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RIP Tommy Kirk, Disney Child Star From Old Yeller

Tommy Kirk was a former child star that was best known for his numerous iconic roles in live-action Walt Disney features, such as The Shaggy Dog and Old Yeller. The actor died at his home in Las Vegas, and his death was announced by one of his former costars on The Mickey Mouse Club. Join Facts Verse as we pay our respects to Tommy Kirk, Disney child star from Old Yeller. RIP Tommy Kirk.


For many filmgoers, their introduction to former child star Tommy Kirk came when he appeared in the 1957 live-action Walt Disney classic Old Yeller. Tommy was cast in the film as the character of Travis Coates, and the story of Travis’ relationship with his dog tugged on the heartstrings, not to mention the tear ducts, of cinema audiences. Following Tommy’s successful performance in Old Yeller, he was cast in numerous other Walt Disney live-action features, oftentimes to equal success. However, Tommy’s relationship with Disney sadly came to an end soon after it started thanks to rumors that persisted about Tommy behind the scenes.

While Tommy’s turn in Old Yeller represented a successful dramatic performance from the young actor, his turn in Disney’s The Shaggy Dog offered the audience a comedic reprieve. The film featured Tommy as a teenager that found himself sporadically morphing into a dog! Tommy also acted in Swiss Family Robinson, and 1964’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. Sadly, he was fired after the latter feature.

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones saw Tommy cast as a college student. Audiences had watched Tommy grow up in live-action Walt Disney features, and they weren’t ready for the bombshell that was about to be dropped about the growing young man’s private life. Tommy had gotten his start with the Walt Disney production company performing on various television programs, including the seminal variety series The Mickey Mouse Club, as well as The Hardy Boys.

Tommy’s relationship with Walt Disney started in 1957, and he was fired from working with the company during the mid-1960s, shortly after performing in 1964’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. The reason that Tommy was fired was related to some secrets that came out about the young actor’s personal life.

For much of Tommy’s teenage years, he had been struggling with his own sexual identity. During his Disney days, he had come to the realization that he was homosexual. While the revelation that Tommy was homosexual may have been controversial enough for Disney, it was also revealed that a 21-year-old Tommy had been involved in a relationship with someone that had turned out to be underage.

Despite the fact that Tommy ended up being fired from Disney after the controversy, the incident didn’t fully cause the end of the young man’s career. He even worked with Disney again, filming a sequel to the 1964 feature The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. However, Tommy’s career never again reached the heights that it had before it was revealed to the world that he was a homosexual, and the actor always blamed his sexuality for his lack of success.

In addition to having essentially been abandoned by Walt Disney after the controversy, Tommy was also abandoned by his blood relatives. Because of this, Tommy ended up feeling a much stronger kinship with his fellow actors and actresses than he ever did with his actual family. As well, he always felt an incredibly strong connection with his many fans, whom he credited with helping him get past the dark times that came after his banishment from Disney.

In his later years, Tommy was open about how painful his teenage years had been working for Disney. This was predominantly due to the fact that Tommy felt that he was forced to hide his true identity away from those around him, which caused him to have a great deal of doubt and confusion. However, there were also things about working with Disney that Tommy retained fond memories of, and he would often fondly recall his experiences with Walt himself.

It wasn’t until Tommy was around the age of 18 that he finally accepted that the homosexual feelings he had been witnessing inside of himself might be growing into something too big to ignore. Tommy finally admitted to himself that his identity wasn’t something that was going to go away just because he was hiding it, and he knew he was going to have to come out about whom he really was, regardless of the consequences. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

Tommy Kirk was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 10, 1941. His father was a mechanic named Louie. His mother was a secretary for a legal office, and her name was Lucy. With three other children to take care of in addition to Tommy, Louie and Lucy found themselves in need of some bigger paychecks soon after he was born. Because of this, they made the decision to move to Downey, California, where they believed their job prospects would be better.

Tommy didn’t begin acting until the age of 13, when he was cast in a play that was being put on at the Pasadena Playhouse titled Ah, Wilderness! While performing in the play, Tommy was spotted by an agent from Hollywood that thought the kid had a good deal of potential. Tommy went on to appear in a few more plays in Pasadena before beginning to make television appearances during the mid-1950s.

Some of the television programs that Tommy appeared on before being discovered by Walt Disney included Gunsmoke and The Loretta Young Show. In cinemas, Tommy could be seen in the 1956 features Liberty Road and The Peacemaker before his breakout turn in Old Yeller the following year. Despite all of the varied work that Tommy found as a child actor before catching the attention of Disney, it ended up being a small role on the television series Matinee Theatre that brought Tommy to the eyes of Walt. Walt was so impressed with Tommy’s work that he sought the kid out and offered him a long-term contract.

Tommy went on to find immense success with Disney for nearly a decade before becoming embroiled in the controversies that got him fired. In addition to his secret sexuality and his underage partner, Tommy had also been busted for marijuana use at a Christmas Eve party in 1964. Tommy was released from his contract with Walt Disney, and was fired from a role he was preparing to film in the 1965 John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder.

Shortly after Tommy’s public firing from his Disney contract, he was quietly brought back on by the company to perform in 1965’s The Monkey’s Uncle, which was the sequel to the prior year’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. However, the professional relationship between Tommy and Disney wouldn’t continue on past this. Thankfully, Tommy still managed to find plenty of work both in and out of Hollywood after being fired by Walt Disney.

Just after being fired for the first time by Walt Disney, Tommy took up with American International Pictures, or AIP. The studio was known for it’s output of beach films, and they thought that former teen idol Tommy Kirk would be a perfect fit! As well, Tommy’s controversies didn’t affect his credibility with teens and adults the way that they did with families. Tommy appeared in many pictures for AIP, including 1964’s Pajama Party and 1966’s The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.

Around the same time that Tommy was working with AIP, he also started branching out more into musical theater on the stage. He appeared in notable productions of The Music Man, West Side Story, and Tovarich. Tommy’s relationship with AIP was over by 1967, and that year saw the fledgling actor appear in a beach film for rival studio Trans American Films. That film was titled It’s a Bikini World. Beach films were losing their popularity, and the film wasn’t nearly as successful as Tommy’s preceding works with AIP.

Following 1967’s It’s a Bikini World, the roles that Tommy Kirk was being offered gradually became worse and worse in quality. The movies that Tommy found himself in were increasingly shoddy in terms of their production values, and people began to view Tommy as someone that would have a negative effect on the profitability of their films. In the 1970s, Tommy decided to disappear from the spotlight.

During the 1970s, Tommy had become incredibly dissatisfied with the roles that he was getting in the entertainment industry. Eventually, the man decided to turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the pain that he was feeling inside. At one point, Tommy nearly died from a drug overdose. Thankfully, he survived this near-fatal incident, and used it as a catalyst to turn his life around.

After leaving Hollywood, Tommy gave up his drug habits and turned his life around. He started a successful carpet-cleaning and upholstery business in California, and the business was in operation for two decades. In the late 1990s, Tommy returned to acting, appearing in a number of direct-to-video horror features. Tommy’s final acting role was in the 2001 feature The Education of a Vampire.

During Tommy’s final years, he lived in Las Vegas. He continued to live for two decades after his final acting role, passing away in 2021. The actor died on September 28, at the age of 79. As of the time of this video’s writing, there has been no official cause of death announced.


Despite the fact that Tommy Kirk’s relationship with Disney ended poorly, the former child star still had plenty of fond memories about his time with the company. Comment down below to share what your favorite one of Tommy’s live-action Disney roles was, or if you were saddened to learn about the former child star’s troubled life and recent death! As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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