Death, child abuse and religious cults – what happened to Stand By Me’s stars

Stand By Me has proven a coming-of-age flick like no other over the years, telling the story of four boys on the hunt for a dead body.

Directed by Rob Reiner, the 1986 film was inspired by Stephen King's grisly novella: The Body.

Set in the late 1950s, it saw four pals – Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern – travel along the railway tracks in Oregon, seeking the body of a little boy who had been run over by a train.

Producers struggled to get financial backing for the project, with many thinking the male-centric plot about friendship and mortality had zero mass appeal.

However, the film turned child actors Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and Kiefer Sutherland into fully-fledged stars.

In the years that followed, some were met with tragedy, while others have gone on to front major blockbusters and TV series.

Where are the stars of Stand By Me today?

Wil Wheaton

Wil played lead character Gordon "Gordie" Lachance, narrating the film as a grown-up version of himself.

Stand By Me was his first major role, which helped him to land his next big break – as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The 47-year-old acted in the sci-fi series from 1987 until 1991, though his character was universally disliked by hardcore Star Trek fans.

Since then, Wil has ventured into other work, helping to develop a video production tool called a "Video Toaster".

Wil has also dabbled in voice-over work, played in world poker championships and has hosted several video series.

He has also made guest appearances in The Big Bang Theory, playing himself.

The former child star has been married to wife Anne Prince for 21 years, and the two live together in California with her two sons from a previous relationship.

Earlier this year, Wil opened up about his difficult childhood in a blog post, branding his father as a "bully" and his mother as an enabler of his "abuse".

Speaking about his father, he said: "He bullied me, he humiliated me, he hit me, and I lived in absolute terror of him."

River Phoenix

Playing Christopher "Chris" Chambers in Stand By Me, River Phoenix’s life ended in tragedy at the tender age of 23.

The actor died of a drug overdose in Johnny Depp’s nightclub, The Viper Room, in 1993.

Despite his premature death, River had a hugely successful career after Stand By Me carved his path into Hollywood.

He starred in the critically-acclaimed Running on Empty, and in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

River also landed a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a gay hustler in My Own Private Idaho.

His final role in was in American-Dutch thriller film Dark Blood, which was released posthumously in 2012.

River’s older brother, Joaquin Phoenix, has enjoyed huge success in his own right as an actor, scooping up the Oscar for Best Actor at this year’s awards.

As children, the Phoenix family were raised in the Children of God cult in Venezuela, though their parents decided to leave the group in the 70s, when their practices became too treacherous.

Speaking about the loss of his brother earlier this year on 60 Minutes, Joaquin said: "I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way."

He added: "River was a really substantial actor and movie star, and we didn't really know it."

Corey Feldman

Actor Corey Feldman was a huge child star in the 80s, with lead roles in box office hits like Gremlins, The Goonies and The Lost Boys.

The 48-year-old played Theodore "Teddy" Duchamp in Stand By Me, one-quarter of the iconic boy gang.

Corey has been outspoken about his treatment as a child star in Hollywood, alleging to be a victim of child abuse at the hands of older men in the industry.

His 2020 documentary (My) Truth: The Rape of Two Coreys looked at his friendship with fellow child star Corey Haim, and the alleged crimes committed against them.

Coreyography, his 2013 memoir, also investigated his heavy drug use as a teen actor.

Corey had a high-profile friendship with Michael Jackson as a child and a teenager, and he tweeted last year: "My time w MJ was pure & innocent".

As an adult, Corey has appeared in several reality shows such as Dancing on Ice and Celebrity Wife Swap, and has achieved small success with his music career.

In 2016, Corey married his longterm girlfriend Courtney Anne Mitchell at an intimate Las Vegas wedding.

Jerry O'Connell

Though Stand By Me was Jerry O'Connell’s first feature role, his acting career has thrived ever since.

Playing Vern Tessio in the Rob Reiner flick, his character was the one to inspire the boys to go hunting for the dead body.

Speaking about the role on Newsweek Conversations earlier this year, he said: "Rob Reiner, looking back, was so good at directing us and working with us, and he really just got great performances out of all four of us."

In the years that followed, the 46-year-old landed leading roles in blockbusters like Scream 2, Jerry Maguire and Piranha 3D.

Jerry has had relative success as a TV actor, appearing as Pete Kaczmarek in the US legal-comedy drama The Defenders.

On top of that, he has dabbled in theatre, starring in Broadway productions and trying his hand at writing screenplays.

Married to model Rebecca Romijn since 2007, Jerry is father to their 12-year-old twin daughters.

In 2009, Jerry enrolled in law school in LA in a bid to make a career change, but later returned to acting.

Kiefer Sutherland

Kiefer Sutherland’s character popped up at the end of the film, playing the knife-wielding teen John "Ace" Merrill.

Though he cut his teeth in Stand By Me, the 53-year-old is still better known for playing Jack Bauer in 24.

Running for nine seasons, the action TV series saw Kiefer play a quick-thinking counter-terrorist agent.

The Canadian actor has starred in a whole host of successful Hollywood films and TV series, from 1993’s The Vanishing to The Three Musketeers.

Since 2015, he stepped up to play the US President Tom Kirkman in Netflix’s Designated Survivor.

Kiefer has had a couple of run-ins with the law in the past – in 2007, he pleaded no contest to a drink-driving charge, and two years later he head-butted a fashion designer at a party in New York.

He was engaged to Hollywood legend Julia Roberts in 1990, but she cancelled their wedding three days before they were due to tie the knot.

Twice divorced, he is engaged to model Cindy Vela and has one daughter from a previous marriage.

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