• Kiefer Sutherland denies bullying his
    Stand by Me
    co-stars on the movie’s set, recalling his connection with River Phoenix in particular through music.
  • Jerry O’Connell backed up Sutherland’s debunking, while also humorously acknowledging he was ”
    scared of
    ” his co-star.
  • Bullying rumors were not based on actual allegations but originated from a questionable social media post.



During a Stand by Me reunion, Kiefer Sutherland denies that he bullied his younger castmates while filming the 1986 film. The movie was an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body and, to this day, is considered one of the best King film adaptations and coming-of-age movies of all time. It followed the story of four young boys who set out to find their missing friend, though their mission is complicated by a local gang of bullies led by Sutherland’s John “Ace” Merrill. However, amid the film’s enduring legacy, some troubling allegations arose of Sutherland’s alleged bullying of the cast.

As reported by Entertainment Tonight, Sutherland recently reunited with Jerry O’Connell on The Talk and addressed the allegations that he bullied his Stand by Me co-stars to stay in character. Sutherland denied the allegations, stating they were “absolutely not true,” explaining he’s not the type of actor to try to remain in character and recalling bonding with his young cast members, such as River Phoenix, whom he connected with because they both played guitar. O’Connell backed Sutherland’s statement, confirming he never bullied anyone. Check out Sutherland’s and O’Connell’s statements below:

Sutherland: Absolutely not true. First of all, I’m not that kind of actor, and I wouldn’t want to be that kind of person. I spent a lot of time with River Phoenix because we both played guitar, and so that was kind of an in to him. Even though I was seven years older, we were both beginning, right? And so there was a lot of discussion about ‘How do you develop a character?’, ‘What is your process?’

O’Connell: Now, I will say that Kiefer did not bully us, there was no bullying. But Kiefer, I was so scared of you.

How Did The Stand by Me Bullying Rumors Start?

A group of young boys in Stand By Me Stephen King

Even before O’Connell and Sutherland officially debunked the Stand by Me bullying rumors, they weren’t very substantive. Rather than arising based on the allegations of another cast member, the rumors arose from a questionable social media post. Over the years, social media has become a popular place for “fun facts” about prominent movies to arise, with one having claimed that Sutherland bullied his younger cast mates behind the scenes to get into character for the malevolent Ace. The allegations were then reshared and reposted, gaining traction from users who found the supposed fact concerning rather than “fun.”


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It’s understandable that such rumors would attract criticism and strong feelings, especially given that Stand by Me star Wil Wheaton has opened up about the difficult time he was having during filming. Wheaton previously revealed he was able to portray the neglected Gordie so well because he channeled his own feelings regarding his abusive and exploitative parents. His story is just one of many that have arisen, illustrating that many child actors had exceedingly poor experiences working in the child acting industry. Hence, the idea that anyone might have added to the struggles of the child actors was not pleasant.

However, no cast members have ever indicated that the Stand by Me rumors were true, although O’Connell once jokingly responded to one such accusatory social media post claiming he and his fellow actors could “take” Sutherland now. His joke may have been taken seriously, which is why it’s fortunate he was able to clarify the truth with Sutherland on The Talk. While it is very important to vouch for child actors and highlight their experiences, in the case of Stand by Me, it seems likely Sutherland may have tried to improve rather than worsen the young actors’ experiences.

Source: ET

Stand By Me

Based on a Stephen King novella, and directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me follows the story of a group of young boys who set out on an expedition to find the dead body of another missing boy from their hometown. The film stars Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell, and is considered one of the most influential films of all time. 

Rob Reiner

Release Date
November 26, 1986

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

Bruce A. Evans , Raynold Gideon

Kiefer Sutherland , Jerry O’Connell , River Phoenix , Corey Feldman , Wil Wheaton

89 minutes

$8 million

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