Former child star Jeff Cohen’s acting career came to an abrupt end – here’s what happened to him.
The Goonies took America by storm following its release in 1985. Over the years it has become an enduring cult film and even led to the city of Astoria, Oregon, becoming a popular tourist attraction. Arguably, the character with the biggest fanbase is Jeff Cohen’s loveable Chunk, and you won’t believe the path his life has taken since he became a child superstar.
We’ll discover quite what happened to Cohen a little later, but first let’s learn about the film which catapulted him to fame.
The Goonies had quite the team behind it. The director was Richard Donner, who had pulled off the first modern-day superhero film with 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Steven Spielberg, meanwhile, worked as producer on the flick, while Gremlins writer Chris Columbus provided the screenplay.
The Goonies, a group of kids living in the “Goon Docks” area of Astoria attempt to prevent their family homes from being sold off. They do this by searching for the lost treasure of 17th-century pirate One-Eyed Willie. And all the while, the group are pursued by a family of thieves who are also after the valuable haul.
The cast, meanwhile, included several young stars who would go on to become major names in Hollywood. Sean Astin, who played Mikey Walsh, would become immortalized in fans’ eyes as Samwise Gamgee in
The Lord of the Rings films. Josh Brolin, who played Mikey’s older brother Brandon, is also now a star in his own right – famous for playing intergalactic supervillain Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Then there was 1980s child star Corey Feldman – who played Clark “Mouth” Devereaux. He later appeared in
Gremlins, Stand by Me and The Lost Boys and would also voice Donatello in the live-action 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Elsewhere, Martha Plimpton, who played Stef Steinbrenner, went on to star in Parenthood and two decades later in the sitcom Raising Hope.
One of the actors who didn’t go on to achieve huge Hollywood fame, though, was Jeff Cohen. His performance as Chunk will always be what he is most known for in the world of acting. But he became a cult hero with his curly locks, Hawaiian shirt and amusing “truffle shuffle” dance.
Cohen had made a few small appearances on television prior to
The Goonies. He told the Oregon newspaper Willamette Week in 2015 about these parts, saying, “I was on a very special episode of Webster. I’m super proud of that. And probably a less special episode of Facts of Life. And Kids Incorporated – that was the worst thing I ever did.”
Talking of his time on
Kids Incorporated, Cohen added, “I had to do a dance number. I had to dance to Prince’s ‘Baby I’m a Star.’ It was so bad that even I, when watching it as a kid, in the middle of it I turned it off. It was so bad even I was like, ‘No man. I’m gonna get some Twinkies and think about it.’”
When thinking about his time on
The Goonies, however, Cohen was much more upbeat. He said, “I was excited to be in a movie. The first scenes we did were in Astoria, then we went to Warner Bros. for the sound stage [and] then Bodega Bay for the end. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley – which is hot and dry. To go to a longshoreman’s town in the most northern part of Oregon was exotic and overcast and mysterious. It was a little overwhelming.”
However, Cohen did have some family support on the film. In the final scene, when all the families gather on the beach, the audience meets Chunk’s sister – who was played by his real-life sibling Eydie Faye. She went on to become a playwright and recently worked on the Netflix show
Fuller House for its second and third seasons.
But let’s return to Cohen and his memories of working on
The Goonies. As previously mentioned, he had appeared in small roles before he was cast as Chunk, and he would have other parts in several other television shows and movies after that. But in the end, The Goonies wound up being the only major film of his short career.
Talking about the hit movie, Cohen told MailOnline in 2015, “It was great. For me, the best part of it was Richard Donner the director. He was big on letting the kids be kids and I think that’s one of the reasons the movie stands up today.” And Cohen is clearly very proud that the movie has now spanned generations of fans. He added, “People still watch the movie themselves or watch it with their own kids.”
Cohen has nothing but praise for Donner – the legendary Hollywood helmer of such classics as
The Omen and the Lethal Weapon franchise. The former child actor told MailOnline, “Richard Donner wanted us to improvise, talk over each other, push and shove and kind of do our thing.”
Cohen argued that the realistic and honest portrayal of the way children interact with each other was key to the film’s success. He said, “I think that’s one of the reasons people like it. It doesn’t seem like kids acting. It’s just kids being themselves, which [Donner] really encouraged. He wanted us to be comfortable.” Apparently, the director used several interesting techniques to wrangle the best performances from his young cast.
“[Donner] would throw little surprises at us during shooting because he wanted to get our real reactions,” Cohen continued. “In the scene where Sloth picks me up while I’m strapped to a chair, I was told he wasn’t going to pick me up because John Matuszak’s back hurt.”
However, even though Matuszak was in pain, he still intended to pick Cohen up during the scene. The latter told MailOnline, “… Of course, [Matuszak] was so strong it was nothing to him, so he just picked me up and kissed me. My shock and horror was real. I wasn’t that good an actor – that was actual terror on my face.”
Elsewhere, Cohen explained why he’d stopped acting in his teens during a 2014 interview with the legal publication
Chambers Associate. When asked about his second career, which he maintains to this day, he quipped, “Puberty forced me into retirement from my first one as a child actor.”
Cohen told MailOnline that he began to find acting roles hard to come by as soon as he began losing weight. The former child actor claimed, “There were about four fat kids in town, so every time there was a fat kid role you saw the same people at the audition. It was survival of the fattest.”
Cohen continued, “But when I hit puberty it was a career ender for me. I was transforming from Chunk to hunk and I couldn’t get roles anymore. It was terrible. My first love was acting – but puberty had other ideas.”
So, it seemed that the natural process of growing up was working against Cohen. He added to MailOnline, “It was a forced retirement. I didn’t give up acting. Acting gave up on me.” And this subsequently led the young actor to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Cohen realized that he needed to do something new to fill the absence left by his acting career drying up. As a result, he took up a different hobby at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, California. He said, “I thought maybe I could play sports. I’d never played sports before because I was always going to auditions, so my hand-eye coordination was terrible.”
“I tried to work out what the one sport was I could play where I wouldn’t have to touch a ball,” Cohen said wryly. “I decided I could play football and be a lineman and just hit people.” Unfortunately, he quickly found out that opposing players seemed to be trying extra hard to knock him over.
Cohen recalled to MailOnline, “I asked one of the other guys, ‘Jesse, why this was happening?’ And he said, ‘They think that you’re stuck up because you think you can come from the movies and then come here and play football.’” However, after Cohen accepted this, he began to work hard on becoming a good player and eventually won his team over.
“After I survived the first couple of weeks, they respected me for that, and they all nicknamed me Chunk,” Cohen continued. Understandably, feeling like he belonged to the group was very important for the teenager. He went on, “On my letterman jacket, which was like a regular sports jacket with T for Taft and your nickname, my nickname was Chunk. But I had the C crossed out so it was Chunk the hunk.”
Interestingly, it was Cohen’s director on
The Goonies, Richard Donner, who became instrumental in his life path after acting. The former child star revealed, “He would say, in his big booming voice, ‘Hey kid, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to be an actor’ and he said, ‘That’s stupid, that’s stupid. You’re not going to be an actor. You’ve got to know about the business.’”
Cohen then decided that he wanted a legal education. He told
Chambers Associate, “I was always fascinated by the entertainment industry and as an undergrad at Berkeley, I developed interests in politics and business as well. A legal background seemed to be a unique tool to help me make an impact in those arenas once I figured out what I wanted to do.”
Of course, pursuing a completely different career than the one he’d spent years crafting was a nerve-racking experience for Cohen. He told the legal publication, “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was definitely afraid. [I was] afraid of losing myself – being swallowed up by this mysterious cabal of law school and law firms and the Bar exam. [It was] fear of the unknown, I imagine.”
While Cohen studied his business degree at Berkeley University, Donner helped him out by giving him work at his production offices. Then, once he had been through law school at UCLA, Donner gave him a helping hand again – landing Cohen a job at Universal Studios Television as an entertainment legal practitioner.
Of course, Cohen is extremely thankful to Donner for all his help and advice through the years. He told MailOnline, “Thank God Richard Donner taught me the behind-the-scenes aspects of show business. He’s been a real pal and I’ve been really fortunate to be friends with him.”
In 2002 the former child star created his own law firm: Cohen Gardner LLP. The firm, according to the former child star, “[negotiates] deals for actors, directors, production companies, technology companies [and] producers.” Cohen loves what he does because it helps him fight for what he believes is important for people in the entertainment business. He told MailOnline, “I’m now able to protect my clients the way I wanted to be protected when I was a kid.”
Asked what Cohen’s clients think of their his past life as a child star, meanwhile, the former actor responded, “[They] get a kick out of the fact their lawyer is Chunk. They dig it.” He then added that, due to the people he deals with on a daily basis, his level of fame is fairly low in comparison to many of those he works with.
“With my job, I’m dealing with legitimately famous people, so it’s just silly and fun,” Cohen told MailOnline. “I’m usually only the fifth most famous person in the room at any one time.” In fact, due to how little it negatively affects people’s image of him, Cohen apparently makes no attempt to hide his past as a Goonie.
In Cohen’s Beverley Hills office, there is a pop-art picture of Chunk doing the “truffle shuffle” above the bar, according to the U.K. publication. The lawyer explained, “One of my clients saw that at Pike Place market in Seattle and said, ‘That’s my attorney. I have to get it for him.’” He also has film posters hanging on the walls signed by Steven Spielberg and his mentor Donner.
Cohen may be a successful lawyer now, but his life as Chunk undoubtedly left a lasting impression on his own self-image. He continued, “When people call you Chunk every day of your life from the age of ten, it gives you a complex. I always know I’m ten Baby Ruth’s away from being Chunk again, so it’s probably made me a little crazy.”
As an adult, Cohen explained that he keeps his body in prime condition. The lawyer told MailOnline, “I’m pretty good at exercising and watching my diet because I know I could slide back into Chunk. But I am very proud that I was a professional fat person. Anyone can be an amateur, but who can be a pro?”
Regarding the matter of the iconic “truffle shuffle” dance, does Cohen ever indulge in the routine as an adult? Well, he told MailOnline, there was only ever public performance. Apparently, it was during his time at Berkeley, where he performed as a mic man – psyching up the crowds at football games.
Cohen remembered, “People had been begging me to do the truffle shuffle forever and I would never do it, but I thought, ‘If I don’t do the truffle shuffle now I’m going to get murdered. These frat guys are going to run down and beat the s*** out of me. I’m going to cause a riot.’”
With the crowd at a fever pitch to see his famous dance, Cohen obliged. He continued, “So I raised my hands, like Moses parting the Red Sea, and everybody went quiet. I did the truffle shuffle and everyone went bananas. From then on it became a tradition at Berkeley football games when I was mic man. In the fourth quarter – win or lose – they would all start chanting ‘truffle shuffle.’”
The lawyer doesn’t perform the truffle shuffle much these days, however. Cohen laughed, “I’ve done it for smaller audiences, but it takes about three martinis. It’s a very limited engagement – a very exclusive engagement and there’s got to be copious amounts of alcohol.” After all, he has a professional image to maintain now. He added, “If I did it in public now my law firm would crater immediately.”
Cohen, nevertheless, added that it was at times a struggle being associated as “the fat kid” when he was growing up. He told
Willamette Week, “… The last thing you want to do as a fat kid is shake your belly. But that’s why child actors do a lot of drugs. They have a lot of stuff to work out. But ultimately, it was worth it. If shaking my fat belly was the cost of becoming a cultural icon, I can accept it. Pain is temporary and victory is eternal. I’ll take it.”