It’s always heartbreaking when a Hollywood star dies, but it especially cuts us deep when a beloved child star passes away long before they should have. There is something about watching a young celebrity grow and develop before our very eyes that strikes a certain chord that makes it particularly depressing when they perish in some kind of untimely way.
Child actors whose lives were tragically cut short include some of the most recognizable names in show business. Every star that we’re going to discuss in this video rose to fame when they were still kids, but chance and circumstance led to their deaths before they even got an opportunity to fully pursue what their careers could have become as adults. Some of these young celebs succumbed to the horrors of substance abuse while others were killed in horrific freak accidents.
Really though, their deaths should serve as a reminder that sometimes children aren’t quite ready to contend with the rigors of fame and everything that comes with it. Being in the spotlight can be detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of just about anyone – but that’s especially true for stars that are still figuring out who they are and what they want to accomplish in life.
Take Poltergeist child star Heather O’Rourke, for example. She was only 12 years old when she had emergency surgery to repair acute bowel obstruction, which led to complications that ultimately claimed her life. Then we have the case of River Phoenix, who died in his early 20s after getting caught up in the all-too-common pitfall of drug use.
A few other child stars ended up taking their own lives. Back in 2013, Lee Thompson Young, an actor best known for portraying the title role on the Disney Channel’s The Famous Jet Jackson, committed suicide at the age of 29.
Join us as Facts Verse takes a closer look at the lives and, sadly, the deaths of several child stars who died way too young.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Gary Coleman was one of the highest-paid child stars in Hollywood. He was perhaps best known for his portrayal of the character Arnold Jackson on the hit sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, which ran from 1978 to 1986. In 1982, he was even given his own short-lived animated series, The Gary Coleman Show. He later voiced the character, Kevin, in the animated offering Waynehead, which ran from 1996 to 1997.
While he eventually branched out into film, he was never quite able to recreate the same magic that he had found appearing in Diff’rent Strokes. By the late 90s and into the early 2000s, he could barely even find work and was starting to get desperate. Eventually, the only roles that he was able to find were essentially those that just made a mockery of his declining image while lampooning himself for the public’s amusement.
Coleman’s final film role was in the low-brow comedy film Midgets Vs. Mascots received dismal reviews and only succeeded in further ruining Coleman’s career. It’s rather unfortunate that the last project that he participated in basically was his rock-bottom moment.
Gary Coleman spent his whole life dealing with a debilitating congenital disease that resulted in his short stature. While he underwent numerous surgeries and procedures throughout his life to keep him alive, in 2010, he finally lost his battle with the disease on May 27th after having several major seizures and suffering an epidural hematoma. He was only 42 when he died.
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Born on August 8, 1927, Switzer was a singer and child actor best known for his role as Alfalfa in the classic American short film comedy series Our Gang, which you might know as The Little Rascals.
After leaving the series in 1940, Switzer found himself typecast and struggled to land any roles of substance. Upon reaching adulthood, he appeared in several B-movies but later gave up acting to instead become a dog breeder and hunting guide.
In 1959, at the age of 31, he was fatally shot by a supposed friend in a dispute over finances. The shooting was initially judged to be an act of self-defense, but according to witness testimony which materialized some 42 years later in 2001, it was more likely murder.
This American child star was best known for her role as Buffy Davis in the sitcom Family Affair, which hit the airwaves in 1966 and ran until 1971. Anissa landed that role at the age of 8, and even while she was a rising star, her life was quite difficult. Her craft required her to work long hours on the set, and her education and socialization suffered because of this.
After Family Affair wrapped up in 71, Anissa tried to find work in film but never quite found the type of roles she was looking for. Like so many other child actors that came before her and those that would follow in her footsteps later on, she found herself typecast.
She tried to audition for the lead role in The Exorcist in 1973, but as we all know, the role was instead given to Linda Blair. People only thought of her as little Buffy. In 1972, Brian Keith offered her a role on The Brian Keith Show, but by then, she had already lost her desire to work on TV.
Before she was given her career-defining role on Family Affair, Anissa’s parents divorced. In 1973, her father was awarded sole custody, but after he passed away, Anissa went to go live with a friend. She then started skipping school and eventually got arrested after her mother reported her to the police as a runaway.
After being released from Juvenile hall, she went to live with her mother. It was then that she started doing drugs and shoplifting, and in 1975 she dropped out of high school.
A year later, on August 28, 1976, while attending a party in Oceanside, California, Anissa was found dead in a bedroom of a home that belonged to the father of her 14-year-old friend, Helen Hennessy. According to the coroner’s report, Anissa died of a drug overdose after consuming PCP, cocaine, Quaaludes, and Seconal – a pariticularly strong barbiturate.
She was only 18 years old when she died.
This child actor who was best known for his movie and television roles from 1943 to 1960, also met a rather grisly end. Some of his most memorable performances included his roles in the Disney films Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, The Window, and Treasure Island, while his most notable claim to fame was serving as the animation model and voice talent behind the titular character in the 1953 animated feature Peter Pan.
By the mid-1950s, however, Driscoll’s acting career took a nosedive. The only roles that he could find were small guest appearances in anthology shows, and he soon turned to narcotics to ease his troubled mind.
After serving a prison sentence for illicit drug possession, Driscoll shifted his focus to the avant-garde art scene. Instead of learning from his mistakes and getting sober, he continued to use drugs, and they eventually started taking a dire toll on his health. On top of that, Driscoll’s finances ultimately completely dried up.
On March 30, 1968, Driscoll’s body was found in an abandoned building in the East Village of Manhattan. Post mortem examination determined his cause of death to be heart failure which was likely brought on by his years of drug use. He was just 31 years old when he died.
This British child star is best remembered for his role as Michael Banks in the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins. He also appeared in two other Disney movies; 1963s The Three Lives of Thomasina and 1967s The Gnome-Mobile, both alongside actress Karen Dotrice.
After failing to find success in the entertainment industry as a young adult, Garber contracted hepatitis. At the age of 21, he died in Hampstead, London, of hemorrhagic necrotizing pancreatitis.
Beckett was yet another child star who found early success and recognition while starring in the Our Gang shorts playing George ‘Spanky’ McFarland’s best friend and partner in crime. His signature look consisted of a crooked baseball cap and a baggy oversized shirt that exposed one of his shoulders. In 1935, his role was taken over by Carl Switzer, who portrayed Alfalfa, and Beckett ended up leaving the series to focus on feature films later that year. He did, however, return to Our Gang – albeit briefly – in 1939, as Alfafa’s Cousin, Wilbur.
After departing Our Gang, Beckett found success appearing in several Hollywood major motion pictures. A few of these credited roles include turns in Dante’s Inferno, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Conquest, Marie Antoinette, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Kings Row.
After graduating from high school, Beckett took some time off from acting in films to focus on stage work. In 1957, he was signed by MGM and appeared in a handful of hit films such as 1949s A Date with Judy and 1950s The Happy Years.
He Briefly attended the University of Southern California but dropped out after discovering that trying to balance working in films while keeping of his studies was virtually impossible. In 1954, Beckett was cast as Winky, the comedic sidekick, in the hit television science fiction show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, which would become one of the defining moments of his career. Unfortunately, he was fired from the series after being arrested for a concealed weapons charge and for writing a bad check.
Beckett then started to drink excessively and developed a gambling problem. After several more arrests on charges ranging from drunk driving to drug possession and passing more bad checks, he was found dead in his home on May 10, 1968. Alongside his body were a note and a bottle of pills. While no official cause of death was given, the media reported that he had OD”d on barbiturates and alcohol. He was only 38-years-old at the time of this death.
Well, that pretty much wraps up this admittedly morbid video. Which child star were you most surprised to learn had tragically died? Can you think of any others that deserve mention? Let us know in the comments section below.
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