Foreward: Jumped The Snark updates have been few and far between for the last few weeks (in fact, they’ve been non-existent), because I have been in the process of moving out of LA, driving cross-country, and settling in back in NY. I’d been hoping to get back to the blog sooner than this, and certainly on a much lighter note. But while I’ve still just made a dent in my to do list (chief among them: get a job, so let me know if you hear of anything), it feels important that I note this tragedy, even if it’s not the way I wanted to return to the blogosphere.
This is not an obituary. This is not a eulogy. This is not a tribute. This is just some words and thoughts and memories.
I can still vividly recall one night twenty-one years ago when I planted myself in my parents bed to watch ABC’s Saturday night comedy line-up, anchored by heartthrob Kirk Cameron and Growing Pains. Unfortunately, to my great surprise/disappointment, when the show started I learned that Richard “Boner” Stabone decided to leave his comfy Long Island confines for the Marines, choosing his future before it chose him, and officially growing up beyond his rather unfortunate moniker (one that somehow got by the censors all those years). As a child Growing Pains was my favorite show; I would constantly watch it in reruns, instead of playing “house” my friend and I would play “Growing Pains,” and even a secondary character like Boner felt like family to me. And the idea that Boner was leaving, possibly forever, deeply troubled me. In fact, I started bawling uncontrollably, consoled only by my sister’s suggestion that perhaps he would resurface in a spin-off, The Boner Show (and, at the time, the idea of a program being called The Boner Show, didn’t seem particularly bawdy or unlikely to me, and if Coach Lubbock got a spin-off, why not Boner?). But, as you know, that never happened, and Boner never came back to Growing Pains (which is really unfair, as even Julie McCulloch‘s character was granted a degree of closure), and I’ve spent the subsequent years wondering what happened to Private Richard Stabone. Did he find what he was looking for in the Marines? Did he flame out and return to the suburbs? Did he complete his service, move to Seattle and start selling stereos again? Two Growing Pains reunion movies came and went and didn’t shed any light on his whereabouts. Like Keyser Soze, he was gone. A childhood friend never to be seen again (although, one would assume that Mike and Boner have reconnected over Facebook).
So what does that have to do Andrew Koenig, the actor who played Boner, who took his own life a few days ago? Nothing, really. I don’t know Koenig, and I don’t know if Koenig was anything like his character. He seemed well liked by the acting community, judging by the way that many actors and comedians tweeted their concern, their requests for help, and when his body was found, their sadness. Maybe Koenig embodied the best parts of Richard Stabone, the carefree attitude, the innocence, the sweet dorkiness, even the endearing naiveté. But, hopefully, in his real life, unlike Boner, Koenig was taken seriously and appreciated.
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that he was always known as Boner, and he always will be. Perhaps it was an ill-advised, myopic, nickname, one that had no choice but to stick permanently. Would he have been better off with less of a double entendre for an epithet? Does Mark Price, Family Ties‘ “Skippy,” go through his life unable to escape his character and his character’s name? I don’t know. This is just hypothesizing. But, either way, it’s always a shame that it takes a tragedy for us to start talking about someone whom we had long forgotten.
I recently began re-watching 21 Jump Street (which is a blog post, and hopefully an ongoing series, for another day) and came upon a season 2 episode entitled “Champagne High.” I was first struck by the presence of a young Peter Berg as a high school jock-bully. But I was soon even more surprised/intrigued by the subject of his bullying, a likewise young Andrew Koenig. I don’t think I had seen Koenig in anything other than Growing Pains, and it was interesting to see him get a chance to play a more serious role (and, on 21 Jump Street, there’s no shortage of meaty, if cripplingly melodramatic, parts). Like Boner, his character, Wally, was a pipsqueak. But Booner’s space case doofusness was replaced by resentment towards Berg and frustration over his constant abuse. In fact, Wally hires Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, undercover as the rough and tumble McQuaid Brothers, as his personal bodyguards. And the Jump Street officers then turn around and use Wally’s connections to set-up a sting operation, taking advantage of his father’s business as well as his vulnerability. It’s not fair to assert that this is what it was like for Koenig in real life – that he was bullied, used, mocked – but in light of his death, and the apparent circumstances that led to it, I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to wonder.
A little over a year ago a friend gave me what at the time was a wonderful, exceptionally thoughtful gift, a framed 8×10 screenshot of Boner with a faux-dedication and signature. I proudly displayed the photo on my Ikea bookshelf, and upon moving to LA I put it right back up, providing a measure of comfort. Now, of course, I feel bad that we might have had a good laugh at his expense, and I’m not sure what the etiquette is on displaying forged-autographed headshots of recently deceased semi-celebrities. When I get settled I’ll probably put it back up. But not so much as a joke anymore, but as a tribute. And to remember that while Andrew Koenig might not be with us anymore, there’s still hope that Richard Stabone is living a rich and rewarding life, the life that they both deserved.
Thanks for the memories, Bone.
(and, yes, just teared up watching this)