Behind the 1950s bubble gum soundtrack, the ball-busting mythology of the dog Chopper, the barf-o-rama pie-eating contest and the lifetime’s worth of profanity that usually involved dissing someone’s mother — Stand By Me was all heart.
Released in 1986 and based on the novella The Body by Stephen King, Stand By Me is a story about four small-town 12- to 13-year-old boys who decide to search for a dead body in the Oregon woods to become “heroes.”
Who were these aspiring heroes? There was loose cannon Teddy (Corey Feldman), the pre-hot fat kid Vern (Jerry O’Connell), the introspective storyteller Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and the wise-guy-yet-wise-kid Chris (River Phoenix).
Impeccably and tenderly portrayed, Feldman, O’Connell, Wheaton and Phoenix spun a nostalgic narrative for moviegoers, reminding us of that particular age in our lives when we dealt with friendship, loss, morality, and death with a less conscious vulnerability.
In celebration of the classic film, let’s take a look and see where these heroes (and the main villain) ended up as adults:
As a child star, Corey Feldman took Hollywood by storm with his beady eyes and cherubic face. He appeared in countless commercials, landing his first for McDonald’s at the age of three. He snagged parts in primetime TV shows like Mork and Mindy and One Day at a Time, and by the 80s, his rascally, no-holds-barred persona landed him film roles in Gremlins and Steven Spielberg’s The Goonies before he got to play the unhinged, foul-mouthed Teddy Duchamp in Stand By Me. In 1987 he teamed up with Corey Haim in The Lost Boys and from there “The Two Coreys” were inseparable, co-acting in teenage angsty films like License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream. But once drugs came into the picture, Feldman’s career took a nosedive and hasn’t recovered since.
Who knew that chubby Vern Tessio, who dug like a prairie dog in search of his pot of pennies and loved cherry-flavored Pez in Stand By Me, would turn into a muscular, deep-voiced hunk of a man and marry a model in real life? After Stand By Me, Jerry O’Connell focused his roles in television but was relatively under the radar. His big break back into the mainstream came in 1996 when he got to play football star Frank Cushman in Jerry Maguire, opposite Tom Cruise. From there, he was seen in Scream 2 and a slew of other films, more notably Mission to Mars and Tomcats. In 2007 he married model Rebecca Romijn and had twins.
As the doe-eyed storyteller Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me, Wil Wheaton was “the voice” of the film, playing the younger version of Richard Dreyfuss, whom we only get to glimpse in the beginning and the very end of the movie. After Stand By Me, Wheaton looked to the stars, landing his next big role as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He later dove into voiceover work and indie films, and in 2001 appeared as a celeb contestant on the game show The Weakest Link. A handful of years later, he was able to get some guest roles in primetime television, like Numb3rs and Criminal Minds, and received added fame in his role as himself in The Big Bang Theory. As a technophile, Wheaton has actively participated in web series, hosts podcasts, runs his own blog, and is an active gamer.
Even when he played the sensitive-tough-kid Chris Chambers in Stand By Me, River Phoenix’s star quality was clearly evident onscreen. Garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Running on Empty in 1988, Phoenix moved on to playing a young Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. However, he yearned for more complex, less mainstream roles, and he made his point in 1991 through Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, playing a gay street hustler, opposite Keanu Reeves. Tragically, his promising future came to a halt on October 31, 1993, when he collapsed from a drug overdose in front of the West Hollywood club The Viper Room. At the time of his death, the 23-year-old actor had been filming Dark Blood, which wasn’t completed until just last year.
It would be a bit odd to overlook the “anti-hero,” or should we say more appropriately, the “the redheaded stepchild” of the cast, Kiefer Sutherland. Considering he was flawless as the unconscionable, knife-wheeling bully Ace, it’s hard to believe that Stand By Me was the Canadian actor’s first U.S. film. (After all, his father is the inimitable Donald Sutherland.) Post Stand By Me, he’s been in over 70 films, including The Lost Boys, Flatliners, A Few Good Men, and Three Musketeers. However, these days, he’s associated with the hit series 24, as the lead protagonist Jack Bauer. From 2016-2019, Sutherland starred on the show Designated Survivor.