Child stars are some of the most intriguing figures in popular culture. There is always the question of whether working under the harsh and tiresome conditions of Hollywood will prove too much for them. After all, even adults talk about how cut-throat the movie and television scene is, and there are always cases of adult celebs going off the deep end or needing to go into rehab for a period of time. So when we see child actors, we can’t help but be a bit nervous about the whole thing. Well, here are 20 Child Stars You Didn’t Know Died Very Young.
While some of these young people died from medical complications, others were killed by others in apparent murders, others took their own lives, and still others suffered from accidental drug overdoses. There has got to be so much pressure when acting as a child. There is so much to live up to and sometimes parents and other adults can be too pushy and demanding.
It is scary to think that these young people were never able to continue acting, or even just live a normal life at peace. If anything, please take the time to learn about these child stars and what they were most known for.
20. River Phoenix
River Jude Phoenix actually had the last name Bottom. He was a teenage star and first appeared in commercials. He then starred in the sci-fi adventure movie Explorers and then Stand By Me, which was based on a novel written by Stephen King. River also had appearances in Running on Empty, which got him a nomination for an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor.) On October 31, 1993, River suffered complications from a drug overdose. It was early in the morning hours on that Halloween, and he started having convulsions. His brother, Joaquin, called an ambulance, but it was too late.
19. Heather O’Rourke
If you have watched the popular movie Poltergeist, then you know of Heather O’Rourke. She played the pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter of the terrorized family. She was cast by Stephen Spielberg himself as Carol Anne Freeling in the 1982 horror flick. She was also in the sequel and the third installment of the movie. Heather died at the extremely young age of 12 years old. In 1988, she was diagnosed with intestinal stenosis, although the doctors were wrong about her condition. She ended up going into cardiac arrest and septic shock while doctors were trying to help her in the operating room.
18. Matthew Garber
Matthew Garber died at the age of 21 and was well-known for his role as Michael Banks in the Mary Poppins film from 1964. He was also an actor in The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Gnome-Mobile. He went on a trip to India and contracted hepatitis. This disease spread to his pancreas and he ended up dying from complications due to pancreatitis in 1977. Although Garber was inflicted with hepatitis, he was unaware of it. It was only a few months afterwards that he was taken to a hospital in London, and by that time, the illness had spread. Garber was named a Disney Legend in 2004, posthumously.
17. Rob Knox
You may not remember who the character Marcus Belby was in the Harry Potter movies, but he was played by the British actor Rob Knox. Rob appeared in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and was scheduled to be in the final movie as well. Unfortunately, he passed away before that could happen. Knox was stabbed during a fight in the Sidcup section of London. He was jumping in to defend his brother, but he ended up being killed instead. In his honor, an annual film fest was created, aptly called the Rob Knox Film Festival. There is also a Rob Knox Foundation.
16. Christopher Pettiet
Christopher Lee Pettiet died in 2000 at the young age of 24. He was an American actor who appeared in both film and television. Pettiet played Jesse James in The Young Riders and also starred in the movie Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. He was last seen on the silver screen in an episode of Judging Amy in 1999. The actor died of a drug overdose, although records show that it was not intentional. A scholarship fund was founded to commemorate Pettiet. His acting coach, Kevin McDermott founded it to help young actors pay for schooling at Center Stage LA.
15. Jonathan Brandis
Jonathan Brandis died at the age of 27 on November 12, 2003. He hanged himself in the hallway of his apartment in Los Angeles. Brandis was young, but he was an up and coming actor, director, and screenwriter. When he was very young, he was a child model, but then he started acting in commercials. He then starred in the NBC series seaQuest DSV, making him a teen sensation. He was particularly popular with teenage girls. Yeah, he was one of those actors who was featured on the Tiger Beat magazines! When he was just 6 years old, he appeared on the soap opera One Life to Live as Kevin Buchanan.
14. J. Madison Wright Morris
Jessica Madison Wright Morris died at the age of 21 on July 21, 2006, just a few days before her 22nd birthday. She died of a heart attack and was briefly married to Brent Joseph Morris. She was an actress and appeared in Grace Under Fire, Earth 2, ER, The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy, The Burning Zone, and Safety Patrol. She was plagued with pneumonia multiple times and then was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy. This meant that she needed to get a heart transplant. She had one at the age of 15 and became an activist for organ donation.
13. Ashleigh Aston Moore
Ashleigh Aston Moore died at age 26 on December 10, 2007. She was a child actress and was most famous for her role in Now and Then. Moore started acting when she was just four years old, appearing in many commercials as well as the children’s show The Odyssey. She also starred in Madison, Northern Exposure, and Strange Luck. Her last television appearance was on the show Touched by an Angel. She won the YTV Achievement Award in 1995 and was nominated for the Young Artist Award in 1996 for Now and Then. In 1994 she was nominated for a Gemini Award for Family of Strangers.
12. Judith Barsi
Judith Barsi tragically died at only 10 years of age due to homicide. She was a child actress who appeared in commercials and on television and was famous for starring in films such as Jaws: The Revenge, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven. She suffered physical and mental abuse from her father who ended up killing both Judith and her mother Maria before shooting himself. Judith’s parents were Hungarian immigrants fleeing communism in their country. She was scheduled to appear in other film productions and was revered for her sophistication at such a young age.
11. Lee Thompson Young
Lee Thompson Young was a mainstay on the Disney Channel during his younger years. He appeared on The Famous Jett Jackson, Friday Night Lights, and Rizzoli & Isles but sadly he died at the age of 29 on August 19, 2013. He also starred in the Disney Channel movie Johnny Tsunami and its sequel. Young was a graduate of the University of Southern California with a major in Cinematic Arts. He also did screenwriting and wrote a short film called Mano. He was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Young was bipolar and had been taking medication.
10. Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro was an actor and musician who died at the age of 25 of a heroin overdose. He started acting at age 11 when he was cast in the leading role in The Client. He appeared in 21 films in his short career, as well as multiple short movies and television episodes. He became a victim of alcoholism and substance abuse, which ultimately led to his death. Renfro was nominated as a star on People magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30” in 1995. He was also The Hollywood Reporter’s “Young Star” in that same year. He had a criminal record for drug possession and attempted theft. He was found dead in his apartment in Los Angeles.
9. Bridgette Andersen
Bridgette Andersen was barely an adult when she died at the age of 21. She was a child actress and was most known for her role in Savannah Smiles. She also appeared in Washington Mistress, Family Ties, Remington Steele, Fever Pitch, The Golden Girls, and The Parent Trap II. Anderson was estranged from her family and got into alcohol and substance abuse. She died of an apparently accidental overdose on May 18, 1997, although she was reportedly trying to get clean and sober. She had been nominated for four Young Artist Awards between 1983 and 1986.
8. Josh Ryan Evans
Josh Ryan Evans died at the age of 20 on August 5, 2002. He was known for his role of Timmy on the soap opera Passions. On the show, he was actually 17 years old, but he looked like a small child because he was diagnosed with achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism.) He was just 3’2”. Evans began acting when he was 12 years old and appeared in Baby Geniuses, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Ally McBeal, and 7th Heaven. He was the recipient of two Soap Opera Digest Awards (2000 and 2001.) Evans died during an operation due to complications from a congenital heart condition. An episode of Passions was dedicated to him.
7. Anissa Jones
Anissa Jones was 18 years old when she died on August 28, 1976. She was a child actress who was known most famously as Buffy on the television series Family Affair. She first appeared in a television commercial for a breakfast cereal and from there she appeared in Family Affair as well as The Trouble with Girls. Jones was known for getting into trouble and was documented for skipping school and as a runaway. She died from a drug overdose in Oceanside, California after partying the night before with her boyfriend. Her life was chronicled by The Diodes, a punk-rock band from Canada.
6. Justin Pierce
Justin Pierce was an actor and skateboarder of British and Australian descent. He committed suicide on July 10, 2000 at the age of 25 in Las Vegas. Pierce grew up in the United States and was famous for starring in Kids and Next Friday, having also appeared in A Brother’s Kiss, Malcolm in the Middle, and Looking for Leonard. He received a dedication in the latter film and won an Independent Spirit Artist award in 1996 for Best Debut Performance in Kids. He was found hanging dead in the Bellagio Hotel by a hotel security guard.
5. Tara Correa-McMullen
Tara Correa-McMullen died when she was just 16 years old. The actress was shot to death in Inglewood, California. She was an American actress known for her work in Judging Amy and she also appeared in the film Rebound and had an appearance on the television show Zoey 101. She was living in her own apartment in Inglewood when she was just a teenager and started dating a guy who was in a gang. Another gang member, Damien Watts shot her. He was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder on March 1, 2006. Tara was profiled in an E! documentary.
4. Lucille Ricksen
Lucille Ricksen was an American actress who appeared in silent films. She died back in 1925 at the age of 14. Ricksen began her young career by working as a child model and ended up providing money for her parents through her work. She appeared in The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy, The Married Flapper, and Human Wreckage. She contracted tuberculosis while filming The Galloping Fish in 1924. Her death was attributed in the media as result of being overworked at such a young age and her parents were criticized for it as well. While Lucille was bedridden and sick, her father reportedly walked out on her. Other actresses took to her bedside and helped her, including Lois Wilson.
3. Billy Laughlin
Billy Laughlin died at the very young age of 16 on August 31, 1948. He was an American child actor and was best known for starring as Froggy in Our Gang (a series of short films that were popular in the early 1940s.) He was also an actor in Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Any More before deciding to take some time off. He died at a hospital, to which he was taken after being struck by a truck in La Puente, California. Laughlin was actually riding on a scooter that was given to him two weeks prior by his parents. His friend, John Wilbrand, was driving the scooter while Billy was riding as a passenger. Wilbrand survived the crash with minor injuries.
2. Michael Cuccione
Michael Cuccione died at the age of 16 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was a Canadian child actor, as well as a singer, dancer, author, and activist for cancer research. He died of respiratory failure, which was the result of his previous cancer treatments. While Cuccione was filming, he needed to take breaks on an oxygen tank between takes. He also missed some days on the set due to health complications. His death on January 13, 2001 came just 8 days after he turned 16 years old. His funeral was crowded with thousands of attendees. Prior to his death, he had been battling pneumonia for about a month.
1. Norman Chaney
Norman Chaney was a child actor was a star in the short comedic films Our Gang from 1929 to 1931. He was cast as the character Chubby. While filming, he was 3’11” and weighed in at 113 pounds. He continued to get heavier and was not offered a renewal on his contract in 1931. Chaney eventually weighed in at 300 pounds and was an excellent student. He became ill with myocarditis and died on May 29, 1936 at just 21 years old. He was diagnosed with a glandular ailment beforehand and was treated in hospital. He never received any royalties from the usage of the films he starred in.