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Corey Haim’s recent passing is the latest in a long tradition of talented actors dying long before their time, often to unusual circumstances. Though actors are no different from other young people who may lose their lives, their time in the spotlight makes their death seem all the more tragic. It often feels as if we’ve grown up with them, their images on screen seeming both impenetrable and timeless. Haim is one of many whose young image on screen will unfortunately be the last and only people remember.
Before his well-publicized battle with hard drugs and a post-teen-idol life, Haim was best known for his role in the ‘80s film “The Lost Boys” at 16-years-old and his friendship with then co-star Corey Feldman. The two would later go on to star in their own series “The Two Coreys,” which documented their struggles and Haim’s obvious addictions. Though he seemed to turn himself around and set himself on a sober path, the 38-year-old actor died March 10 amid speculation that he died from a possible accidental overdose of different medications.
Haim is not the only one whose unintentional mix of medicines led to an early end. Heath Ledger died in January 2008 at the age of 28 to the shock of fans everywhere. Just a few months before the debut of his Joker in “The Dark Knight” (for which he posthumously won a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Ledger was found dead in his apartment while filming for the recently released “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” Ledger largely kept himself out of the limelight when not filming movies, but his unexpected demise put him in the papers more than he had ever been before. The Australian actor got his break in America after the release of the teen hit “10 Things I Hate About You,” and he went on to star in fan and critic favorites like “A Knight’s Tale” and “Brokeback Mountain,” the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Despite his young death, Ledger will be remembered as a talented star on the rise.
River Phoenix also had Academy Award nominations and critic’s adorations under his belt when he passed away at the age of 23. Breaking into popular culture in 1986 at the age of 16 with “Stand By Me,” Phoenix showed incredible acting promise from the start. After garnering several acting nominations for “Running on Empty” in 1988, Phoenix went on to star in blockbusters like “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and indie darlings such as “My Own Private Idaho.” Like Ledger, Phoenix was mentioned on lists of stars to watch out for but sadly never got to realize his full potential. Phoenix famously died of a drug overdose of heroin and cocaine outside a club in Hollywood on Halloween in 1993.
Troubled young actor Brad Renfro, like Phoenix, also died of a drug overdose. A week before Ledger passed, Renfro, known in his later career for his drug addiction, succumbed to a heroin overdose at 25. Renfro had gathered critical acclaim for his debut role in “The Client” at the age of 11. He went on to star in films like “Tom and Huck,” “Sleepers” and “Ghost World,” and though he continued to work through until the year of his death, his drug problems soon became the better of him.
While it is a tragedy when any young life is lost, especially to preventable situations, Haim, Ledger, Phoenix and Renfro will long be remembered for their contributions to the film world, whether through popular cult hits or summer movie blockbusters. From timeless actors like then 24-year-old James Dean to fan favorites like 32-year-old Brittany Murphy, it only further proves the saying that only the good die young.