The Stand By Me curse: The different fates of River, Corey, Jerry and Wil, after the 1986 film.


In 1986, coming-of-age film Stand By Me made its four stars household names.

River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and Wil Wheaton starred as four friends who go hiking in the countryside in search of a body.

Now considered a classic, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and two Golden Globes.

It also launched its stars from little known actors to full-blown superstardom and opened them up to all the pitfalls that come along with that: Drugs, addiction, mental health and intense scrutiny.

Just like their characters at the end of the film, the paths of the four main actors could not have gone any differently.

Here’s what happened after Stand By Me.

River Phoenix.

River Phoenix. Image via Getty.
River Phoenix in 1991. Image: Getty.

River Phoenix's performance as Chris Chambers received critical acclaim. After Stand By Me, Phoenix played the son of Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren in The Mosquito Coast, then a couple of other films before Sidney Lumet's Running On Empty in 1988.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and went on to maintain a successful career for the rest of the '80s and early '90s.

In 1991, Phoenix filmed Dogfight. In the romantic coming-of-age drama set in San Francisco, Phoenix portrayed a young US Marine on the night before he was shipped off to Vietnam in November 1963.

In 2010, his Dogfight co-star Lili Taylor remarked that Phoenix suffered while filming the movie as he struggled to distance himself from his character:

"He also hadn't gotten into any [drugs] – he was just drinking then, too. It was different... That was actually a hard part for him, because it was so radically different from who he was. He was such a hippie, and here he was playing this marine. It actually caused him a lot of discomfort. I don't think he enjoyed that, actually, getting into that psyche."

stand by me cast
Image: Columbia Pictures.

His role in 1991's My Own Private Idaho cemented Phoenix as leading man potential, but it was around this time that Phoenix began using drugs including marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

His final completed film was The Thing Called Love in 1993. He began a relationship with his co-star Samantha Mathis on set.

On October 30, 1993, Mathis attended Johnny Depp's LA club the Viper Room along with Phoenix's siblings Joaquin and Rain.

Not long later, Phoenix was dead.

The November 15, 1993 autopsy found that "toxicology studies showed high concentrations of morphine and cocaine in the blood, as well as other substances in smaller concentrations".


The cause of death was "acute multiple drug intoxication", including cocaine and morphine.

In 2018, Mathis spoke for the first time about what happened that night.

She insisted that during their relationship she knew Phoenix to be sober, but felt that something was going on in the days before his death.

"I didn't see anyone doing drugs [that night] but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable," she said.

After going to the bathroom, she returned to see Phoenix engaged in a fight with another person.

River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix
River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix in 1985. Image: Getty.

He was removed from the club and soon fell to the ground and began convulsing.

Phoenix's brother Joaquin called 911, and following his brother's death that call was broadcast across radio and television. The death of his brother and subsequent media coverage led Joaquin Phoenix to retreat from public life for more than 12 months.

Phoenix was still alive when an ambulance arrived at the Viper Room and he was taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Attempts to resuscitate him at the hospital were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 1:51 am PST on the morning of October 31, 1993, at the age of 23.

Corey Feldman.

After his role in Stand By Me, Corey Feldman, now 48, became best known as one of 'The Two Coreys" alongside his The Lost Boys co-star and friend Corey Haim.

The pair went on to star in a string of films together, including License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream.

After filming concluded for 1989's The 'Burbs, Feldman fell into a very public drug addiction, which culminated in a 1990 arrest for heroin possession.

Corey Feldman in Stand By Me. Image: Colombia Pictures.

After going to rehab and getting clean, it took Feldman years to get his career back on track. And when he did, it was in low-profile films.

He also released albums and performed in an off-Broadway show.

In 2007, Feldman and Haim said on their reality show they had been molested when they were starting out in Hollywood.

Haim, who had struggled with addiction throughout his career, died of pneumonia on March 10, 2010.

Since his death, Feldman has made many attempts to expose the names of men he says abused them.

The Two Coreys. Image: Getty.

According to Feldman, Haim begged him to tell his story if he died first.

"Nobody knows what it feels like to constantly console somebody whose life has been ruined by rape," Feldman told Rolling Stone last year, "unless you’ve been there, holding them when they cry, bringing them back to life over and over, stopping them from walking around with a knife."

"I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to tell his story. I didn’t ask for any of it," he said.

"Right off the bat, I can name six names, one of them who is still very powerful today. [It’s] a story that links all the way up to a studio [and] connects paedophilia to one of the major studios.


After years of allegations and thwarted attempts to expose his claims, Feldman is now releasing an independent documentary about his experiences on March 9, 2020.

The documentary, titled Truth: The Rape of Two Coreys, will air at the same time worldwide via an online stream and will name alleged abusers.

"I am able to say the names of who did what and the details of who did what," Feldman confirmed about the film.

"There is going to be people who are going to be very unhappy that this is coming out. People who want it silenced. Nothing can stop it at this point. That’s why we’re only showing it one time. We want to get it out. I’ve done my job, I’ve kept my promise."

Jerry O'Connell.

Jerry O'Connell, now 46, landed the role of Vern in Stand By Me not long after he turned 11. It was his first feature film role.

Jerry O'Connell, River Phoenix, Will Wheaton and Corey Feldman
Jerry O'Connell, River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman in Stand By Me. Image: Getty.

But unlike his co-stars Phoenix and Feldman, O'Connell made it out of child stardom relatively unscathed.

From 1988 to 1991, he starred in Canadian science fiction sitcom My Secret Identity as a teen who develops superhuman traits.

He enrolled for college at New York University and continued to act while a film student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

In his time at university, O'Connell auditioned for Sliders and landed the main role of Quinn Mallory, which he played for four seasons.

He has since starred in movies including Jerry Maguire, Tomcats, Scream 2 and Kangaroo Jack.

O'Connell has also had numerous high profile relationships, including with E! presenter Guiliana Rancic.

Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O'Connell
Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O'Connell. Image Getty.

In her 2015 book, Rancic claimed O'Connell cheated on her with Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

On July 14, 2007, O'Connell married actress and model Rebecca Romijn.

They have twin daughters Dolly and Charlie, born in 2008.

Wil Wheaton.

Though Wil Wheaton, now 47, already had some films under his belt when he starred in Stand By Me, his role as Gordie gained him widespread attention.

From 1987, Wheaton played Wesley Crusher in the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After leaving Star Trek, Wheaton moved to Kansas and worked for technology company NewTek.

He later returned to Los Angeles and attended acting classes for five years before re-entering the acting world.

stand by me movie
Actor Richard Dreyfuss,, Stand By Me director Rob Reiner, O'Connell, Feldman and Wheaton in 2011 for the film's 25th anniversary. Image: Getty.

Wheaton appeared in a number of independent films in the late '90s and early 2000s, and is also an accomplished voice actor.

Recently, Wheaton is most known for portraying a fictionalised version of himself in several episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

In 2016, Wheaton told Variety he had a complicated relationship with Stand By Me.

"It's complicated. How lucky I am and how wonderful it is that I have this incredible movie in my body of work and it’s been there since I was a kid. There are actors who will go their entire careers without ever having an opportunity to work in a film like Stand By Me.


"The other side of that is that it’s basically turned the rest of my life into a sophomore jinx. For the longest time, I really struggled with figuring out how I could just accept it and let it be its own thing and not feel this obligation and existential need to top it or equal it or best it."

Wil Weaton
Wil Wheaton and wife Anne in 2019. Image: Getty.

Wheaton has been open about living with chronic depression and generalised anxiety, and how his fame post-Stand By Me impacted his mental health.

"I worried about everything. I was tired all the time, and irritable most of the time. I had no confidence and terrible self-esteem. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone who wanted to be close to me, because I was convinced that I was stupid and worthless and the only reason anyone would want to be my friend was to take advantage of my fame," he wrote in a 2018 post on Medium.

"When I was thirteen, I was in an internationally-beloved film called Stand by Me, and I was famous. Like, really famous, like, can’t-go-to-the-mall-with-my-friends-without-getting-mobbed famous, and that meant that all of my actions were scrutinised by my parents, my peers, my fans, and the press.

"All the weird, anxious feelings I had all the time? I’d been raised to believe that they were shameful. That they reflected poorly on my parents and my family. That they should be crammed down deep inside me, shared with nobody, and kept secret."

He was 34 when he allowed a doctor to help him, just to see if it would work.

And it did.

"We need to share our experiences, so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids," he wrote.

Feature image: Columbia Pictures.