Goodbye Amanda Peterson, Thank You for the Memories

For people my age, the death of Amanda Peterson at forty-three has been quite sad. We’ve been through this before, of course, us Generation Xers – River Phoenix, Brittany Murphy, Corey Haim, Whitney Houston. But it is this one that has really stuck with me.

Part of it may be that Amanda Peterson was a Colorado girl just like I am. Yet most of it really has to do with the awesomeness of Cindy Mancini.

My husband had never seen Can’t Buy Me Love (grounds for divorce, obviously), so he didn’t understand my need to call my sister and text my friends as soon as I heard the news. A few months ago, we purchased a riding lawnmower and he also didn’t understand all my Ronnie Miller jokes – he just looked at me like an idiot whenever I made them.

So, last night I sat him down and forced him to watch the film. My husband’s favorite show is Days of Our Lives so I didn’t think he’d fight me on my suggestion of this teeny bopper rom-com (and not only did he not fight me, but he also had me pause it when he went to the restroom). I watched it with him – it was the first time I’d seen it in a decade or so.

I’m not sure what it is about this movie that I’m so drawn to. It’s predictable, a little hookery, and the action is, at times, really very corny (slow clap, anyone?), but damn, I love it so. Watching it last night just made me remember how much I love it. And the best part about it is Amanda Peterson.

Until her age was recently plastered on the internet, I didn’t know how young Amanda actually was when she performed this iconic role. She was only fifteen – fifteen playing an eighteen-year-old. It is a strange twist for an industry that regularly hires people in their late twenties to play teenagers (I’m looking at you, Beverly Hills 90210).

But, with this realization, it occurred to me that Amanda Peterson could act – I mean really, really act. She brought so much depth, emotion, and maturity to her role that even when I watched it last night, I kept thinking she was around twenty-two or twenty-three at the time of filming. When I was fifteen, I was kissing my Brad Pitt poster and angrily trying to tape Aerosmith songs off the radio without the deejay’s annoying voice getting in the way. I wasn’t capable of doing what she did; I don’t know a single fifteen-year-old who was.

When Can’t Buy Me Love first came out, I was nine-years-old. I saw it in the theater with my best friend and twin sister and we were all obsessed, almost instantly, with Cindy Mancini. Maybe it was the hair, maybe it was the cheerleading, maybe it was the dimples. Maybe it was all of it.

Even in high school, years later, part of me still aspired to be her. I wasn’t going to pull it off, this I knew – I have brown hair, not blond; I wasn’t a cheerleader (I couldn’t – and still can’t – even do a cartwheel); and while I do have dimples, I also had pimples. Lots and lots of pimples. But this didn’t stop me from thinking about the coolest girl I’d never met – sometimes I’d even drive around in my car (my late grandmother’s ’81 T-bird) and pretend it was a VW Rabbit convertible, something that required quite a bit of imagination.

Can’t Buy Me Love isn’t the only movie Amanda Peterson was in. I remember a short-lived TV show in the late eighties that I watched merely because she was a cast member. I also saw Listen to Me for this same reason. Yet the latter was a little intense for my eleven-year-old self. I kept wanting them to stop debating and, instead, break out into the African Anteater Ritual. It really would have livened things up, in my opinion.

She was also in several other things, including another movie with which I was not so briefly obsessed: Annie. Still, it will always be her role as Cindy Mancini in which her star shines most brightly.

They say that Hollywood doesn’t make good movies anymore and sometimes I think that’s true. But Can’t Buy Me Love probably wasn’t a good movie by some people’s standards. And still it spoke to us; Cindy Mancini spoke to us. And this gives me hope that Hollywood will make a Cindy-esque movie in the future that my daughter, even decades later, can look upon so fondly. A movie that, as an adult, makes her roll her eyes and smile.

It is sad when anyone dies, but dying young is much more tragic, a story that never gets to be fully told. And when a celebrity dies the grieving can seem a little trite – I didn’t know her and yet I’ll always remember her.

In the end, we forever have the movies (in the forms of VHS tapes and probably some Betamax) and for that I’m grateful. So goodbye Amanda Peterson – thank you for the memories. Here’s to hoping the sun will come out tomorrow, wherever you are.