Talented children have been gracing the big screen since the days of silent movies. They have dazzled audiences with their innocence and brought a sense of wonder to the world of entertainment. When a child star is talented enough to land a role on the big screen or secure a recurring spot on a television show, they become a star in their own right. They grow before the eyes of viewers, maturing into teenagers and eventually into adults as their acting career develops along with them. If they’re lucky enough, they carry on their acting career throughout the rest of their life.
There are a handful of child actors and actresses who were not so lucky. These young men and young ladies did not have the chance to reach their full potential as stars because their life was cut short. Some of them died from drug overdoses, others from medical conditions, and many others from tragic accidents. No matter the cause of death, the memory of a child star is preserved in the small time that they were able to entertain the world and fulfill their passion for acting.
10. Sammi Kane Kraft
Sammi Kane Kraft’s real-life baseball skills won her the role of Amanda Whurlitzer in the 2005 remake of the Bad New Bears. At the young age of 13 Kraft wowed baseball fans with her 70 mile per hour fastball and excelled as a true athlete. After being spotted in Los Angeles, California playing baseball Kraft was given her only acting role.
In 2012, nearly seven years after her brief acting career, Sammi Kane Kraft was a victim of a car accident. Kane was traveling as a passenger in her friend’s Audi when the vehicle rear-ended a big rig. The Audi was then hit by another car, trapping Kraft and her friend inside the vehicle. Sammi Kane Kraft was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was pronounced dead upon arrival.
9. Judith Barsi
The adorable Judith Barsi made her film debut in Jaws: The Revenge, playing Thea Brody. She went on to star in television roles and over 70 commercials before she provided her voice for the role of Ducky in The Land Before Time. As early as the age of 10, Judith Barsi was making $100,000 a year for her acting work.
Despite her successful career, the young girl remained a victim of abuse. Her father, Jozsef drank heavily and tortured her with physical and emotional abuse. Barsi began plucking out her eyelashes and had emotional breakdowns while auditioning for a singing role in All Dogs Go to Heaven. Despite the reports of abuse to Child Protective Services, nothing was done to remove Barsi from the home.
On the evening of July 25, 1988 Jozsef Barsi shot Judith and her mother Maria. He then burned their bodies before shooting himself two days later.
8. Gary Coleman
The quintessential child star, Gary Coleman made his television debut in 1978 on the hit show, “Diff’rent Strokes”. Coleman was best known for his catch phrase, “Whachu talkin’ bout?” and his comedic performance as Arnold Jackson, a young boy adopted by a wealthy white man. The series was broadcast from 1978-1986 and Coleman was paid $100,000 per episode.
Gary Coleman’s success as an actor did not keep him satisfied in his personal life. He twice attempted suicide before moving to Santaquin, California. Coleman was married for a short time to Shannon Price, who allegedly physically abused Coleman and treated him poorly. Coleman’s financial life was just as tragic as his personal life, leading to lawsuits and financial troubles for the majority of his short life.
Along with trouble in his personal life, Gary Coleman was also plagued by medical troubles. He had a congenital autoimmune kidney disease that required him to undergo multiple surgeries for both his kidneys and his heart. His difficult health eventually led to seizures. On May 26, 2010 Coleman fell down the stairs of his home and hit his head. He suffered an epidural hematoma, which left him unconscious and on life support. A little after noon on May 28, 2010 Gary Coleman died. He was just 42-years-old.
7. Michelle Thomas
After landing a role as the vixen Callie Rogers on the soap opera The Young and the Restless, Michelle Thomas’ life came to a devastating end at the young age of 30. Thomas’ career began in TV commercials before she landed the role of Justine Phillips on The Cosby Show in 1988. In 1993, Thomas went on to play Myra Monkhouse in Family Matters until the series ended in 1998.
In 1997, Michelle Thomas was diagnosed with intra-abdominal desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. The star underwent two surgeries to remove cancerous growths from her abdominal region. However, after spending Thanksgiving with her family, Thomas was readmitted to the hospital. On December 22, 1998, Thomas’ health took a turn for the worst. By the following morning of December 23, 1998 Thomas died at the age of 30 at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
6. Jonathan Brandis
At the very early age of six-years-old, Jonathan Brandis began his acting career with a recurring role on the soap One Life to Live. By the age of nine he was appearing on shows like L.A. Law, Who’s the Boss?, and Murder She Wrote. But his real success was with the sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV, in which he played Lucas Wolenczak, a role the earned him a Young Artists Award in 1993.
After his successes in film and television, Jonathan Brandis became a teen idol. Though his popularity and acting career continued into his twenties, Brandis’ personal life began to dwindle. On November 11, 2003, Brandis was found in his apartment by a friend. He had attempted to hang himself. He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he died from injuries he suffered in his attempted suicide. Jonathan Brandis was just 27-years-old.
5. Lee Thompson Young
The young Disney star, Lee Thompson Young was once the title character on the television series The Famous Jett Jackson. He had a small role in the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights and the 2007 film The Hills Have Eyes 2. Young was also part of the TNT drama Rizzoli & Isles, in which he played Barry Frost. In between his acting, Young also managed to graduate with Honors from the University of Southern California where he majored in Cinematic Arts.
While Lee Thompson Young’s career and enthusiasm for acting was a major force in his life, so was his history of bipolar disorder. At the young age of 29, the actor was faithful in taking his bipolar medication. However, on the morning of August 19, 2013, the actor was found sitting on his couch in his North Hollywood apartment. He had shot himself in the right temple.
4. Heather O’Rourke
The 1982 film Poltergeist haunted movie goers with its supernatural creepiness and one young girl’s famous line of, “They’re heeeere”. That young girl was Heather O’Rourke, who at the age of five was discovered by director Steven Spielberg. O’Rourke was offered the role of Carol Anne Freeling and signed to the Poltergeist movie the following day. She went on to star in the following two Poltergeist movies as well as Webster, The New Leave It to Beaver, and Happy Days.
At the age of 12, O’Rourke suffered from stomach pain and vomiting before she collapsed and was rushed to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. She suffered cardiac arrest before undergoing surgery for an acute bowel obstruction. She died on the operating table from cardiac arrest that was caused by septic shock.
3. Merlin Santana
Most remember Merlin Santana from his role as Romeo Santana on The Steve Harvey Show. His good looks and stellar acting also landed him the roles of Stanley, Rudy Huxtable’s admirer on The Cosby Show. He was also played the role of Ohagi on Moesha from 1996 to 1999.
Merlin Santana’s acting career was cut short the evening of November 9, 2002. An enraged Damien Andre Gates shot into the back of a car that Santana was riding in after being told by his girlfriend that Santana had made sexual advances toward her. Gates shot Santana in the back of his head, killing the star instantly. Gates was sentenced to three life sentences in prison and his girlfriend who was 15 at the time was sentenced to ten years in juvenile custody.
2. River Phoenix
Born August 23, 1970 to bohemian parents, River Phoenix was the older brother to Rain, Joaquin, Liberty, and Summer. He was a musician at a very early age, performing in talent shows with his siblings. After he and his family moved to California, Phoenix began his acting career with small spots on a few notable television shows. But his acting career breakthrough came in 1986 with his role in Stand by Me. From there he starred in the films Running on Empty and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The star’s success didn’t appear to change him personally. He still appeared clean cut, though in private the star began experimenting with drugs. On the evening of October 30th, 1993, River Phoenix was awaiting his turn to play on stage at Johnny Depp’s Viper Room in Los Angeles. Accompanied by his brother Joaquin, his sister Rain, and his girlfriend Samantha Mathis, River Phoenix began having seizures after taking drugs. He was transported by an ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he was declared dead on the morning of October 31, 1993. He was only 23 years old.
1. Brittany Murphy
The Atlanta, Georgia born actress Brittany Murphy began her acting career at the age of 14 as a regular on Drexell’s Class. Soon after she scored her most remembered role in the movie Clueless. Soon after she acted in Girl, Interrupted, 8 Miles, and Sin City.
Though her acting career made her a popular Hollywood star, Murphy’s death fascinated people around the world. At the young age of 32, Murphy collapsed in her bathroom and died. Theories of her death immediately began to surface, ranging from anorexia to cocaine use and even murder by her mother who was with her at the time of her death. Brittany Murphy was on a large dose of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sedatives. She was also taking a cough-suppressant due to pneumonia that she had been suffering from. Five months after Murphy passed away, her husband Simon Monjack died. Both of their deaths were attributed to acute pneumonia and anemia.