Amid all the uproar about Cassie Edwards and plagiarism, the edits on my next book, and waiting to hear about the one I just submitted, comes the sad, although not completely unexpected, news of Brad Renfro’s death.

Brad was a student at Lincoln Park School in Knoxville when I first started teaching there.  He was never in my class, but Lincoln Park was a small inner city school and all the teachers knew all the students.  And well, Brad was one of those who would’ve stood out even in a school of a thousand or more students.  You couldn’t miss him.

In fifth grade, his teacher was a good friend of mine, Laura Lawson, and hearing of his death brings her to mind too.  Laura, who turned her classroom into a castle one year, who could handle even the worst behaved student, who died at an early age of breast cancer.

But before she left us, she changed our lives immeasurably, probably Brad’s more than anyone else’s.  You see, Laura was the one who told the D.A.R.E. officer about Brad.  So while the officer, Dennis Bowman, saw the casting call for the character of Mark Sway in the movie based on John Grisham’s The Client, and sent Brad’s name in, it was Laura who first saw the possibilities in her young student.  Brad fit that role to a T.  And he got it.

Then, when the time came to film the movie, it was Laura they called when they started having trouble keeping Brad in line.  She was with him during the second audition and she took time off from teaching to be with him during the filming.  Brad could be, like all young boys, a nightmare, but one you couldn’t help but enjoy.  Or maybe that’s due to the fact that he was a smart-ass, and of all the kids i ever met, I have a special fondness for the smart-asses.  Brad was also street smart, quick-witted, and attractive, with charm oozing from every pore of his body.  The things I remember most about him; he wore a long trench coat to school almost every day, he loved Led Zeppelin, and on Valentine’s Day, he wore a cardboard sign around his neck:  Will Work for Valentines.  

After his debut in The Client, he went on to other roles in other movies, but his best in my opinion was young Michael Sullivan in Sleepers.  Brad Pitt played the grown-up Michael, and like the character of Mark Sway, they couldn’t have chosen a better actor for that role. 

He was only twenty-five when he passed away at his home in California yesterday.  He’d had trouble in the past with drug and alcohol addiction, so I’m not sure what they’ll find when they do the autopsy, and to be honest, I don’t really care.  I’m just sorry he’s gone.

God be with you, Brad.  I’m sure Laura’s waiting at the gates of heaven to greet you.

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