The film and television industry is a double-edged sword. On one hand, this industry can give you everything you probably want out of life. Money, fame, and power are just a few of the things you can achieve if you become a star. On the other hand, all this money and fame and power doesn’t take away the fact that you live under a microscope. Everything you do is seen and the smallest event can turn into tomorrow’s news. When pressure is on everyone in this industry, children are hit particularly hard.
Imagine going through all that stress at your age. Now, imagine it as you grow up in front of the camera. It’s rough. With this pressure, some child celebrities can’t take it. Some choose to end their own lives. Others turn to drugs to cope with everything that’s happened to them. Some of the child celebrities that can escape the bright lights of Hollywood are ecstatic to have been able to escape.
As the years have gone on, though, these child stars vanish from your memory. If they don’t stay around in Hollywood, you’ve probably forgotten about them. Sadly, some of these child stars that you may have had crushes on may not be how you remember them. And, tragically, some of them have been taken from this world, and you didn’t even know it.
This list is composed of 15 childhood crushes that you didn’t know died. Prepare to have your memories shocked as you see how some of these people passed away. May they all RIP.
15 Skye McCole Bartusiak
In 2000, the film world was set on fire. Mel Gibson had been blazing the cinemas for years, but his work on one film catapulted him into the spotlight. The film in question is The Patriot. One of the standout performances in the film is that of Gibson’s daughter, played by Skye McCole Bartusiak. With blond hair and cute features, it’s easy to see why little boys everywhere would have a crush on the girl.
Her life outside the screen wasn’t so glamorous. Not starring in a lot of roles besides the critically acclaimed film, she didn’t know where her life was going. Sadly, that life full of hope was snuffed out in July of 2014. She passed away at the young age of 21 due to an accidental overdose.
14 Judith Barsi
The late 1980's and early 1990's were a treasure trove for animated film. The industry began to churn out mega hit after mega hit thanks to Disney. Movies like The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Jungle Book are just a few of the blockbusters that became instant classics. A film series that was also beloved by children that you may remember is The Land Before Time series. The fun and kid-friendly series focuses on a group of dinosaurs as kids. The voice cast is phenomenal, and a standout in the movie is the voice of the beloved Ducky, Judith Barsi. Her young life would not end up like the happy ending of a cartoon. Only ten years old, Barsi’s father shot and killed her and her mother. Afterward, her father shot himself.
13 Dana Plato
In the 1980's, if you watched television on a regular basis and you were a boy, you probably had a crush on Dana Plato. Her soft features would appeal to any boy growing up during this time, and she had plenty of exposure to them in homes across America. She starred on the hugely successful Diff’rent Strokes alongside Gary Coleman.
However, along with a life of fame comes baggage, and sometimes that baggage can overtake a life. This was the case with Dana. When the show ended, Plato was already introduced to a world of drugs. This would hamper her career in her 20's and she couldn’t land an acting gig due to it. Substance abuse kept pushing her and it finally took its toll. At 35 years-old, Dana was found dead from an overdose of Valium and Lortab. It was ruled a suicide.
12 Lee Thompson Young
Disney couldn’t be touched in the 1990s' and 2000's. Expanding its brand in every way possible, the company still churns out hit television shows, musicians, and movies. For the millennials out there, a little show named The Famous Jett Jackson might ring a bell. The show aired in the late 90’s and early 2000's and starred the handsome Lee Thompson Young. Young used the role to springboard into a variety of movies once the show ended. However, his successful run wouldn’t last long.
It seemed as if Young had everything going for him. One of the films that helped him after his Disney run is the popular Friday Night Lights. So, it came as a complete shock when police entered his home after he failed to show up on set for a television series he was starring on and found him dead. His death was ruled a suicide. It also came out after his death that Young had been wrestling with bipolar disorder.
11 Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro made waves in the 1990s when he starred in a variety of films as a heartthrob. Overall in his career, he would rack up 21 feature films in a career many would deem a massive success. He got his breakthrough in the movie The Client. He was only 11 years-old at the time, but he made such an impression that Hollywood wanted to see more of him. Audiences agreed and this helped launch his career in the film industry.
As his career went on, it seemed as if all was well. He wasn’t involved in any scandals and he generally was known as a hard worker. When 2008 rolled around, people were taken aback when it was announced that Renfro had died from an accidental heroin overdose.
10 Jonathan Brandis
In the 90’s, the decade there were child stars that stood out and there were those who merely existed in the realm of acting. As with any group, this essentially boils down to the stars you remember vs. the stars you didn’t. Jonathan Brandis is one of those celebrities that fall into the category of those that you probably remember. He made a huge impact when he starred on the popular Seaquest DSV. He also played the leader of the kid’s cast in the critically acclaimed ABC miniseries IT in 1990.
Sadly, this childhood hunk had a doomed fate. In 2003, Brandis was found in his home. Surprisingly, he was still alive when he was found. He had a chance at life, but it just wasn’t in the cards. He tried to hang himself when his friend found him and was rushed to the hospital, but died the next day. He was 27.
9 Sammi Kane Kraft
Remakes are all the rage these days. If a franchise can be mined with a modern twist to them, you can bet that they’re going to be produced. In the 1970’s, legendary actor Walter Matthau starred in a slew of comedies about a group of little league baseball players. Known as The Bad News Bears, the films were a huge success. In 2005, the series was revitalized.
Taking the starring role of the little league pitcher was Sammi Kane Kraft. The up and coming actress played the tomboy pitcher who didn’t take guff from anyone. The movie was a modest success. Kraft’s death is a bit different in tone from most on this list. Drugs weren’t the main factor. Rather, a tragic car accident is what took her away. She was a passenger when her car collided with a semi. She passed away while receiving treatment for her injuries at the hospital.
8 Corey Haim
The 1980's had its fair share of coming-of-age teen movies. Director John Hughes is credited for this trend, as some of his greatest films include the classics Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink among others. This trend continued with two child stars in particular. Known as the “Two Coreys',” Corey Feldman and Corey Haim stole the hearts of teen girls everywhere. They starred in a couple of films together and attracted the attention of Hollywood.
While both of their careers would begin to flounder after their success in the 80’s, it was Corey Haim who took it the hardest. Officially, his death in 2010 is due to pneumonia. But, it was also reported that he had taken an unknown number of pills before he passed away. He was 38.
7 Michael Cuccione
In the 1990’s, you couldn’t escape David Hasselhoff. Rebounding from his popular run on Knight Rider in the 80’s, the Hoff came up with another big hit in the 90’s. However, this would cause much more of a pop cultural phenomenon than Knight Rider ever could. Baywatch was everywhere. Whether you watched the show or not, you more than likely know more about the show than you care to admit. Besides Hasselhoff, one of the stars in the show was a child actor named Michael Cuccione.
Cuccione had risen in popularity due to his time in the boy band 2ge+her. He battled cancer at 9 years-old and beat it. However, it took a heavy toll on his body. At the young age of 21, Michael died due to a residual respiratory issue.
6 Christopher Pettiet
There exists a movie that most kids have seen, but it sits on that fringe of the mind where you’ve probably forgotten all about it. The film was a hilarious comedy and gave kids an interesting theme to ponder. What would happen if your babysitter up and died? Moreover, if you had siblings, how would you go about it? Taking a light-hearted approach to an otherwise morose topic, the film in question is 1991’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. One of the stars of the movie was young Christopher Pettiet. He also starred as a young Jesse James in the film The Young Riders. An accidental drug overdose would lead to Pettiet’s untimely death at the age of 24. To keep his memory alive, his acting coach started a scholarship for actors in his name.
5 Rob Knox
The 2000's were flooded by film adaptions of young adult novels. The series that started it all, unquestionably, is the Harry Potter series. Penned by J.K. Rowling, the series has garnered over a billion dollars at the box office. With such a strong presence in pop culture, starring in a Potter movie meant that you could be seen by tens of millions of people. Thus was the case with Rob Knox, who played Marcus Belby in the latter instalments of the film series.
Drugs had nothing to do with his tragic death, nor was it a defect with his body or a horrific accident. It was murder. Knox tried to defend his younger brother when a man attempted to stab him. Knox took the brunt force and later died from his wounds.
4 Michelle Thomas
Four letters dominated the television landscape in the 1990's. If you were a watcher of any sort of television, a certain day of the week was a treasure trove of comedy. And those four letters that would define an era? TGIF. The Friday night lineup on ABC was a stacked card that was tough to beat during that time. One of the heavy hitters of the lineup was Family Matters. The show ended up producing a pop culture icon in Steve Urkel.
Eventually, Urkel earned himself a girlfriend. Played by Michelle Thomas, she was an attractive star that would invade any boy’s dreams. Sadly, her dream of stardom would be short lived. In 1998, Michelle Thomas passed away from stomach cancer. She was only 30 years old at the time of her death.
3 Dana Hill
The 1980's housed a wonderful assortment of comedians. Stand-up comedy was still a major attraction, and the likes of Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield swept the pop culture landscape. Another comedy veteran who shined during this time was none other than Chevy Chase. Although notoriously difficult to work with, that didn’t stop him from starring in some of the biggest comedies of the 80's. Along with hits such as Fletch and Spies Like Us, Chase starred in a franchise. The National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise.
It was almost guaranteed to be a success simply because Chase was in it, and one actress jumped on board. Teen Dana Hill was cast as Chevy’s daughter in European Vacation. After the smash hit, she starred in a few other movies, but wouldn’t get too many chances. Hill died at 32 in 1996 due to complications from Type 1 diabetes.
2 Tara Correa-McMullen
CBS had a great slate of programming in the 90's and into the 2000's. Now, most of the child stars on this list starred in comedies or kid friendly fare. However, one of the exceptions is Tara Correa -McMullen. Tara starred on the critically praised and lauded television drama Judging Amy. While she may not look like your typical childhood crush, it was her acting skills and ability that stole your heart.
The young actress played a gang member on the show. With her character getting involved in gang fights and altercations, she was a message to stay away from gangs. While the message was received by audiences, she didn’t follow her own advice. Tragically, in her case, life imitated art. She lost her life at the tender age of 16 in a gang fight.
1 J. Madison Wright Morris
Another veteran of the comedy circle, J. Madison Wright Morris starred in the hit television series Grace Under Fire. The series revolved around a mom who had to raise her kids by herself. She’s a recovering alcoholic and she often doesn’t handle situations well. However, like almost every sitcom, things turn out alright in the end. Out of the cast, Wright Morris landed the job and it was her debut in the television business.
The series ran from 1993-1998, but Wright Morris would suffer health complications after the end of the series. She got a heart transplant in 2000 and all seemed to be working out. However, tragedy was in her future. In 2006, at the age of 21, she passed away from a heart attack. It was also the day after her wedding.