'Former child star' gets the joke, okay?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Jan. 17, 2003 at 6:40 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- You can joke about former child star Corey Feldman's troubled past, but coming up with one he hasn't already heard -- now there's a challenge.

Feldman -- who has been acting since he was 3 years old -- seemed to have the world on a string as a teenager in the 1980s, when he starred in such movies as "Gremlins," "The Goonies," "Stand by Me" and "The Lost Boys." Things went south for Feldman in the 1990's, largely because of well-publicized drug possession arrest.

The young actor continued to work regularly, but the bad news was costly. Feldman found himself in the crosshairs of late night TV gag writers, and off the "go-to" list of a good many casting directors.

A lot of armchair psychologists automatically assumed that Feldman's problems resulted directly from the pressures of being a child star. In an interview with United Press International, Feldman said it was a good deal more complicated.

"Almost certainly (celebrity) played a part in it," he said. "However, I believe my issues happened because of my life. People say anybody who was a child actor end up with drug problems. I think it's more about dysfunctional family."

Feldman also said he probably has a "genetic predisposition" to substance abuse.

"My parents were both drug addicts and alcoholics," he said.

It's been a while since Feldman was routinely involved in the higher-profile types of pictures that made him a star -- including a gig as the voice of young Copper in Disney's "The Fox and the Hound" -- but he remains a very busy guy. Several of his current projects actually acknowledge -- and make fun of -- his colorful past.

For example, he has recorded three music CDs, including his latest, "Former Child Actor." He wrote the title song with actor-pop star Rick Springfield, and said the single, "Negativity," is about the proliferation of negative messages and impressions that characterize the contemporary media landscape.

That includes negative impressions about himself, impressions that Feldman regards as grossly unfair.

"There's never anything that's positive," he said. "There's never, 'Hey, this is a guy who believes in spirituality or does charity work.' Why write about that when we can call him a 'former child actor' or a 'C-list' actor?"

In his current gig, as a member of the ensemble on the WB reality show "The Surreal Life," Feldman is getting some relatively high profile exposure. But he isn't happy with the network's promotional campaign for the show, which he called insulting to him and the other members of the cast, including rapper MC Hammer, Emmanuel Lewis ("Webster"), Playmate Brande Roderick and rocker Vince Neil.

Feldman objects particularly to a promo that informs viewers: "When the stars fall from sight, ... this is where they crash."

The word "crash" can be read as a pun. On the one hand, it refers to the fact that the show has brought the celebrities together to share a home, where they live the way non-celebrities do -- without cell phones or personal assistants. On the other hand, the copy line also suggests that the participants' careers have crashed.

"The campaign is insulting," he said. "It's like, 'These guys are a bunch of losers and we've got them on our network.'"

Feldman said he was concerned that the network might do something like that when he was approached about doing the show.

"I'd seen 'Celebrity Boxing' and the 'Anna Nicole Smith' show where they're literally taking a last poke at celebrities," he said. "As someone who plans to remain in this industry, the last thing I wanted was to be involved in a show like that."

Feldman said network officials promised him the show would not go down that road. And he acknowledged that the show itself turned out to his liking.

"The first episode pretty much met the standard of what I thought it would be when I agreed to do it," he said. "It's a story and a show about seven survivors who have found a better path. It's a very spiritual show.

"However, when you set your audience up as 'watch the disaster,' what do you expect to come out of it except negativity?"

Feldman said network officials assured him that at the end of the day, the show would get great ratings and no one would remember the promo campaign.

"Of course it's not their name that's being drug through the mud," he said. "Nobody is saying, 'WB is the skankiest network of all time.'"

Feldman is keeping his fingers crossed that the promo campaign doesn't undo all he has done to try to repair his reputation.

Feldman's calendar includes appearances as himself in the upcoming David Spade comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star." He also appears in "Freddy vs. Jason," reprising the role of Tommy Jarvis that he played in the 1984 slasher "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter."

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