I am a firm believer that TV can ruin a child. It steals away their childhood and can ruin them before they have a chance to become adults. Every once in a while you can find someone who can handle the stress of fame well. But more often than not, you hear of child actors going off the deep end when they grow up and it is just heartbreaking. I often wonder what kind of person they could be if they were never famous. If their parents had said no when they had their first opportunity to get into show business. What kind of girl would Miley Cyrus be if she was never Hannah Montana? Or what would Lindsay Lohan be up to if she never got into acting? We will never know the answer to those questions. And then there are those child actors that just fell out of the spotlight and it’s terrible to later find out that they died when they still had so much living to do. It’s terrible when they die of natural causes or when someone took their life, but even worse when the stress of fame or the easy access to illegal drugs takes their lives before their time. Here are 30 child actors that you may have wondered where they have gone. Sadly they are no longer living.
1. Bridgette Andersen – Best known for: Savannah Smiles – Died in 1997 when she was 21 years old from a drug overdose.
2. Gary Coleman – Best known for: Different Stokes and for saying “What you talkin’ about Willis?” – Died in 2010 at the age of 42 from a brain hemorrhage.
3. Judith Barsi – Best known for: Jaws the Revenge and the voice of ‘Ducky’ in The Land Before Time – Died in 1988 at the age of ten. She was murdered by her father who also killed her mother before killing himself.
4. Lee Thompson Young – Best Known For: Disney Actor in The Famous Jett Jackson (playing Jett) and as ‘Chris Comer’ in Friday Night Lights – Committed suicide in 2013 at the age of 29.
5. Heather O’Rourke – Best Known For: The Poltergeist movies playing ‘Carol Anne’ – She died in 1988 at the age of 12 when she went into cardiac arrest on the operating table after suffering flu-like symptoms as a result of her congenital intestinal stenosis while filming Poltergeist III.
6. Brad Renfro – Best Known For: The Client – Died in 2008 at the age of 25 from an accidental heroin overdose.
7. Carl Switzer – Best Known For: Role as ‘Alfalfa’ in Our Gang – Died in 1959 at the age of 31 when he was shot in the groin. He was shot while assaulting a man and demanding the man return the reward money Switzer gave him for returning Switzer’s dog.
8. Dana Plato – Best Known For: Role as ‘Kimberly Drummond’ on the TV show Different Strokes – Died in 1999 at the age of 35 after taking fatal doses of Lortab and Valium.
9. Jonathan Brandis – Best Known For: playing ‘Lucas Wolenczak’ in the series seaQuest DSV as well as his Role in Ladybugs – Jonathan died in 2003 at the age of 27 after attempting to commit suicide by hanging. He was taken to the nearby hospital and later died from his injuries. His friends say he was depressed because his career was declining and his comeback role was cut from the film.
10. Anissa Jones – Best Known For: Role as ‘Buffy’ on the TV series Family Affair – Anissa died in 1976 at the age of 18 when she inherited $70,000 dollars and turned to drugs. She died of an overdose of barbiturates, phencyclidine, and cocaine.
11. Corey Haim – Best Known For: Movies such as Lost Boys, Lucas, and License to Drive – Corey died in 2010 when he was 38 years old. He turned to drugs when his career declined and died due to complications of pneumonia.
12. Justin Pierce – Best Known For: Role as ‘Casper’ in Kids and ‘Roach’ in the film Next Friday – Justin died in 2000 when he was 25 years old when he hanged himself in Las Vegas.
13. J. Madison Wright Morris – Best Known For: Her role in Grace Under Fire – Madison died in 2006 at the age of 21 from a heart attack. She had a heart transplant when she was 15 years old. She died one day after getting back from her honeymoon.
14. River Phoenix – Best Known For: Starring role of Stand By Me and Explorers – Died in 1993 at the age of 23 from an overdose of cocaine and morphine outside of the Viper Room nightclub in Los Angeles.
15. Bobby Driscoll – Best Known For: He worked for many Disney Productions and starred in Song of the South, So Dear To My Heart, and Treasure Island. He was also the voice for Peter Pan – He died in 1968 when he was 31 years old due to heart failure which may have been related to his drug use that got worse when he had trouble finding acting jobs as an adult.
16. Christopher Pettiet – Best Known For: his role as ‘Zach Crandell’ in Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead – He died in 2000 at the age of 24 due to a drug overdose.
17. Brittany Murphy – Best Known For: Role as ‘Tai Frasier’ in Clueless and ‘Sara’ in Just Married – She died in 2009 at the age of 32 due to cardiac arrest. Her husband died of the same cause 5 months later leading them to suspect foul play may have caused their deaths.
18. Matthew Garber – Best Known For: Role as ‘Michael Banks’ in Mary Poppins – Died in 1977 at the age of 21 due to acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis due to hepatitis, however his younger brother is insistent he did not contract hepatitis from doing drugs. Instead he blames bad meat.
19. Tara Correa-McMullen – Best Known For: Role as the gang member ‘Graciela Reyes’ on the TV series Judging Amy – Tara was killed in 2005 at the age of 16 when she was shot by a gang member in California. At the time of her death she was dating another gang member who was 10 years older than she was.
20. Rob Knox – Best Known For: Role as ‘Marcus Belby’ in the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rob was killed in 2008 at the age of 18 when he was stabbed by a knife while defending his 17-year-old brother from two attackers outside a bar in London.
21. Scotty Beckett – Best Known For: Role as ‘Spanky’ in Our Gang – Scotty died in 1968 at the age of 38. The exact cause of his death was unknown. After he quit show business he led a hard life and was arrested several times for drunkenness, drunk driving, drug possession, and passing bad checks. Before his death he checked into a nursing home after having been severely beaten up. He was found dead 2 days later with pills and a note on the bed. However, the coroner would not state it was barbiturates that caused his death. It could have been a result of the beating he received.
22. Dana Hill – Best Known For: Role as ‘Audrey Griswald’ in National Lampoon’s European Vacation – She died in 1996 at the age of 32, a month after slipping into a diabetic coma and suffering from a stroke.
23. Lucille Rickson – Best Known For: Role in many silent films often playing roles portraying women much older than she truly was – She died in 1925 at the age of 14 due to tuberculosis.
24. Josh Ryan Evans – Best Known For: His role as ‘Timmy’ in the soap opera Passions as well as guest spots in Ally McBeal, 7th Heaven, and Poltergeist: The Legacy. – Josh died in 2002 at the age of 20 while he was having a medical procedure performed. He had complications related to his congenital heart condition. The same day that he died in real life, the episode of Passions that he taped where ‘Timmy’ died was aired.
25. Billy Laughlin – Best Known For: Roles as ‘Froggy’ on Our Gang – Died in 1948 at the age of 16 when he was hit by a truck while riding on the back of a scooter that his parents had bought for him 2 weeks before.
26. Michael Cuccione – Best Known For: Role as ‘Jason “QT” McKnight’ in 2ge+her – Michael died in 2001 at the age of 16 from pneumonia due to complications 6 weeks after a minor car accident which he couldn’t recover from.
27. Ahleigh Aston Moore – Best Known For: Role as the young ‘Chrissy’ in Now And Then – Died in 2007 at the age of 26 due to an accidental heroin overdose.
28. Sammi Kane Kraft – Best Known For: Role of ‘Amanda Whurlitzer’ in the movie remake of Bad News Bears – Sammi was killed in 2012 at the age of 20 when the car she was riding in was rear-ended by a semi truck.
29. Norman Chaney – Best Known For: Role as ‘Chubby’ from Our Gang – He died in 1936 at the age of 21 from myocarditis after he was treated for a glandular problem which had caused him to gain weight. When he was diagnosed he weighed over 300 lbs and was only 4 ft 7 inches tall. He received treatment and rapidly lost over 200 lbs. At the time of his death he was 110 lbs.
30. Michelle Thomas – Best Known For: Role as Myra Monkhouse for the TV show Family Matters – Michelle died in 1998 at the age of 30 from a rare form of stomach cancer. She died shortly after receiving a 2nd surgery.
Learning the fates of people you have come to know and love through their roles in movies and on TV shows is tough when it turns out they ended badly. I know most of these child stars died from complications that had nothing to do with starring in movies, but that still doesn’t make me change my stance on how I would feel about my own kids becoming child actors. I actually feel bad for every one of the people listed in this article. I feel bad that they never experienced what it was like to have a carefree childhood. Let kids be kids while they are kids. They only have one childhood, they shouldn’t have to work through it no matter how rich and famous it will make them.