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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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