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I guess the Zit Remedy isn't going to get that reunion tour
February 17, 2012 4:03 AM   Subscribe


 
Degrassi had a big impact on me growing up. It was even shown in our sex ed class. I always had a soft spot for Wheels. With his curly mullet he reminded me of my brother who passed away when I was a teenager. It is sad that Neil passed with no notice from a lot of people. Even his family.

The episode I always remember of him is when he ran away from home and was hitchhiking. A man picked him up and tried to touch him. He was then shown throwing a rock at the car as it drove away. An odd moment of reality that hit home in uncomfortable ways.
posted by kanata at 4:19 AM on February 17, 2012


.

I was a big fan of this show back in the day. I couldn't believe how honest and open the show dealt with the issues that confront teenagers. Well, to these American eyes anyway.
posted by NoMich at 4:31 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


That is incredibly sad.

(FWIW, I found this FPP headline a little offensive. I know it is easy to go there, but a man died under very unpleasant circumstances.)
posted by k8t at 5:12 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


1999 I got two resumes in from a temp agency for a part time position. One from a guy whose biggest claim to fame was throwing a hissy fit slap fight on The Real World, the other from a girl in Canada, willing to relocate, who used to be on DeGrassi High.

Television ain't what it used to be.
posted by timsteil at 5:40 AM on February 17, 2012


Noted K8t. I missed the mark trying to get a Zit Remedy reference in there.

I too was a big fan of Degrassi, as were many of my friends in grammar/junior/high-school. It seemed every episode shed light on the tough issues we feared or faced, without resorting to the over the top "Very Special Episode" tactics of the era. It also got us talking about those issues. And yes, we all had the same crush on Caitlin.

Oddly, sometimes I mention Degrassi to other folks of my age group and they have never heard of it. I feel like there's then a whole lot less I have in common with a person when I find that out.
posted by CG at 5:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wheels's story eerily mirrored that of a kid I grew up with, although that kid's parents got divorced, not killed in a car crash. He was this shy, tousled hair blonde guy who all the girls fancied by the time that was something girls did, and he wasn't a player like old Joey. Then bam! tragedy, and he began this downward spiral that took him away from his old friends and into alcohol and (minor) trouble with the law. Neil Hope wasn't his character and neither was this kid I knew, but whenever I hear about the former I'm thrown back to memories of being 10 years old and sweetly oblivious to the awful changes that awaited us. Degrassi was such a good show in that it gave kids like me an idea of what they might be in for.

Such a sad way to go, and way, way too young.

.
posted by Chichibio at 5:49 AM on February 17, 2012


A friend of mine had a bit part in The Kids of Degrassi Street, which was a mini-series the TV show came from. He was offered the part of Wheels, but couldn't take it as his parents lived in London, Ontario, and weren't about to either relocate to Toronto so he could be on the show or let him live in Toronto on his own at 14. He knew Neil Hope very slightly, and said though he had a lot of issues, he was a pretty decent guy.

Personally though, I never liked Degrassi. I thought it was dumb.
posted by orange swan at 5:53 AM on February 17, 2012


.
posted by saucysault at 6:14 AM on February 17, 2012


I watched Degrassi growing up Dallas, TX on PBS. I didn't know it was a Canadian show for the longest time. I too was struck by the way the show confronted tough teen issues: AIDS, homophobia, drugs, alcohol, money, disability, and so much more. Was the show a bit corny? Sure. But, it was still entertaining.

.
posted by Fizz at 6:18 AM on February 17, 2012


Found dead in a Hamilton* rooming house is certainly a sad enough way to go, but what the hell kind of "confusion regarding his passing" could take five years to clear up?

* Isn't Hamilton the city with the flaming smoke stacks you can see from the QEW when you zoom around the end of Lake Ontario?
posted by pracowity at 6:28 AM on February 17, 2012


I didn't watch the show very often, but I think every Torontonian has some kind of six-degrees Degrassi connection. For example, my sister used to live on Degrassi street, and a friend's sibling had a major role on Degrassi: TNG.

RIP Wheels.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:31 AM on February 17, 2012


Sad. I remember reading a couple of years ago that Neil had settled into a relatively mundane life in Ontario without much trace of his former middlin' level of fame.

I loved Degrassi so damn much. In fact, all of it, except for the kids miniseries and also maybe the finale movie, are available on Netflix. Mrs 'su and I watched it in it's entirety last year. Really good stuff, and Wheels was always a favorite.
posted by utsutsu at 6:37 AM on February 17, 2012


It's Monday afternoon at 4 pm,
I'm playing with time again
and it's alright.
Does anybody know why the twins always wear black and white?
Joey's standing alone at Caitlin's door,
they don't talk anymore
but it's alright.
Does anybody know where Wheels will sleep tonight?
posted by dazed_one at 6:39 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was a fan. Sad.

And, not to derail but, from the link: Many former actors, who were mobbed in malls for their Degrassi fame, went on to successful careers, including Aubrey Graham and award-winning recording artist Drake.

That's actually one person. Aubrey Drake Graham.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:50 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


As I understand it, Hope's life mirrored that of the characters. I'm pretty sure both his parents passed away during the filming of the series. (Apparently his father drank himself to death.) I might be mis-remembering things. I was sad to hear the news as well. I love Degrassi. It's such a great show.
posted by chunking express at 6:51 AM on February 17, 2012


Isn't Hamilton the city with the flaming smoke stacks you can see from the QEW when you zoom around the end of Lake Ontario?

Yep, that's us.

I also grew up watching Degrassi. I hope his family can finally find some closure.

.
posted by janepanic at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2012


Degrassi Talks - On Alcohol. Kind of a bleak article:
Neil is the baby of the Hope family, the fifth kid, the fourth son. Both his parents were already alcoholics when he was born September 24, 1972, in Toronto. He figures it probably wasn't long after when his dad left home for the last time.
...
As a result, he went to six or seven different schools and grew up all over Toronto - in the east end in the Gerrard/Pape area, across the street from the headquarters of a motorcycle club, and out in the west end, down by the Lakeshore strip in Etobicoke, "where all the drunks are."
That's his description. He laughs when he says it.

But it's not a real laugh, not natural. It's hollow and it sounds bitter.
...
Neil's face flushes and he frowns. "I hate country music now because that's what my mom listened to. I just get shivers when I hear a country and western song." Because it also him remember when the police car and the ambulance pulled up in front of their house because his mother had slit her wrists.
...
Neil's dad died in 1987. He died of cirrhosis, a disease of the liver. The booze killed him.
.
posted by chunking express at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2012


I watched Degrassi on public (American) TV as a young teenager and was fond of it then. About a year ago I found a copy of the full series of Degrassi High at a library sale. Couldn't resist, and picked it up. The realness of the show, despite the soap opera qualities, impressed me as I watched it all again. I was mightily impressed by how honest and level-headed the show was about abortion, in particular--I don't think the US has ever gotten it that right.

. Neil
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:57 AM on February 17, 2012


This is just bizarre and tragic -- his death going unnoticed for 5 years. I mean, if they did a "where are they now" episode of the original Degrassi cast, that's like something the writers might think of for Wheels' character -- and then reject it because it's just too depressing and over-the-top. Even for Wheels.

Much sadness. I loved that show, growing up. I hope you found some kind of peace in the end, Neil Hope.

.
posted by fikri at 7:01 AM on February 17, 2012


A tribute site.

Also wasn't a fan of the show, on account of its usually being force-fed in school. But I recognize that they were doing important work.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:04 AM on February 17, 2012


It was surprising and touching that this was breaking/developing news the other day. The 2-part episode Can't Live With 'Em blew my mind when I watched it as a high schooler.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:09 AM on February 17, 2012


Boulard said Hope’s brother Danny and his wife, Tracy, began hearing rumours of his death two or three years ago but they brushed it off. But two years went by and no one had heard from him. “That’s when we started to worry,” she said.

Oh for God's sake. You already hadn't heard from him for two or three years, and no one else had either, and didn't think it was time to worry?
posted by orange swan at 7:40 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I watched Degrassi as an adult, and thought it did a brilliant job of not only addressing adolescent issues but in providing workable strategies for kids to deal with them, as well (such as the episode about the pedophile teacher).

Sad news about Wheels. In the series, he ended up driving drunk and crashing his car, blinding the promising young filmmaker who was riding with him, and this whole narrative turn to bad choices and fated endings and a sense of warning about not following in your dysfunctional parents' footsteps. Of course it isn't just as simple, sometimes, as making different choices; the undertow of alcoholism and trauma plays out differently.
posted by jokeefe at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2012


...and didn't think it was time to worry?

Seriously. You hear rumours that the brother you never hear from is dead, and it's no cause for concern? When your brother has Problems, and clearly isn't off with the Peace Corps or in a Bhutan monastery or something?

Poor Wheels.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's hope this guy's death encourages some of us to reconnect, reconcile, and reach out to those who have grown apart from us and may appreciate help and human contact.
posted by Nomyte at 8:20 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well it sounds like they were raised in a pretty dysfunctional way; Wheels clearly had a lot of trouble transitioning to adulthood, his brother may have also been just treading water and unable to throw a line to him. I come from a "normal" family so I can't imagine going two days without talking to my sister but I know lots of other people who's home lives were so messed up, the siblings were completely unable to assist each other even in times of crisis. Actually now I think about it, for them it is almost always times of crisis.

Gender dynamics also may play a part, it is a stereotype but often true that "a son is a son until he finds a wife, a daughter is a daughter for life". Especially when the family is birth family dysfunctional, husband's often turn to their chosen family . Don't judge the brother too harshly until you have walked in his shoes.

We don't know the whole story obviously but "died of natural causes at thirty-five in Hamilton rooming-house" is pretty much code for unfortunate and unhealthy life choices. Poor, poor guy.
posted by saucysault at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1981, and grew up an hour outside of Toronto. Degrassi -- that is the real Degrassi, The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High (the reboot, especially its latest incarnation, is an abomination) -- is basically what forged my entire identity, despite the fact that when the series ended in 1991, it would still be another two years before I'd enter Junior High myself.

I never really liked Wheels, though. He was my least favourite character. Those jeans, that hair, those glasses, that most Canadian of accents. Nothing I ever wanted to emulate. But worst of all: His episodes never seemed to have any kind of satisfactory resolution; they were just a load of bleakness with a promise of more to come.

But I recently rewatched a bunch of it (it's all on Netflix!), and you know what? Neil Hope was far and away the best actor of the bunch, adults included. He's often the only one who comes across like a real human being, rather than a stage actor failing to adapt to the medium.

.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't watch the show very often, but I think every Torontonian has some kind of six-degrees Degrassi connection.

For sure. I once lived in a big old sprawling house on Huntley Street (another Canadian cultural touchstone) that had been divvied up into small bachelor apartments. One of the other tenants was Stefan Brogren, who played Snake. And the woman who played Lisa once showed up for a fashion shoot casting call at the magazine I worked for.

It was a weird kind of fame for those Degrassi kids, I think: for a certain demographic, they were as familiar and beloved as any Hollywood star, but the show didn't seem to work as a springboard to a full-fledged adult career in acting. Once the show was off the air, they had all the hassle of big-time fame - the Star obit linked here mentions Wheels being interrupted on a date by the entire kitchen staff of the restaurant seeking autographs - and none of the actual work and glamour and material rewards.

Anyway, the show is a seminal one in Canadian television on a number of fronts. For example, you can date both a sea change in Canadian broadcasting's standards and practices and a signal coming-of-age moment for Canadian teens to the moment Caitlin asks Joey, "You fucked Tessa Campanelli?" in the big Degrassi High series-ending special. The broadcast started at 9pm - considered too early for F-bombs - but the line itself came after 10pm, which was a grey area in terms of harsh language.

.
posted by gompa at 8:40 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, hey, here's the moment. The line actually went "You were fucking Tessa Campanelli?" I'd also forgotten they used that hackneyed Three's Company key-plot-detail-overheard-from-the-doorway set up.
posted by gompa at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2012


I think every Torontonian has some kind of six-degrees Degrassi connection.

Definitely not a Torontonian, but mine would be that a grade schoolmate and FB is apparently quite tight with Caitlin, through her DJing gig. Although, to read these reports about Wheels, and given that there's about a dozen such legal rooming houses within a five block radius of my house and more beyond and many unseen, and the Money Mart mentioned being a block from my office -- I could have crossed paths with Wheels any number of times, and never have known it.

posted by Capt. Renault at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2012


Wow. I was enough of a Degrassi fan growing up that for a time, as an adult, I watched Degrassi:TNG with some regularity (stopping after a friend's 15-year old daughter would regularly chat me up about the show and I started to feel like a creeper having the same taste in TV as a teenage girl), and noted that Wheels was the only Zit Remedy member to not have a significant role on the rebooted series, beyond the one notable guest appearance. I'm not one to put a lot of meaning in coincidences, but still strange that the actor whose character seemed to be hit with the reverse Midas touch in terms of luck would meet such an unfortunate fate.

On a lighter note - I must be getting denser as I get older as it never dawned on me that Aubrey Graham and Drake were the same person.
posted by The Gooch at 9:05 AM on February 17, 2012


I too was a big fan of Degrassi, as were many of my friends in grammar/junior/high-school. It seemed every episode shed light on the tough issues we feared or faced, without resorting to the over the top "Very Special Episode" tactics of the era.

Counterpoint: Snake's boyfriend drops acid, jumps off bridge
posted by The Gooch at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2012


Television ain't what it used to be.

It never was. Gary Coleman applied for a job at the Westwood video store where I worked back in 1991.

But if this story reminds me of anything it is that of Bobby Driscoll, Disney's first live-action child star and the voice and model for Peter Pan, who was found dead in a East Village tenement by two children in 1969, a drug casualty at the grand old age of 31; he was not identified for 19 months.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:53 AM on February 17, 2012


Loved Wheels. I'll never forget the episode where he dreams his parents are alive again and that the whole thing with them dying was just a dream.

Also, The Brother and I still sing the "Zit Remedy" song sometimes.

What a sad story about his passing. Alas, it's not an unusual story for people with substance abuse issues and their families--the person who's an active user is often out of touch with family and friends for years at a time, and there isn't a lot of infrastructure out there to help maintain the connections.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:03 AM on February 17, 2012


Counterpoint: Snake's boyfriend drops acid, jumps off bridge

Actually that was Snake.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2012


It was Shane.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2012


yellowbinder is correct. Meant to say "Spike's Boyfriend", Snake is a different character altogether (Spike's husband in the TNG version).
posted by The Gooch at 10:20 AM on February 17, 2012


And Shane was Spike's boyfriend. Snake wasn't gay, y'all. (That was his brother.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:21 AM on February 17, 2012


That sucks. I always really enjoyed the Degrassi shows. I haven't seen them in 20 years or so, but at the time, they felt really true to life (if they were overly corny, I didn't notice back then). Just listened to Everybody Wants Something for the first time since I was a kid; funny how things you don't remember can really take you back.

Sorry Wheels.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:49 AM on February 17, 2012


Yep. I am wrong. Too many "S" names.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2012


.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2012


And Shane was Spike's boyfriend. Snake wasn't gay, y'all. (That was his brother.)

This sounds like the most complicated show in the world.
posted by Nomyte at 11:23 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fun fact:

I was chatting about DeGrassi on Twitter the other day and I learned that the show was HUGE in mid-90s Moscow (Maybe all of Russia)... Like as popular as 90210 was in the U.S. -- everyone talked about it, dressed like the characters, etc.

My friend said that it was one of the best dubbed shows in Russian.

To be honest, I imagine late 80s Canadian fashion doing quite well in mid-90s Moscow.
posted by k8t at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aw, how awful.

I watched Degrassi as a clueless 5-year-old in the late 80s--I remember watching the AIDS episode and being utterly confused about what was going on, and having no idea what the condoms (that kids laughed about and one of the boys blew up like a balloon) were for.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:44 PM on February 17, 2012


Bobby Driscoll was my first thought, too. An old FPP if you're interested in the (heart-breaking) story.
posted by jbickers at 12:52 PM on February 17, 2012


For a half second I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson had passed away and I would need to take a week off of work.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:49 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A very sad story and one alot of people I know have been surprisingly moved by. Hope it inspires some good to come.

I would agree with Sys Rq that, in some ways at least, Wheels' character was unlikeable. I think he was less who you wanted to be and more who you felt you were. I certainly related to him but in a negative way, if that makes sense. His character was kid of a dork, having none of Joey's (often feigned) confidence or Snake's affability (and, let's face it, physical height).

Like gompa, I well recall Joey Jeremiah's f-bomb on the Degrassi special and how Amazing that seemed, particularly on the CBC. Everybody was talking about it the next day at school.

I worked a library page job with one of the top people on the show during the 1980s (I regret I forget his name all these years later but he was a super guy). He once asked me about having some actor or other from the show appear for a signing at the library; I remember begging him to have Amanda Stepto instead, and when he said alright, I was just over the moon.

I got to 'provide security' for the event which basically meant standing beside her the whole time and peppering her with fawning questions. She couldn't have been nicer. I remember talking about Doc Martens. After the signing, I collected all the pens she used and actually kept them. I think I still have them in a box somewhere.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:26 PM on February 17, 2012


Before the new generation show, I bought a signed script off eBay from Joey Jerimiah.
posted by k8t at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2012


Sorry, the gentleman of my ill recollection was Ken Roberts, who wrote novelizations for Degrassi. Great guy.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:49 PM on February 17, 2012


He was a very cool character. I grew up watching a lot of those shows.
posted by Meatafoecure at 4:32 PM on February 17, 2012


Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High are streaming for free on Hulu right now.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:34 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter once again blows my mind. Wheels died?! And Drake was on Degrassi?

I was a huge Degrassi fan, we were exactly the same age as the actors and I have a few Degrassi intersection stories of my own.

But right now I just can't believe Wheels has died. He had a sad storyline on the show but he seemed like one of those guys who was gonna be ok, you know? Wow, that is really sad.

My canadian friends are going to also be sad to hear this.
posted by bquarters at 8:00 PM on February 17, 2012


If you comb through the Canadian press coverage, it sounds like Neil Hope would often be out of touch with family for a year or more at a time. It sounds like they had quite a dysfunctional upbringing. From what I can piece together, he was found dead in a rooming house and police weren't really sure of his name - he might have been using an alias - and they had a different birth date for him. They said they couldn't locate next of kin. It's possible that he had never listed any, if he was estranged from his family. One article I read earlier today quoted one of his family members and sort of suggested that the police hadn't bothered to look into the identity or next of kin of that drunk guy in the rooming house. Yet you'd think that a bespectacled diabetic would have a good paper trail...assuming he still wore glasses and even occasionally took insulin. But maybe he didn't take his insulin and that explains the "natural causes".

Such a sad, sad story. It's even sadder that his character so often illustrated the hurt brought about by alcoholism and that he directed a Degrassi Talks episode on alcoholism.

None of the actors on Degrassi ever made much money. I read an article many years ago that said that the Playing With Time production company wasn't union and that kids would make a few dollars for an episode, with some of the more regular actors making more - some sort of loophole because PWT was a subcontractor of CBC and they'd find ways to not have kids get designated regulars. Even now, ACTRA has set the rate for young actors at $2,000 an episode. That's for a full episode today, not 25 years ago. And there were only 14 episodes a year. So, if the pay was the same back then, somebody like Neil Hope might have only been making $28,000 a year (today's dollars) - and that's based on the union scale - and Canadian actors rarely get any rerun money. One article I read quoted Hope as saying that he used his salary to buy groceries for his family, because the rest was drunk away.

Degrassi was a huge part of my childhood and teen years. Rest in Peace, Wheels.

.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:46 PM on February 17, 2012


Playing With Time production company wasn't union and that kids would make a few dollars for an episode, with some of the more regular actors making more - some sort of loophole because PWT was a subcontractor of CBC and they'd find ways to not have kids get designated regulars.

I don't know enough about the TV business to know whether that's awful of PWT or not, but it doesn't make them sound like the good guys I've always thought them to be.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:48 PM on February 17, 2012


I have never seen the show, but I am sorry to hear about his sad end. This is the strangest part:

But finally, this January, police confirmed that it was indeed Hope who had died of “natural causes” in November 2007. (The coroner’s office was not immediately available to confirm the details.)

Hope was buried in March 2008. The location of the grave is being kept private, Boulard said.


It seems... unusual that there would be a gap of four months between death and interment.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2012


.
posted by luckynerd at 8:44 AM on February 18, 2012


I don't know enough about the TV business to know whether that's awful of PWT or not, but it doesn't make them sound like the good guys I've always thought them to be.

WHen they started, their budget was $70k an episode. It cost about $200k an episode for DJH. If you think about how many actors there were and production costs, it doesn't sound like anyone was getting rich quick.

It seems... unusual that there would be a gap of four months between death and interment.
Ricochet, the Canadian government says that they note the date of death as the date of discovery. In Ontario, they have one unidentified body that's been in the morgue for 35 years. So it probably took the police 4 months to identify Neil Hope. And then they might not have had his details right, since media coverage says that the names and dates didn't line up.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:10 PM on February 18, 2012


some more information about his life
posted by saucysault at 4:35 AM on February 28, 2012


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