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STATEHOUSE REEDER: Popularity rarely leads to future success

SPRINGFIELD – Well, it’s that time of year again, parents are sharing photos of their handsome sons and pretty daughters all dolled up for prom. Last week my best friend from high school shared a photo of his son that brought back unexpected memories.

The boy is the spitting image of his dad. And he had a pretty prom date on his arm.

But back in 1983, when we were seniors at Galesburg High School, his dad and I were looking for prom dates.

Words like “geeks” or “nerds” might best describe our social caste in those days.

Further complicating matters was that we shared an interest in a young woman who was not a nerd. In fact, she was a standout athlete in our class with a kind streak for stray puppies and social misfits like us.

So, unbeknownst to the other we both asked her to the prom.

And she told us both “no.”

Here is how the conversation with me went:

“I was wondering if you’d like to go to the prom with me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Scott, I’m planning to attend with Charlie.”

Hmmm, Charlie? He was a year older than us and a freshman at the University of Illinois. His dad was a doctor and he was a terrific tennis player.

But he was also the class clown. He loved to walk into a packed McDonald’s restaurant at noon, throw himself on the floor and feign an epileptic seizure.

As he would thrash around on the floor, good Samaritans would try to hold him in place and keep him from swallowing his tongue. Restaurant workers would call for paramedics. But as soon as the emergency personnel arrived, Charlie would stand up, brush himself off and say, “Oh, never mind.”

Then there was the time he showed up for class dressed as Superman: leotards, a cape and a great big “S” on his chest. On another occasion, he wore a red velvet dress with fishnet stockings to school.

Yes, Charlie Cohen was a bit of a clown.

So, when the day of the prom rolled around, Charlie stood his date up and sent a friend in his place.

I suspect she was a bit perplexed by this development.

But what about Charlie? Well, he went on to star in a television program. Unfortunately, the program was “America’s Most Wanted.”

In 1988, Charlie Cohen killed his parents who had moved to Delaware.

For two years after his parents’ slaying he hid in various locations in the United States and Mexico until he was apprehended in New Orleans. It was later learned he killed a banker in San Francisco while he was on the lam.

He is now serving a life sentence for murder in a maximum-security Delaware prison.

So, as I glanced at the photo I received of my friend’s son, I couldn’t help but smile. We both have been married to fine women for many years and have wonderful children. And we both have enjoyed wonderful, fulfilling careers.

On the other hand, Charlie Cohen, the picture of adolescent popularity, lives in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell.

High school celebrity rarely equates to future success.

But at least my buddy and I can say we didn’t get to go to the prom because we got turned down for a future serial killer.

SCOTT REEDER is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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