I’ve been out of town, so I’m just catching up on the news. When I read that “Wheels” from Degrassi had died, it was sort of a nonplussed disbelief.
And it immediately brought me back to the Bayshore Shopping Centre in Ottawa. Somewhere around 1990 they were doing a mall tour with the “stars” of Degrassi High, in this case “Wheels” and “Liz” (Neil Hope and Cathy Keenan). A group of girlfriends and I went. We never liked Wheels, I mean, let’s face it, he was a terrible actor, but it was something to do. Plus, we’d been watching the show since they were the Kids of Degrassi Street, and in a way we’d all grown up together.
Bayshore was packed that day. Kids were screaming, holding signs, throwing notes and presents, and cameras were flashing everywhere. We made them feel like stars. And then, when inevitably the series was cancelled, it was over. We loved the show for what it was, but once it was done, it was done. We always pretty much knew who would and who wouldn’t make it as an actor once the show ended, and we didn’t really care.
Around that same time, in Toronto, everyone used to get trussed up and go to the Morrissey Tavern. “Monday Night at the Mo” was the place to see and be seen. I remember sneaking in with a fake ID and “Snake” and “Joey Jeremiah” (Stefan Brogen and Pat Mastroianni) showing up like they were the coolest shit ever. My girlfriends and I laughed and made fun of their trying to act like Hollywood stars when they were just Toronto brats like us. (For the record, we did get more serious when rumours rippled that Maestro Fresh Wes was there, with my old friend Kish, surrounded by bodyguards. We were really into rap then…)
Just a few years later, in 1994, I remember being in a hotel hallway watching actors lined up waiting to meet Hollywood casting agent Mali Finn. She was in town looking for a fresh, unknown actor to play Robin in the new Batman movie. Even then, I knew it was a publicity stunt -they ultimately cast Chris O’Donnell – but a much humbled Pat Mastroianni was there, eagerly waiting among the crowd. I remember feeling sorry for him as his name was announced in the middle of this cattle call. I kept thinking back to that night at the Mo and wondering if this was really the fate of all child actors, let alone Canadian ones.
(I felt the same thing a couple of years ago when we were at a pub and “Busy” from Ready or Not was our waitress. I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t blurt out “I remember when you got your period…”)
I can sit back and watch old episodes of Degrassi the same way I listen to old Whitney Houston songs. They remind me of what was.
Whitney was a train wreck. She had everything and lost it. Why are we so sad? What’s actually amazing is that she lasted this long.
Neil “Wheels” Hope died unknown and unnoticed in 2007. If we didn’t care then, should we care now?