Flight of the Navigator star on drugs, jail and robbing bank to save his life11/18/2020
In 1986 Flight of the Navigator star Joey Cramer took a break from acting "to be a normal kid again".
Fast forward 34 years, that hiatus is only just ending – but life has been anything but ordinary.
Homeless, suicidal and hopelessly hooked on hard drugs, in 2016, wearing a flimsy disguise, he robbed a bank, fleeing with a wad of cash. He was arrested three days later.
It was his way of forcing himself to get help.
Now, after getting clean in prison, the 47-year-old is finally relaunching the acting career he put on ice three decades ago.
And by sharing his story in documentary Life After the Navigator, he's hoping to help others facing similar issues.
Speaking to Daily Star from his home on Canada's Vancouver Island, Joe said of the doc: "It isn’t a ‘where are they now?’ reality TV, glam drama – it’s what really happened."
Joe, an only child to a single mum, began acting at a young age, appearing in plays and TV commercials. With Vancouver, a " Hollywood North", nearby, the big screen beckoned.
In the mid-80s, he starred in films, Runaway, I-Man and The Clan of the Cave Bear, before Flight of the Navigator made him one of Hollywood's hottest young stars.
Disney 's sci-fi adventure tells the tale of a 12-year-old boy, who is abducted by an alien spaceship then dropped back on Earth eight years later having not aged a day.
It grossed $18m, with critics hailing Joe's "charming" performance.
“It was pretty incredible," said Joe. "The spaceship and imagination – the script was really amazing.
“You never can tell how successful something is going to be. I was just doing my job and having fun with it.”
But it wasn't all fun as Joe had to spend months away from home.
"I got into acting for fun – I loved it and it came naturally to me," he said.
“But I got pretty lonely. On Navigator there weren’t many other kids in the film, so mostly it was just me doing the job.
It wasn't until after the movie, when Joe was back at home and offers were flooding in, that he felt "overwhelmed".
He made one more film, Stone Fox, before taking "a break".
"I just wanted to be a normal kid again, have fun, skateboard and all that stuff," he said.
“But once I went back to school, I didn’t quite fit in anywhere.
“I was teased because I was the ‘movie star kid’, so I fitted in where I could – and it’s easy to fit in with the misfits who smoke and drink and smoke weed, so that’s what I gravitated towards.
“I got into cocaine at a really young age – 14 or 15."
By 18, Joe had been taught how to turn cocaine into crack and was smoking it. Rehab was required.
He said: “I look back and go, ‘What were you thinking?’, but as a kid it just didn’t register that doing these harder drugs was that much worse than smoking weed and drinking.
“By the time I realised, it was too late. I was a mess.”
At 20, Joe moved to Mexico for four months. He quit drugs and stayed clean for 10 years, doing different jobs.
Then in his early 30s he fell off the wagon – hard.
He said: "I was at a party and people were doing lines. I thought, ‘Maybe I can just do one or two’.
“The thing with addiction and trauma is that if we don’t address the issue, it just stays there underneath, percolating, and at some point it’s going to come out.
“When I did those lines, it felt like this tidal wave of emotion and guilt and shame – things I hadn’t addressed when I was younger.
“Then all of a sudden I was doing drugs to feel numb – that’s when things get really dangerous."
For Joe, the timeline of events becomes "fuzzy".
A stint in rehab in 2005 then a first arrest in 2007, for possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
In 2011, Joe's girlfriend introduced him to heroin. Things went downhill, quickly.
He said: "Before I knew it, I was wired. I didn’t even enjoy it – I was just doing it to numb myself.
The birth of Joe's daughter in 2014 was the impetus he needed to get clean, but being in a "bad, abusive relationship" made it hard.
When he was told his daughter was going to be adopted, he hit self-destruct.
"I thought I had no recourse," he said. "So I really went off the rails."
By 2016, Joe was living on the streets and shoplifting to feed himself. Suicide was "a recurring thought".
Desperate to be thrown in Nanaimo Correctional Centre, where he could get long-term treatment, he decided to rob a bank.
Settling on a "non-violent" method, on April 28, 2016, Joe put on a wig, bandana and sunglasses, walked into Scotiabank in Sechelt, British Columbia, and handed the cashier a note. It was a stick-up.
He pleaded guilty and was jailed for two years less a day.
He said: "I was in a really bad place and I knew about this therapeutic community, Guthrie House, inside the prison. It was such a relief when I got arrested.”
On remand for six months, Joe went on methadone to wean himself off heroin. He meditated, did yoga, played chess and drew pictures for his daughter.
When he got to Guthrie, he was "ready" to heal.
After 11 months he was released to its sister programme outside prison, before moving into a 'third stage' house.
Having taken a criminology course in jail, since getting out he's completed his high school diploma equivalency.
Best of all, he's reconnected with his daughter.
“We’re bonding quite a bit," he said. "We have this really amazing family dynamic where she knows she has two dads and that it's ok and everybody’s good with it.”
While Joe refuses to blame his childhood fame for his struggles, he's aware of its impact.
He said: “I missed a lot of my childhood. From eight to 14, I was acting. Those are fundamental years for growing into an adult – learning how to have relationships. In film it's all imaginary.
"I realised, I just started playing the part for people – for a girlfriend, teacher, counsellor, my mom.
“I felt like I didn’t have an identity for most of my life. I had no idea who I was underneath the masks.
“But I’ve come out the other side and I embrace who I am now.
“I know I’ve done bad things, but I’m not a bad person. I have regrets, but I know I can’t change things in the past, so all I can do is try to be better from today and share my experiences in the hope it might help someone get through something.”
Life After the Navigator, directed by Lisa Downs, allowed Joe to share his story and to reconnect with director Randal Kleiser, producer Jonathan Sanger and co-stars including Veronica Cartwright and Cliff De Young.
It's also a celebration of the movie, its impact and legacy.
He said: “Every time I share it reminds me that the past doesn’t control my life any more, that the past doesn't define me and that the memories of me don't define who I am.
"That last one's super important because it’s easy to focus on what’s happened and who we’ve been in the past so much that it defines who we are in the present.
"Once I learned to let go of who was in the past, I became a totally different person."
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Now, Joe is fully focused on the present, his future and acting again.
As well as doing voluntary support work, he's taking acting classes and working behind the scenes in film and TV.
He said: "Acting's something I’ve always loved and I’ve always wondered if it was something I could do again.
“I’m just going to do it because I love it, not with any goal in mind, because you follow your heart and success follows."
And if he's approached about a Navigator reboot?
“Me and the original writer had a pretty cool idea for a sequel type of thing," he said.
"Give me a few years, let me get some credits under my belt then maybe we’ll approach Disney and see if we can make this sequel happen. Try for 2026 – the 40th anniversary…."
- Life After the Navigator is available on Blu-ray now at www.lifeafterthenavigator.com
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