Heather O’Rourke got her start in Hollywood playing Heather Pfister, the 7-year-old daughter of Ashley Pfister, a divorcee who was once Fonzie’s girlfriend in the tenth season of Happy Days. She appeared in five episodes of that season. However, she is most famous for portraying Carol Anne Fleming in the hit 1982 Steven Spielberg film Poltergeist and its two sequels.
O’Rourke’s unexpected death in 1988 at the age of 12 sent shock waves across the entertainment industry, and the unusual circumstances of her passing fueled a lot of parent’s fears that maybe such a fate could take their children away just as abruptly.
What made her death especially unsettling was the fact that she lacked prior symptoms of the bowel defect that supposedly killed her.
Dr. Daniel Hollander, who heads the gastroenterology department at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center told the AP that given her diagnosis, he would have expected her to have already have had a great deal of digestive problems throughout her life but instead, she developed the condition all of a sudden.
Other specialists unrelated to the case have cast doubt on the official cause of death as well by instead suggesting that her death was instead caused by some kind of birth defect. But regardless of what actually ended her life, there is very little disagreement over the fact that her demise was extremely unusual.
A private funeral was held at the Westwood Village Mortuary in LA for the young, blonde actress. Terry Merryman, a spokesperson for the Children’s Hospital in San Diego revealed that Heather died of septic shock due to congenital stenosis of the lower intestine.
Essentially, what that means in laymen’s terms is that she died of a shock brought on by an infection that entered into her bloodstream. That blood infection was in turn likely caused by a birth defect that made a portion of her small intestine unusually narrow.
What happens when people suffer from such a condition is that their bowels reduce in diameter to about an eighth of an inch as opposed to the half-inch that healthy people normally take for granted without even a passing thought. When such narrowing occurs this impedes the movement of solids and fluids throughout the digestive tract. This rare defect usually is observable at birth because it produces obvious symptoms like severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Because of this, it’s very uncommon for an older child to die from this affliction without displaying prior symptoms
Mike Meyer, O’Rourke’s manager and lawyer, put out a statement shortly after her death confirming that she didn’t suffer from chronic digestive problems earlier on in her life. The narrowing of the bowel wasn’t even discovered until after she underwent surgery. Sadly, Heather went into cardiac arrest while she was being transported to the hospital and died while she was on the operating table shortly after she arrived there.
It’s speculated that O’Rourke’s underlying health issues might have been congenital in nature but it’s also equally possible that the bowel narrowing could have come on suddenly due to inflammation.
Congenital bowel narrowing very easily could have caused her sudden death even after years of living without any symptoms. An infection could have caused the bowel to rupture or become torn at which point infection and bacteria could have entered into her bloodstream leading to sepsis.
Mike Meyer further revealed that a section of O’Rourke’s intestine ruptured after swelling to almost 4 inches in diameter. She had actually contracted some kind of intestinal parasite the year prior most likely from drinking contaminated well water at her family’s former home in Big Bear. Some doctors concluded that it was this parasite that caused her intestines to become inflamed.
While moderate bowel narrowing from birth may not always cause symptoms right away. It’s still very peculiar that she didn’t experience any kind of worrisome symptoms before the age of 12. But it is plausible that as her intestinal muscles above the narrowing strained to push material through that opening that very easily could have caused increased widening of the bowel tissue. When this happens, the inflamed intestinal tissue oftentimes becomes infested with bacteria and eventually ruptures.
When intestinal narrowing is clearly observed shortly after birth, the issue is normally addressed through surgical means by removing the narrow section and attaching the normal, healthy section to both of its sides. A similar kind of procedure is often performed for those suffering from Crohn’s disease or similar inflammatory bowel disease.
According to available data, congenital narrowing of the small intestine only occurs in about one in 50,000 live births. Narrowing of the large intestine is about ten times as rare.
The medical community was completely dumbstruck by the unusual circumstances surrounding Heather O’Rourke’s death. It just didn’t make any sense. Normally when a child is suffering from such a condition it’s a big deal right out of the gate so-to-speak. Most children who are unlucky enough to be born with such an unfortunate abnormality have to receive a great deal of medical attention from a very early age, and a lot of times, the issue is never fully resolved.
But Heather seemed perfectly happy and healthy in the days proceeding her death. On Saturday she was symptom-free. On Sunday she came down with what her family thought was the flu. But that following Monday she was dead and the only thing we wanted to know is ‘why?’.
Some Think Her Death Was Caused By A Hollywood ‘Curse’
Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist is often regarded as one of the most terrifying horror films of all time, but some people seem to think that it’s one of the most ‘cursed’ films in Hollywood’s history as well.
Doused in superstition fueled by a handful of mysterious deaths of its cast members, the 1982’s films grim legacy has followed it for almost four decades now. Some subscribers to this spooky curse even feared that it might have even carried over to the critically panned 2015 remake film. We’ll address those concerns in a few minutes so don’t you dare go anywhere just yet.
The Poltergeist Curse as it has come to be known as first started being seriously discussed after four of the cast members died under mysterious circumstances. We’ve already touched on the death of Heather O’Rourke, but who else is a member of this macabre club?
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The Origins of The Curse
A lot of folks tend to think that the Poltergeist Curse got its start the very same year that the first movie was released.
Actress Dominique Young, who portrayed the older sister of Carol Anne in the film, died a sudden and violent death shortly after its debut in 1983. She was murdered by her abusive deadbeat boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney.
Young had to be put on life support after Sweeney strangled her in a fit of rage, but unfortunately, she died just five days later.
According to news reports and court records from that period, Sweeney was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sent to prison for his crime.
The actor who played Carol Anne’s most fierce opponent, the doomsday cult leader Kane, was the next person to fall victim to the supposed Poltergeist Curse.
Julian Beck sadly never got the chance to see the release of the second film in the trilogy. He died from complications of stomach cancer on September 14, 1985, at the age of 60.
Beck, who was far more than just an actor, was an avid lover of the arts. Throughout his life he proved himself to be quite the talented director, poet, and painter in addition to being a gifted actor. He became famous after co-founding and directing The Living Theater in 1947. That theater company prides itself in being the oldest experimental theater group in the United States.
The third actor to fall victim to the alleged Poltergeist Curse was the man who played Taylor, the benevolent ghost in the second Poltergeist movie.
He scored his first big break as an actor when he landed the role of Chief Bromden, the unusually large gentle giant who presents as death and mute in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. His next major role was as Crazy Horse in the 1977 western film The White Buffalo.
Sampson suffered from a chronic degenerative condition called scleroderma which compromised his heart, lungs, and skin. The disease took a major toll on his body. While at one point he weighed 260 lbs, at the time of his death he weighed just 140 lbs.
The condition led to him becoming malnourished and after undergoing a risky heart and lung transplant at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, Sampson died of post-op kidney failure on June 3, 1987. He was only 53 years old.
The Curse Continues
When Poltergeist was given the reboot treatment in 2015, some superstitious appreciators of the film quickly reignited the old Poltergeist Curse rumors.
While the film was universally panned by critics and moviegoers alike, fortunately, none of its cast members died. Although maybe we shouldn’t speak so soon. We just might jinks it.
In a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, however, the film’s director Gil Kenan recalled that during the movie’s production there was indeed a little bit of ‘paranormal activity’ observed on the set.
According to him, the lights that could turn on anywhere else throughout the neighborhood would suddenly blow out the second you tried to light them while on the set.
Kenan also noted that he used a lot of aerial photography for the film but for some reason, the drone pilots could never lock on to the GPS signal while in the field. They would have to move 10 feet away to launch the craft.
Okay, maybe those last details don’t do much in the way of convincing anyone of the curse, but the four death’s from the original cast members still rubs us the wrong way. While it’s not uncommon for actors to die – after all death is a mistress that we will all inevitably court – it is very strange that all four of these performers passed away in such quick succession in such unexpected ways.
Heather O’Rourke had her whole life ahead of her, and while it’s true that child actors oftentimes struggle to find their place in Hollywood after they reach adulthood, there is still no telling where her life would have taken her.
Anyway, now’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments section below let us know whether you believe in the Poltergeist Curse or not. If so, tell us why. If not, give us your reasons for being skeptical. There’s no wrong answer.
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