There seems to be a sad trend in Hollywood for successful young actors and actresses to either go off the rails or to be involved in a terrible accident or die young. We’re not quite sure what it is, but the number of famous kids who grow up with severe mental health issues or who don’t live to see much of their adulthood is bizarrely high. It’s far higher a percentage than for us Average Joes. Maybe it’s the pressure of wealth and fame, who knows? All we know for certain is that it’s sad. Here’s our tribute to fifteen lost stars who were cut down in the prime and died far too young…
You know him as Arnold Jackson from Diff’rent Strokes, with his amusing catchphrase, ‘Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?’ He was one of TV’s most recognizable faces as a child, but the work dried up as he grew up. His diminutive stature also had him the butt of jokes and he died from what’s known as an ‘epidural hematoma’. It’s not known for certain whether his size contributed to his death, but it certainly attributed to his pre-existing health condition. His wife turned off his life support, to much controversy. ‘It Was Murder!’ one tabloid even ran.
Poor little Judith Barso was a cute girl who brightened the screen in Jaws: The Revenge and performed adorable voices for movies like The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. But her life was tragically cut short when she was just ten years old when her Huangarian-born József shot and killed little Judith and her mom Maria, before turning the gun on himself and in a truly tragic double murder–suicide.
Lee Thompson Young used to play the lead role in The Famous Jett Jackson on The Disney Channel. It made him a child star. He went on to pitch up on other huge shows like Friday Night Lights and Rizzoli & Isles too. But, sadly, he shot himself in the head after a particularly bad episode of bi-polar disorder. He was just 29 years of age.
The curse of Different Strokes strikes again. Dana Pluto starred opposite Gary Coleman, playing the character of Kimberly Drummond. A child star, as so often is the case with them, the work stopped and Dana hit the drink and drugs in a big way. In May 1999, she overdosed on a cocktail of different drugs, aged 34. Tragedy beset the family again a decade later when her son Tyler shot himself.
Along with Corey #2 of The Two Coreys, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim dominated big screens in the 1980s. Licence to Drive and The Lost Boys – you’ve seen the kind of films he starred in. But unfortunately his movie career stalled and depression set in. He died of pneumonia in 2010. Feldman attributed his death to the problems that beset Haim after he was sexually abused by ‘a Hollywood mogul’.
The brother of Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix was a giant star as a kid. The Stand By Me and Young Indiana Jones actor rejected Hollywood’s ideals, which may have been partly due to his unorthodox upbringing (The Phoenix family grew up in a cult-like kibbutz set-up in South America). He later tragically overdosed outside Johnny Depp’s LA nightclub, The Viper Rooms, after a cocaine speedball.
Little Bobby Driscoll starred in pretty much all of Disney’s most popular live action feature films of the forties. Flicks like So Dear to My Heart, Treasure Island and Song of the South. A decade on though, he went off the rails some and ended up mired in illicit drug use and ended up dying in 1968 after a spell of drug-related ill health.
British child superstar Matthew Garber had the world at his feet after his star turn as little Michael Banks in the classic 1964 Walt Disney movie, Mary Poppins. But his time alongside Julie Andrews was to be a career highlight as he died at the tender age of only twenty one after contracting hepatitis in India. He eventually succumbed to hemorrhage necrotising pancreatitis.
Tara Correa-McMullen was an American actress known for her portrayal of gang member Graciela Reyes in the successful CBS TV show Judging Amy. But on October 21, 2005, reality copied fiction and she was shot dead in Inglewood, California, by gang member Damien Watts. A case of life imitating art in the saddest of ways.
Young Dana Hill might well be best remembered for her role as Audrey Griswald in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Type 1 diabetes blighted her life and caused growth issues which kept her short and looking young well into adulthood. And it was this diabetes which ultimately took her life in 1996, after she slipped into a diabetic coma and later died, aged only 32 years old.
Justine in The Cosby Show, Michelle Thomas met her end tragically young. She was thirty when she died from a rare form of cancer, an intra-abdominal desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor which had grown to the size of a lemon. You might also have seen her in her role as Myra Monkhouse in Family Matters.
Brittany Murphy might have first hit your radar after appearing alongside Alicia Silverstone in the always watchable teen comedy Clueless. She went on to appear in lots of movies after that, becoming a huge star. But her career was cut off in its prime. She was 32 when she died under mysterious circumstances at home. ‘Toxic mold’ was put down as the cause of death, but many claim the real reason was much murkier…
Rob Knox played Marcus Belby in the Harry Potter franchise. The handsome young actor met a terrible end after being stabbed on a night out in East London. He was only eighteen years old when he died. Two men armed with knives confronted and intimidated his 17 year-old brother. When Knox stepped in to help, he was stabbed and later died.
Teen heart-throb and pin-up Brad Renfro appeared in over twenty movies in his short career. His biggest role? The Client. Perhaps the best? Apt Pupil. But while his career was going well, his personal life was not. Substance abuse blighted Renfro’s life. He died of a heroin overdose. He was just 25 at the time.
Jonathan Brandis played the character of Lucas Wolenczak, the teen prodigy on the NBC adventure series seaQuest DSV. His career bumbled on somewhat after that and never truly caught light. Brandis became depressed about this and, in 2003 – aged 27, he hung himself. The tipping point? Friends suggested his role in the Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell war film, Hart’s War. Apparently, his role was severely cut in the final edit and he took it very badly indeed.