them all obviously faking it. So I thought, what if we did it for real? What if we had a band of smoking hot gorgeous girls that are actually talented, as opposed to just being kind of mimes and dummies?
"So that was really the intention, was to give that effect and to make it surreal. But unfortunately, people were so prepared for it to be a stunt that nobody actually took the time to go, 'Wait a minute, these girls really worked for this.' They really trained and studied and learned this stuff. It is not easy, let me tell you, to perform an EDM song totally live on morning television. And I think what we did was a huge achievement."
As for his own strengths, Corey feels he's learned from the troubles he's had — as well as the mistakes he's made — over the course of his life-long career.
"If you never are obstructed, and you never have any challenges, then how are you going to grow?" he asks. "I am quite proud of the person that I've become. I think I'm a pretty good father, I'm a decent husband, and I'm a good business man as well as a fairly decent entertainer. So I feel that I've earned what I have. I have never gotten things handed to me, it's never been easy, and I've worked for everything that I've ever attained. And I think that, in due time, things will go the way they're supposed to."