Brad Renfro died days before Heath Ledger from an apparent heroin overdose.
It’s ironic that even in death his achievements would not even be seen “for the wrong reasons”.
He was a neighbor for a year or two prior to his heroin arrest. I occasionally spoke with him a little becuase we both had family in Knoxville, TN. He was a neighbor also at the time of his heroin arrest and he told me the day after the arrest was plastered all over the front page of the Los Angeles paper and he became the number one story on Google News that “You can do a lifetime of work and not get noticed but if you do something wrong you get all this coverage.” I remember he also told me he hoped it wouldn’t hurt his career becuase acting was what he knew and loved. He was serious about his work.
Ironically less than what - a year?- later he overdosed on heroine and was found dead and made the pages of papers all over the country with comparisons being made to James Dean …until Heath Ledger died days later and Brad’s story was completely lost to history. Could there be greater irony than even in death when Hollywood usually cements your place in history that Brad missed that recognition becuase of another’s subsequent death?
Weirdly it all just hit home again for me becuase just now I realize that I had a brief appearance in his last movie “The Informers” http://pro.imdb.com/name/nm1222064/ as a mourner after a boy in the movie dies too young apparently ( I don’t know the plot details becuase I worked the movie for one day and all I know was it was a memorial service reception scene with a distraught family who apparently lost a boy.)
The only people in my scene were Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger so I didn’t even realize Brad was in it until looking at the IMDB credits just now.
Brad was good kid who seemed to have honest fun in a town with a surprising lack of normal activities and he never seemed to have malicious or mean intent. He was often riding ultramini motorcycles around the block or working and practicing with his Led Zeppelin cover band. He was excited that his band got a play date on Melrose in a Club called “The Spot” at one point and invited me to go but I was working on a tv show late I think.
He was always polite and considerate and respectful and a good neighbor and would be extremely apologetic if he made too much noise which is frankly unusual in Hollywood. He had also told me after recently coming back from Japan he was happy to learn he had a child and was happy with how the girl was handling it. He seemed pleased and happy about it all and thought it would be a good thing.
While to many he appeared reckless I guess becuase of his past reputation, I gave him a lot of credit for making his own way in Hollywood - especially after he told me how young he was - I was shocked to learn he was so young. To a neighbor he just seemed like a young guy having fun who would have a few beers with his friends - nothing unusual - nothing bad. He also had a local girlfriend who seemed with her family to be trying to help him stay on the right path and he spoke highly of her and she often visited.
The day after his arrest I spoke to him, and I believe it was then that he had once told me he was born addicted to heroin. While I don’t know the details of his situation with drugs other than his arrest (and nothing was evident from being his neighbor), he told me after his arrest he would probably be doing some time in prison and that he hoped he would be making a clean break from it. Someone else moved into his old apartment after that and I hadn’t thought about him for some time and began to be curious if he had been released from his sentence and what he was up to just about the time I read he had passed away. It was a shock.
I think he was a good soul. Ironically I hadn’t seen much of his film work except his first movie but began Tivoing his films after he moved out and I began to be on more and more sets myself. He was very gifted.
I really think if Heath Ledger had not died so quickly after Brad’s passing or if Brad had been in the movie Brokeback Mountain which got so much attention in Hollywood that year that we would be recognizing Brad’s talent in a much bigger way. I believe he had been up for the role of young Brad Pitt in the Assassination of Jesse James and had told me he might get it becuase he had once played Brad Pitt in someway in an earlier role. Sadly he didn’t get the part but he got several others.
From what I read in the paper he died in his sleep and no one in the new apartment with him the night he died even thought he had a problem becuase they could hear him sleeping soundly.
I just felt such a sadness. I really feel he was a young guy with a good heart who was struggling to make his way in a town with few guidelines or clear directions for living. It’s always a shock to learn someone you know was so close to an edge, or perhaps more accurately it is a shock to learn that the edge is so near for all of us but we don’t know it and it’s so easy to slip over it.
I am especially sad for the local girl who I know had tried to be a positive part of his life - I hope she knows she was a positive influence, and for his child in Japan who now won’t have a chance to know his father.
It is truly tragic, and I believe it was beyond Brad’s ability to control his situation with heroin. If only heroin gave you a warning before it killed you rather than easing you into a warm blanket of nothingness - he would probably still be here.