Family, friends, athletes and celebrities talked about the often-troubled young man, youngest son of basketball great Julius Erving, at a memorial service in the packed Heartland Community Church yesterday.
Cory, 19, whose body was found in his car in a pond less than a mile from his home in Alaqua, Fla., after a month-long, nationwide search, was remembered as a fun-loving teen-ager whose smile could make everyone around him feel better.
Three friends recalled a prankster who loved to play practical jokes on friends and teachers at school.
Patti LaBelle sang "The Lord's Prayer." Close family friend Stedman Graham, longtime boyfriend of Oprah Winfrey, who was also present, delivered personal remarks to more than 1,500 well-wishers, including current and former NBA players.
"I don't have to tell you about Cory. You already know he would give you the shirt off his back. . .and he didn't have a mean bone in his body," Graham said. "We know he was trying to find himself as many young people do at that age."
Guests also included casino magnate Steve Wynn, New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn and Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers. Erving is a vice president of the Magic.
Also attending from the Sixers were president Pat Croce and his wife, Diane, vice president Lara White and director of travel services Allen Lumpkin.
Preliminary tests indicate Cory might have been using cocaine just before his death, although the medical examiner stressed the early results are "not completely reliable."
Cory had struggled with a drug habit for most of his teen-age years, but his family believed he had turned his life around.
Cory, last seen alive at a bakery May 28, when he was buying bread for a family cookout, was found dead in his submerged car last week. His body was discovered more than a month after Julius Erving appealed to the public for help in locating his son.
A test for cocaine done on water in Cory's bladder was positive, but further tests on his liver, lung, heart, kidney, brain and skeletal muscles are needed before anything can be determined conclusively, said Dr. Thomas Beaver, Volusia County's medical examiner.
"We're taking the results of the test with a very large grain of salt," Beaver said. "The test is not completely reliable and must be viewed skeptically."
The test is normally conducted on urine in the bladder but had to be done by washing the bladder with water since the body had no urine. Decomposition of the body also might have affected the test, he said.
In addition, an autopsy showed that there was no trauma to Cory's body and Cory most likely had been in the pond since the day he disappeared, Beaver said.
However, nothing is conclusive until a report by a forensic pathologist is complete, he said.
Touched by the response of Central Florida during the search for Cory, Julius Erving, the legendary Dr. J of 76ers fame, and his wife, Turquoise, opened the service to the public.
A reception followed in an adjacent gymnasium, where the overflow was able to watch on a large-screen television.
"It was a very moving, touching service, very difficult to sit through, especially if you have children," said Dave Coskey, the Sixers' senior vice president. "You can't imagine how the Ervings are holding up."
The Sixers' contingent also included Erving's teammates from the 1982-83 NBA champions - Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone and Marc Iavaroni.
Also attending from that championship team were coach Billy Cunningham, his wife, Sondra, assistant coach Matt Guokas, general manager Pat Williams and assistant general manager John Nash.
Guokas is now an analyst for NBC; Nash is the Nets' general manager; Williams is a vice president with the Magic.