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Poltergeist' child star dies at 12

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Posted 03 May 2005 - 11:08 AM

Copyright 1988 U.P.I.

United Press International

February 3, 1988, Wednesday, PM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 547 words

HEADLINE: 'Poltergeist' child star dies at 12


Heather O'Rourke, the angel-faced blond child actress whose eerie line ''They're heeere'' symbolized the chilling movie ''Poltergeist,'' is the second star of the film to die suddenly.

The 12-year-old actress died from toxic shock caused by an acute obstruction of her intestines after she was taken to a hospital by her parents when they believed she was suffering from the flu, officials said Tuesday.

She went into cardiac arrest Monday morning as she was being brought from the family home in Lakeside, about 8 miles east of San Diego, to Community Hospital in El Cajon.

Her heart was restarted at 9:25 a.m. and she was flown by helicopter to Children's Hospital of San Diego, said hospital spokesman Vincent Bond.

Doctors diagnosed her as having a bowel obstruction that she was apparently born with. She underwent surgery at 12:45 p.m., and died two hours later of the continuing shock caused by toxins released by bacteria in her blood, Bond said.

Jim and Katherine O'Rourke were at the hospital with Heather when she died, spokesman David Wardlowe said Tuesday. Services will be held Friday in Los Angeles at an as yet undetermined time and place.

Heather starred in the three ''Poltergeist'' films, the latest of which was finished last summer and has not yet been released.

Another original ''Poltergeist'' star, Dominique Dunne, 22, who played Heather's older sister, was strangled by her former boyfriend in 1982 the year the movie was released. Los Angeles chef John Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 6 years in prison.

Movie fans first knew Heather as the angel-faced girl with the long platinum hair who was taken hostage by evil spirits and sucked into a TV set in the original ''Poltergeist.''

Her line ''They're heeere,'' in reference to the spirits that haunted her suburban family's home, became a catch phrase during screenings of the first film. Heather became identified with the line ''They're baaack'' in ''Poltergeist II.''

''Heather was a little angel,'' said her agent, Bob Preston. ''I met her when she was three years old and saw the same angelic quality that (producer-director) Steven Spielberg saw when he saw her in the MGM commissary having lunch with her mother (when Heather was 5).''

Preston said Spielberg approached and asked her name and the child replied, ''I'm not allowed to talk to strangers.''

Spielberg gave her the script to ''Poltergeist'' and asked if she could memorize the lines. She learned the lines quickly and won the role.

Heather also appeared in such television shows as ''Happy Days,'' ''Webster,'' ''The New Leave It To Beaver'' and the mini-series ''Surviving.''

She played a blind girl in an episode of ''Our House'' and a Russian child in the situation comedy ''Rocky Road.''

''Of all the things Heather was proud of,'' her personal manager, Mike Meyer, said, ''it was being elected president of her fifth-grade class at Big Bear Elementary School.

''Heather was sweet, bright and more articulate than other children her age. She was a straight A student.''

Spokesmen said the family tried to keep a low profile by living in the mountain town of Big Bear, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, although they recently moved to Lakeside in suburban San Diego.
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