The cult classic Stand by Me—which made River Phoenix a household name and forever linked pie-eating with projectile vomit, and was set and largely shot in Oregon—turns 30 on August 22. To celebrate one of the greatest boy adventure stories to make it onto the big screen, we talked to Portland native Kent Luttrell, who played “the dead kid,” aka Ray Brower, that the four main characters—played by River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell—set off to find.
Kent Luttrell now calls Beaverton home and works as a stunt coordinator. But 30 years ago he was a just a 20-year-old college student looking for some easy cash.
How did you even get involved in Stand by Me?
Towards the end of my freshman year in college my roommate, joked that there was an ad in the Emerald [the school newspaper at the University of Oregon] for stand-ins and photo double for these kids. You needed to be an adult and had to be under 5-foot-five. I wasn’t doing anything, so I went to the audition. Back then, there were three auditions and I went all the way up to the last one. I saw the writers and the executive producers and the director [Rob Reiner]—all for a photo double! They were paying $55 a day and all I had to do was stand around. I thought that was awesome.
Where you excited to be in a movie?
The stand-in work was fine. [Luttrell was a stand-in for Corey Feldman.] I mean, it was boring as heck but they fed us really well. They took care of us.
So you started out as a stand-in, but somehow became the "dead guy". . .
The role came because they had a mannequin, a dummy, to play this kid and it didn’t look right. So on the day, they asked if I would do it. I just laid down and did my blank, distant stare thing, and they liked it. In the original cut, I had California black beetles put in my mouth and I had to let them slowly crawl out. Some crawled down my throat, and others bit me on the lip. The first assistant cameraman gave me a shot of Jack Daniels after I was done. But they cut that part out of the movie—a little too much for them, I guess!
Any memories from filming that stick out in your mind?
I remember they would bring snacks around, and one time they brought around these steamed Alaskan king crab legs and I was thinking, these guys live pretty well. I mean, they cooked breakfast and lunch for us, plus $55 a day. I remember the crab legs coming out and thinking this was unreal.
Did you get to hang with the cast?
Yes, I remember hanging out with the boys [River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell] in the hotel. They were just young kids. I think River was the oldest; he might have been 14 when we started and 15 when it was over. I think Jerry was 12, Wil was 13, and I can’t remember how old Corey was. But most of it was on set, teaching them to climb a fence because none of them were athletic to any degree, at all. I taught them how to throw a football, how to throw a Frisbee. Just basic kid stuff.
Do you ever get recognized?
Rarely does a day go by when if I’m out with one of my friends or somebody who knows me and that individual realizes [another person there] has not met me before and they’ll say, “Oh, this is Kent Luttrell and he’s the dead body in Stand By Me.”
It’s the oddest thing in the world. There is a Facebook page for Ray Brower. It’s the strangest thing—it’s turned into being something cool. I mean, there are some people who really love that movie.
Check out Brower's star turn as Ray Brower.