Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Poltergeist, Happy Days
Currently Known For:
1982 - 1988
December 27, 1975
Poltergeist, Happy Days
Any time a child passes away, it’s always going to be a tragic event. One particular child that almost everyone that had watched movies or television knew about that had met an early death was Heather O’Rourke, who hadn’t even reached her teenage years when she passed away. It was an illness that took the life of the talented young actress that had a long and bright future ahead of her and already had memorable moments that included one of the most popular lines in movie history. Now, we’re all left wondering “what if?” for O’Rourke’s career.Advertisements:
O’Rourke was born in San Diego, California to parents (and a stepfather) that all worked in traditional jobs. The family didn’t have a lot of money while O’Rourke was in her first few years, but in her first few years had begun to focus on acting and was auditioning for roles. O’Rourke didn’t have to wait long until she was appearing on television, landing her first role at just five years old on an episode of “Fantasy Island”.
Then, just a year later, O’Rourke had a great year for an actor of any age, but especially when you consider she was only six. That year, O’Rourke landed the recurring role of Heather Pfister on “Happy Days”, appearing in a dozen episodes. Not only that, but she was also cast as Carol Anne Freeling in the horror film “Poltergeist”. It was in that movie that O’Rourke said the line “They’re here,” that still sends chills down peoples’ spines nearly 40 years later.
O’Rourke’s big year allowed her family to move into a much larger house, receiving a big payday for “Poltergeist” after producer Steven Spielberg had spotted her. O’Rourke reprised her role as Freeling for the next two “Poltergeist” movies that were released in 1986 and 1988, marking her only three feature films released in theaters.
Instead, O’Rourke remained more focused on television throughout the 1980s. She appeared in guest spots on many popular shows, including “CHiPs”, “Webster” and “Finder of Lost Loves”. She also had multiple television movies such as “Massarati and the Brain”, “Surviving: A Family in Crisis” and “Around the Bend”. In 1987, she had her final roles with guest spots on “Our House” and “Rocky Road”.
“Poltergeist III” had to be a posthumous release in 1988 as O’Rourke came down with an illness. Not only had O’Rourke been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease around this time, but also contracted the giardiasis disease, which is quite common in underdeveloped countries, though much more rare in developed ones. Though O’Rourke still received treatment for the parasite, she still experienced its effects.
On the final day of January 1988, O’Rourke became very ill once again as she started to vomit and was rushed to the hospital. She was found to have intestinal problems that included congenital stenosis, causing an obstruction. O’Rourke also had a cardiac arrest and septic shock that ultimately claimed her life. Naturally, people were stunned to hear the news that a seemingly healthy young girl had lost her life.
O’Rourke’s family filed a lawsuit against the Kaiser Foundation Hospital, with the suit saying that “It was an intestinal blockage that had probably been present since birth,” and that “The X-rays taken, if properly read, would have disclosed that this was the kind of condition that should have been treated surgically.”
“The first month was awful,” Kathleen O’Rourke said of her daughter’s death. “I had to force myself to get up, to eat. Shopping was almost impossible. What Heather liked best was to coordinate everything in one color, from shoes to earrings. Another thing, I couldn’t cook in the kitchen anymore. Heather loved pies, cakes and cookies, and I used to make them for her. In the beginning I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I thought, ‘Why go on?’...When I lost heather, it was like I lost my shadow. My life will never be the same.”
Some have mentioned that there is a curse surrounding the set of the “Poltergeist” movies. People have pointed out that real human bones had been used on the movie set, and that turned out to be true, giving the set an eerie vibe. O’Rourke wasn’t the only actress on set that had passed away at an early age, either. Dominique Dunne played O’Rourke’s older sister in the first film, but passed away the year it was released while O’Rourke passed away during the year of the third film’s release. Dunne’s ex-boyfriend had strangled her and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
A private funeral of just more than 100 people took place for O’Rourke, which included many celebrities that had worked with her including “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler. “To all who knew her, she was genuine,” said Reverend Dennis Estill at the funeral. “In a world of plastics, she was real...We’ve all been blessed to share in the love of Heather.”
Estill added that Heather “wanted an Academy Award. She wanted a Rolls-Royce,” and that those were her two major goals in Hollywood. Unfortunately, we’ll never get to find out if she would’ve been able to take home the prestigious award. Her manager at the time, Mike Meyer, added that O’Rourke “always looked like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and could memorize a 60 page script in about an hour. Of all the things she was proud of, (she was proudest of) being elected president of her fifth grade class at Big Bear Elementary School.”