Arrested In Time: The Life & Death Of Andrew Koenig
Yes, the kid we called Boner only worked sporadically after his initial fame and landed in jail at least once. His journey was a far cry from that of the average child star, though, and we may never fully understand his death.
On February 2, 2010, filmmaker Lance Miccio returned to his Venice, CA, home after a brief Florida jaunt to discover a small bag of miscellaneous items slung over the front doorknob. The bag was from Lance’s friend and fellow filmmaker Andrew Koenig and contained several video tapes of projects the two had worked on over the years, as well as a few personal affects Miccio had previously gifted Koenig. Miccio was confused by the presence of the bag, but didn’t think much of it at the time as there was no note attached offering explanation.
Two days later, Lance contacted his pal Andrew about an upcoming editing gig upon which the two could once again collaborate. Koenig flatly refused the job and also declined an offer to join Miccio for drinks later that evening. Andrew was leaving for Canada within hours, he told his friend, taking a vacation to visit acquaintances in Vancouver. Unbeknownst to Miccio or anyone else in Andrew Koenig’s circle was the fact Andrew had spent the previous weeks clearing out his own Venice residence. According to neighbors, what the genial, doe-eyed actor couldn’t sell he eventually ended up giving away. Again, Andrew Koenig had cited his trip to Vancouver as the motive for this sudden casting off of possessions. He was merely looking to start over in a new country, most assumed.
Eleven days after flying to North America’s third most populous city, Andrew Koenig vanished, which seemed doubly odd as Vancouver was hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics at the time. The games brought an estimated 15,000 temporary residents to British explorer George Vancouver’s namesake in athletes, Olympic officials, and members of the international media. Alas, this brief population boom did nothing to aid location of Koenig. For two weeks, Andrew’s friends and family agonized over the missing writer, director, and performer, and a significant chunk of TV viewers who came of age in the 1980s paid rapt attention. Andrew Koenig was, after all, best known to audiences at large as Boner Stabone, wacky teenage neighbor from the family-oriented ABC sitcom “Growing Pains.”
The situation was sad and slightly surreal in that it seemed to echo the requisite joke about actors who don’t manage to stay in the limelight. Where was Boner Stabone? He had been missing from our popcorn-munching couch potato lives since exiting “Growing Pains” in 1989. Now he was literally gone, another soft face (with unexpectedly long, rock star-ish hair) staring at us from hundreds of missing posters, disappeared in an age where Facebook and Twitter are supposed to be keeping society more firmly connected than an air-tight block of Legos. How can anyone disappear when Google has nearly every inch of the planet photographed and available online for three-dimensional viewing? There’s no hiding anymore, is there?
Statistics would seem to vaguely support that notion. The annual number of missing persons cases entered into the National Crime Information Center’s files has been on a steady decline (coinciding with the rise of technology) since 1995; that year, the NCIC took on 969,294 new cases. In December of 2009, the agency reported a significantly lower 719,558. That’s a 26% drop, which probably will never be trumpeted from the mountaintops because several thousand disappearances every year is still a hell of a lot of missing persons. And can we unequivocally say the various gadgets spewing forth from Silicon Valley are really helping to bring those numbers down and humanity closer together? Of course not. Do you really know all of your Facebook friends?
Our “Age of the iPhone” rings hollow. If a person really wants to go completely off-grid (or, more frighteningly, if a person really wants you to go completely off-grid), no Apple-approved app or innovative location technique is going to stop them.
Joshua Andrew Koenig was born August 17, 1968, the offspring of science fiction royalty. His father, Walter, famously portrayed heavily-accented Russian space cadet Pavel Chekov on the original “Star Trek” television series. Andrew took to acting early, earning his first screen credit at age five on a 1973 episode of “Adam-12.” Entering his teen years, Koenig landed what would become his signature role—that of recurring goofball Richard Milhaus “Boner” Stabone on “Growing Pains,” whose breakout star was teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron. Koenig appeared as early as the second episode, although at that point he had yet to punctuate Boner with the layer of Brooklynese that defined the character. The dim-witted but lovable foil to Cameron’s Mike Seaver was perhaps the quintessential TV Land neighbor, right down to his obnoxious (and occasionally vaudevillian) attire.
A year before Boner Stabone’s final appearance on “Growing Pains” in 1989, Andrew Koenig took a guest-starring role on FOX crime drama “21 Jump Street” (noted for its own resident pin-up hunk, Johnny Depp). The episode in question, entitled “Champagne High,” was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has long been a haven for low cost entertainment production. By all reports, Koenig, a blossoming environmentalist, fell in love with the progressive Canadian city nicknamed “Hollywood North.” Vancouver’s reputation as a haven for nature-lovers precedes itself; a staggering 90% of the city’s power is drawn from renewable sources, and officials there have also taken steps to position solar and wind energies ahead of the standard gas and electric. This sets the Big V far apart from other smoke-spewing metropolises.
Andrew was particularly taken Vancouver’s lush 1,001 acre wildlife area known as Stanley Park. The vegan actor would visit the park every chance he could get, enjoying the thick vegetation probably far more than the various monuments to notable historical figures. One such installation celebrates the forgotten Warren G. Harding, who in 1923 became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Canada. The monument takes on a different tone when you learn Vancouver is where Harding suffered the massive heart attack that eventually felled him a week or so after his historic visit to the Great White North.
Another issue Andrew Koenig would come to care deeply about was the turbulent political situation in Burma, now known as the Union of Myanmar. A military junta has controlled that country since 1962, forcing thousands of native Burmese to seek refuge in neighboring nations. In July of 2007, Koenig journeyed with his father to visit displaced Burmese in Thailand with the U.S. Campaign for Burma. The actor blogged frequently on Myspace about the country’s plight following that trip. In January of 2008, Koenig chronicled his protest of that year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA, and subsequent arrest (the parade featured a float promoting the Beijing Olympics; China has offered financial support for Burma’s controlling military for decades). Despite spending a full day behind bars, Koenig retained his trademark whimsy when reflecting upon the incident.
“I finally settled on ‘China: Free Burma,'” he wrote on his blog, referring to the banner he created for the protest. “Second place went to ‘Where’s the Beef?’, but it seemed a little off topic.”
Such was Andrew Koenig; he could find humor in the serious, and he took seriously what others might find humorous. In 2003, Koenig took on the role of iconic comic villain the Joker in director Sandy Collora’s fan film Batman: Dead End. According to Collora, Koenig was extremely passionate about playing the Clown Prince of Crime in what amounted to an eight minute unlicensed Internet movie. The actor even wore a purple suit in the style of the Joker to his audition. Bodybuilder Clark Bartram, who played Batman in Dead End, reaffirmed Collora’s statements when asked about Koenig, pegging the actor as “a pro in every sense of the word” who was “always wanting to improve his craft.”
The dedication to Batman: Dead End paid off. In the years before Heath Ledger’s masterful interpretation, Andrew Koenig’s Joker was cited as the truest screen interpretation of the Dark Knight’s most reviled and greasepainted enemy. It came as quite a shock to fan boys when it was revealed this latest green-haired jester used to spend his Friday nights scheming with Kirk Cameron under the watchful eye of Alan Thicke.
By this point in his life, Andrew had better luck finding work behind the camera than in front of it (the Joker had been his first acting gig in a solid decade). He began a fruitful relationship editing short documentary films with Lance Miccio the same year Batman: Dead End was released. In 2006, Andrew took on video producing his brother-in-law Jimmy Pardo’s comedy podcast “Never Not Funny.” The affable presence Andrew cultivated when he occasionally spoke up on “Funny” rarely hinted at the severe depression the actor battled on a day-to-day basis. Miccio told ABC News after his friend’s disappearance that the gloom Koenig grappled with “never affected his work” beyond the occasional grouchiness, but the condition was without question quite serious. Miccio also stated that the new century had found Andrew’s depression compounded by professional frustration. The actor rather disliked only being known as Boner Stabone or for his paternal “Star Trek” connection.
Like thousands of other sufferers, Andrew Koenig attempted to combat his unflagging feelings of pain and hopelessness with medication. He was regularly taking the popular antidepressant Fluoxentine (more commonly known as Prozac) at the time of his 2008 Rose Parade arrest. Roughly one year later, Koenig went off his medication. It is not known if this decision was reached because Andrew thought he could handle life anew without chemical help or if the medicine simply wasn’t working anymore.
One of the many films Lance Miccio and Andrew Koenig counted to their credit was 2009’s Living the Blues: The Story of Canned Heat. A portion of the film delves into the cloudy death of Canned Heat front man Alan Wilson. The singer / guitarist committed suicide on September 3, 1970, not far from band mate Bob Hite’s home in the wilds of California’s Topanga Canyon area. Several news reports at the time posited Wilson’s death as a drug overdose, pointing to the four phenobarbitol caplets found on his body and the lack of suicide note; it was was no secret, however, that Wilson, a dedicated environmentalist deeply saddened by man’s ongoing devastation of the Earth, had attempted suicide twice before and had been placed under Hite’s care following release from a psychiatric hospital. Friends and fans believe to this day that Alan Wilson simply refused to go on living in such a polluted world and chose to take his life in one of our country’s last bastions of nature.
After the news of Andrew’s disappearance broke, Lance Miccio thought about the bag of items his friend returned as well as the uncharacteristic refusal of work. The thought crossed Miccio’s mind that perhaps Koenig had traveled to Vancouver not simply to visit friends or “start over” but to play out a scenario similar to that of Alan Wilson.
For two weeks, no one would know the true fate of Andrew Koenig. He left the West Vancouver home of friend and burlesque performer Jenny Magenta early on February 14, leaving behind little more than a thank you note. Later that day, Andrew was spotted in person for the last time near his favorite bakery, True Confections. On February 15, as China took home its first gold medal for figure skating, Andrew Koenig mailed a letter to his father Walter that boasted the same despondent tone the younger Koenig had expressed in his last phone conversation with his parents on February 9. Walter Koenig received Andrew’s letter on February 18, two days after Andrew missed his scheduled flight back to Los Angeles and also two days after the last time police records show his cell phone or credit card being used. A worried Walter and Judith Koenig immediately went to police and officially reported their son missing.
February 21: the American Men’s hockey team upset Canada on their own turf 5-3 and authorities made their first public appeal for information on the whereabouts of Andrew Koenig. As more and more information about Andrew’s life prior to the disappearance became public (the depression, the spontaneous garage sale, etc), it seemed less and less likely Koenig was spending his time in Vancouver “avoiding the draft” or “listening to the Barenaked Ladies,” as Jimmy Pardo joked on the February 17 episode of “Never Not Funny.” Celebrity friends like Sarah Silverman and Joel McHale sent out Twitter alerts. Several Facebook groups dedicated to locating Andrew popped up. Walter and Judy Koenig made heart-wrenching nationally televised pleas for their son’s return. The Vancouver Police Department worked around the clock collecting tips and information. On February 23, three professional search and rescue teams combed Stanley Park and turned up nothing. Andrew Koenig remained invisible.
People began to wonder—could this simply be a case of a person willfully going underground, cutting off all contact with the modern world to live a simpler, less confounding lifestyle? Rumors persist about Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards setting up his 1995 disappearance to look like a bridge jump suicide so he could escape the glare of fame (Richards has since been sighted in India and the Canary Islands; his body has never been found). A more concrete and nefarious example would be that of Kentucky State Treasurer James Tate. In March of 1888, Tate boarded a train to Cincinatti, OH, after misappropriating more than $200,000 of the Bluegrass State’s coin. Initially, Tate’s family claimed they had no idea about the fate of their patriarch. Tate’s daughter later admitted to receiving written correspondence from the disgraced treasurer (whose nickname was, ironically, “Honest Dick”) during stays in assorted foreign countries. It is widely believed James Tate died in China in 1890.
It seemed possible. The FBI has yet to find famed skyjacker D.B. Cooper or Osama bin Laden. Sometimes, through fate or circumstance or incredibly dumb luck, specific individuals manage to fade into the ether for eternity.
At approximately 9:15 the morning of February 25, 2010, ten of Andrew Koenig’s friends began their own search of Stanley Park for Andrew or any sign that he had been there. Walter and Judy Koenig accepted the invitation to come along; the night before, Andrew’s beleaguered parents had walked off CNN’s “Larry King Live” when their scheduled time slot was mostly taken up with news related to the death of a whale trainer at Sea World. Walter was searching a thick wooded area off the park’s popular Bridle Path with two other people around noon when one of those people, identified later by the name Kishan, discovered Andrew Koenig had not, in fact, entered the same unreachable realm as D.B. Cooper or “Honest Dick” Tate. Although Vancouver authorities repeatedly refused to name a cause of death at a hastily assembled press conference that evening, reports later surfaced that Andrew Koenig had hanged himself from a tree.
What could be confirmed was just how incredibly wooded the particular area is where Andrew chose to die. While Bridle Path itself is a relatively high traffic area, step a few feet off the dirt walkway, they say, and you become so engulfed in vegetation you might as well be in a rain forest. Scientists believe Vancouver actually was a rain forest before humanity started dotting the area with restaurants, paved roads, and sports stadiums. Stanley Park might be the closest most folks in North America ever get to visiting the jungle. One could throw any number of brightly colored minutia (Spongebob doll, neon shoelaces, Kansas City Royals jersey) into the wall of trees and underbrush off Bridle Path and chance on never seeing it again.
As Andrew Koenig tragically proved, it is also possible for a distraught nature lover to fatally ensconce themselves in the untouched beauty of Stanley Park even when the Olympics are occurring less than five miles down the road.
In his 1980 work Shatterday, writer Harlan Ellison noted that a five-year-old Joshua Andrew Koenig was the inspiration for his Hugo Award-winning story Jeffty Is Five. Of his muse, Ellison wrote the following:
“…I had been awed and delighted by Josh Koenig, and I instantly thought of just such a child who was arrested in time at the age of five. Jeffty, in no small measure, is Josh: the sweetness of Josh, the intelligence of Josh, the questioning nature of Josh.”
Based on contemporary descriptions of Andrew Koenig, that passage remained accurate for the majority of the actor’s brief life. It is unfortunate the last question he posed regarded his own mortality. Not only was the world robbed of a great talent, but people like Lance Miccio were robbed of a sincerely loved friend who left behind little more than bags of video tapes and what will probably always be bittersweet memories.