What Pearl Jam Got Wrong About Jeremy Delle, The Teen Whose Suicide Inspired ‘Jeremy'

Photo: Facebook
colorized school photo, doubled image, of Jeremey Delle from Pearl Jam song

For many members of Generation X, Pearl Jam's song 'Jeremy' is iconic, a song of the times based on a true story. 

In writing a song about a boy who died by suicide in front of his classmates, Eddie Vedder touched on the quiet loneliness of this generation and the quiet type of despair boys and young men in our society often suffer with. 

But as it turns out, the song doesn't represent the real Jeremy well at all, and Jeremy's mom and classmates what people to know the truth. 

What is Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' really about — and who is the real Jeremy?

The real Jeremey, named Jeremy Wade Dell, died by suicide in his Richardson High School classroom in on January 8, 1991. That part of the song is true. 

But his mother, who stayed quiet about her son's death for 27 years, has spoken out, saying the band's portrayal of Jeremy's suicide is inaccurate. 

Local news station WFAA spoke with Jeremy's mother, Wanda, about her son's death, saying her son was much more than his suicide, the event that made him famous over two decades ago.

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"That day that he died did not define his life," she said.

"He was a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson. He was a friend. He was talented," she explained.

He was such a talented artist, he won a first place award for a drawing he made when he was only 7 years old. More details from his life and interests can be seen on a website dedicated to his memory.

How did Jeremy's story become a Pearl Jam song? 

A newspaper reported the teen's death and Vedder was inspired to write about it. Vedder told Billboard

"[W]hen I went to write about it, I thought of actually getting a hold of what the actual person it was written about, but then I thought that would be intruding. And I totally related because I had a very similar experience with a kid who I grew with [...] He kind of freaked out and brought a gun into class one day. It was geography class and shot up a [chuckles] 1000 gallon fish tank or something. I was in the hallway and I remember hearing it."

Vedder admits that even though the song is called 'Jeremy', the character of Jeremy in the song was created by combining a few different stories. 

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While it's understandable that Vedder would've felt he was intruding had he asked for more details or permission to use their child's name, he probably should have considered reaching out to Jeremy's family before using his name. 

After all, his loved ones were upset, even "angry," that the band, which was up-and-coming at the time, had depicted Jeremy's death incorrectly. 

For instance, there was no testimony of anyone who bullied Jeremy, as one might expect based upon the verse of the song that starts with, "Clearly I remember / Pickin' on the boy", nor was the real Jeremy ever known to have fought back against any bullies, as the Pearl Jam song suggests. 

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In fact, the caracter of Jeremy in the Pearl Jam song doesn't appear to reflect the real Jeremy at all.

For instance, Jeremy's suicide in the song and the music video portrays an angry, bullied, and hopeless boy as Jeremy whose "Daddy didn't give attention" and "mommy didn't care."

Brittany King, a friend of Jeremy's at the time, told WFAA he was not like that.

"I was angry at them for writing that song," she said. "I thought, you don't know. You weren't there. That story isn't accurate."

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King was in the classroom when Jeremy pointed a gun at himself and pulled the trigger.

"Shock and fear went into my mind," she said. "All the students kinda ran into the back of the room and huddled."

Then, King made a decision that she will never forget.

"Should I look?" she said as she began to tear up while she recalled the aftermath. "I remember thinking that. 'Should I look?' And I did, I looked. I don't know why. I don't know why I looked. And I'll never forget. I will never forget it."

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Vedder's motives to write about the suffering of young people are certainly admirable, even if hindsight makes clear that he should've been more sensitive to the family and loved ones of the real Jeremy. 

As he told Billboard, there were a lot of kids suffering and bringing guns to school, and it needed to be discussed. As we would see a few years after Vedder gave the interview, the problem of shootings in schools would only get worse starting with the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School by two students and their suicides during the event.

Kids are angry — they were then, and they are now — and ignoring that fact doesn't make it go away.

"When you're inside and you have no control and when you're the 14-year-old version of Frances Farmer, you know, you have reasons to be angry," Vedder explained. "You have reasons to be angry when your parents, who are very sheltered themselves, make decisions as to what you should experience in your life and what's normal and what's not."

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Now, Jeremy's mother watches school shootings on the news and wishes she could reach out to those involved.

"I think of the mothers, I think of the sisters, I think what it'll be said or what opinions will be thought about the student," Wanda said. "It's the mothers and the sisters that I want to wrap my arms around and tell them that some day it'll be better."

She has since created a grief support group at her church in an effort to move on and help others do so as well. After all, losing a child to suicide is always going to be devastating, and families deserve support and to know they aren't alone — no matter the circumstances. 

This video shares more details about the real story of Jeremy Delle's life and what led up to his suicide: 

If you or someone you know feels helpless or has the urge to harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It can also be helpful to learn the warning signs of suicide in teens.

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Sarah Gangraw writes about all things news, entertainment and crime. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.