Remembering the talent of four actors who died tragically young

Losing a beloved star is hard at any age, but can be particularly painful for younger fans

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When a young star dies, it reminds the world how precious and fleeting life can be. In the wake of the tragic news of Cameron Boyce's passing, we remember four other actors we lost too soon.

River Phoenix (1970 – 1993)

A talented and beloved actor, River Phoenix died at the tender age of 23. Known for roles in films such as Stand By Me, Running on Empty and My Own Private Idaho, he was often praised for his emotional delivery.

His premature death was due to a drug overdose. River had been due to perform alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers member Flea at Los Angeles club The Viper Room. His brother, the actor Joaquin Phoenix, was present and made the 911 call.

Fellow actors and friends mourned the passing of River Phoenix, and many wanted to highlight his humanitarian work, as well as his memorable film performances. Phoenix was a vocal support of animal rights and the charity Peta, and a passionate political and environmental activist.

James Dean (1931 – 1955)

Despite only starring in three films, James Dean is often regarded as one of the most charismatic actors in cinema history. His image and demeanour were indicative of youth attitudes in the 1950s. An amateur racing driver, Dean loved to get behind the wheel and race sports cars.

He was behind the wheel when he met his premature death. While driving to a racetrack in California, Dean was involved in a collision with another vehicle. An investigation into the accident found him responsible for the crash.

Many still fondly remember James Dean, and the three films he starred in, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and East of Eden, are loved the world over.

Heather O’Rourke (1975 – 1988)

Poltergeist, the horror film directed by Tobe Hooper, of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame and produced by Steven Spielberg, deals with the bizarre disappearance of a young girl inside her own home. Heather O'Rourke captivated filmgoers as Carol Anne Freeling, the child in question, and appeared in two subsequent films, Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III.

Shortly after filming ended for the third film, in 1988, O’Rourke went on a road trip with her parents. She became seriously ill and suffered a cardiac arrest during emergency surgery to correct a blocked intestine. While doctors believe she was born with the condition, O'Rourke's early demise, aged 12, fuelled rumours the franchise itself was cursed. Many claimed they had used real skeletons for the shoot, a theory that was never proven.

Brad Renfro (1982 – 2008)

Known for his early roles in films such as The Client and Apt Pupil, Brad Renfro was a talented young actor. He had a tough upbringing before becoming a Hollywood star and was living with his grandmother before being cast for his first film role.

Renfro had a criminal record in his late teens, mostly for drug abuse. He was arrested multiple times and  broke his probation.

In 2005, he was found dead in his apartment following a drug overdose at the age of 25. Weeks after his death, his grandmother, who had been a constant presence in his life, passed away from natural causes.


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