Stardom can often come at a price. Any breakout star has the choice of a lavish and luxurious lifestyle, but can also follow a much darker path. A child actor can be plucked from obscurity, or beat thousands of other applicants for a much coveted starring role, but soon disappear under the weight of expectation. Few have managed to make the transition, and continue to forge a successful career later on. Some sadly fade, becoming the elusive troubled teen. But some have also been taken from us prematurely. Here is a list of talented actors who sadly passed too soon.
Heather O’Rourke (1975-1988)
Heather O’Rourke was discovered by Steven Spielberg, and was cast as Carol Anne Freeling in the 1982 horror film Poltergeist. She played a character abducted by ghosts, and went on to reprise her role in two more sequels. Additionally she had a recurring role in Happy Days and made many guest television appearances. Spielberg discovered her at the age of 5, whilst having lunch with her mother at the MGM commissary, ultimately beating Drew Barrymore for the role. She died aged 12 of cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis. 4 months later the film was released and dedicated to her memory.
Robert Knox (1989-2008)
An English actor who played Marcus Belby in Harry Potter and was stabbed to death outside a bar in southeast London, whilst trying to protect his younger brother from two men armed with knives. His murder occurred 4 days after his last scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He had acted on a few occasions on TV prior to landing the Potter role, and was due to reprise this role in further sequels.
His death was widely publicised in the media and led to a life sentence for his murderer. The tragedy of his death led to the creation of The Rob Knox Film Festival by the London Borough of Bexley. This reflected the aims of the Rob Knox Foundation that supports the education of young people in school, in the area of citizenship, respect and street violence awareness.
Corey Haim (1971-2010)
80’s teen heart-throb, and one half of ‘The Two Corey’s’, Corey Haim rose to fame landing a breakthrough role in the team drama Lucas and then went on to star in a string of hits, alongside co-star and best friend Corey Feldman. They starred together in popular films such as The Lost Boys and License to drive, and became the highest paid teen stars of the 1980’s, garnering a huge fan base. He soon became a part of the Hollywood partying scene and began experimenting with drugs, where he became embroiled in a well publicised battle with drug addiction.
After years of no TV or film roles, he sent out an advertisement in the Hollywood trade publication Variety, with a full-page photo, stating “This is not a stunt. I’m back. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to make amends”. He starred in the reality TV series The Two Coreys alongside Feldman before beginning a career resurgence, starring in a further few films including Crank: high voltage and a cameo in the Lost Boys sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe.
Haim died after collapsing in his apartment, after feeling unwell. His death was ruled as pneumonia.
Jonathan Brandis (1976-2003)
Having previously starred in The NeverEnding Story 2: The Next Chapter, and Stephen King’s IT, Brandis landed a role in 90’s TV series seaQuest DSV playing a very popular character Lucas Wolenczak. Brandis was famous amongst teenagers and appeared in various magazines. However the show was cancelled in 1996 and Brandis appeared in various other supporting roles in TV and film.
With his career seemingly in decline, Brandis landed a small role in Hart’s War, although was later cut from the film. Brandis hung himself in 2003, after an apparent battle with depression and alcohol. Friends said he was upset his part was cut from the film, which he felt could have been his comeback.
Brad Renfro (1982-2008)
Holding his own amongst a stellar cast in the critically acclaimed hit The Client, Brad Renfro starred amongst Hollywood greats in further roles such as Sleepers and Apt Pupil. In the early 2000’s he starred in supporting roles in Bully and Ghost World, where during this period he began to spiral out of control and was soon treated for substance abuse. He was also charged of cocaine and heroin possession and was soon on the front cover of the 2005 Los Angeles Times in handcuffs, where he was sentenced to 10 days in jail for DUI and heroin convictions.
In January 15, 2008 he was found dead in his apartment from a heroin/morphine intoxication. His death was ruled as accidental.
Gary Coleman (1968-2010)
Star of hit TV series Diff’rent Strokes died of a brain haemorrhage in 2010. Coleman was a successful child actor, starring in The Jeffersons as Raymond, and a small role in Good Times. Small in stature, it worked well for him as was his casting in Diff’rent Strokes as Arnold Jackson. The show was a success, and lasted 8 years, with Coleman being the stand-out of the show, with his catchphrase “Whatchu talkin bout Willis?”. During the height of his fame’ he had made a number of shows, films and even his own animated show The Gary Coleman Show which lasted for a year. He even became a candidate for governor in the 2003 California recall election.
Lee Thompson Young (1984-2013)
Known for his roles in Friday Night Lights as Chris Comer, and the American Disney Channel, coming-of-age TV series The Famous Jett Jackson in the title role. Young made other notable appearances in other TV shows such as Smallville and Scrubs, as well as various film roles. His last acting credit was in the TV series Rizzoli & Isles before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and was experiencing a bout of depression before his death.
Bobby Driscoll (1937-1968)
Bobby Driscoll was a critically acclaimed American actor, known for starring in a string of popular live-action Disney films, such as Treasure Island and Song of the South, after which Disney studios put him under contract. He displayed a natural gift for acting at such a young age and received an Academy Juvenile Award for outstanding performances in feature films. During this period he was a popular in-demand actor up until the mid 1950’s when his career began to fade, and was soon only making guest appearances for the anthology TV series.
Soon after, he was being moved from the Hollywood Professional School, to a public University High school of Westwood by his parents instead. He didn’t get along with fellow students and his grades dropped significantly. During this time he turned to drugs and although he eventually graduated from his previous school his drug habit remained and got worse. He eventually died of heart failure, due to his long term drug abuse. His death went unreported for many years due to his obscurity and withdrawal of Hollywood.
Brittany Murphy (1977-2009)
Breakout star of Clueless and other hit films such as 8 mile and Sin City. Brittany Murphy died in hospital, after collapsing in her bathroom. She featured in independent films as well as comedy, showing range in the likes of Girl Interrupted and Drop Dead Gorgeous, to showing great comedic timing, as she voiced the character of Luanna Platter in the TV sitcom King of the Hill, and the romantic comedy Just Married. She also sang, and voiced the character Gloria Penguin, in the critically acclaimed 2006 animated film Happy Feet. Murphy also released a single called “Faster Kill Pussycat”, with Paul Oakenfold, which reached number 7 in the UK and number 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play Chart.
Her cause of death was pneumonia, with secondary factors of iron-deficiency anaemia and multiple drug intoxication.