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Posted 15 July 2006 - 02:57 AM

Author: MICHAEL SZYMANSKI Daily News Staff Writer

Heather O'Rourke, 12, the golden-haired actress set upon by evil spirits in the spooky "Poltergeist" movies, died Monday during surgery for an intestinal infection, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday.

The 12-year-old appeared sick with the flu Sunday in her family's El Cajon home and was rushed Monday to San Diego's AMI Valley Medical Center after complaining of severe abdominal pains, said her one-time agent Bob Preston.

She suffered cardiac arrest and was resuscitated at the medical center before she was transferred to San Diego's Children's Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Terry Merryman.

The actress died at 2:43 p.m. Monday during abdominal surgery that was complicated by septic shock, or blood poisoning, Merryman said.

The official cause of death was intestinal stenosis, a blockage caused by a congenital narrowing of the bowel that had gone unnoticed since birth, Merryman said.

Heather had recently completed filming the third film in the ''Poltergeist" series, which sets the suburban Freeling family against demons who seek to steal the character she played, Carol Ann.

In the first film, Heather spoke the key line when the evil spirits arrived, "They're heeeere!" In the sequel she warned, "They're baaaack!"

The child star, born in San Diego on Dec. 27, 1975, finished filming ''Poltergeist III" in late June. The movie is scheduled to be released this summer.

Co-workers from the "Poltergeist" series, which included scenes filmed in Newhall and Simi Valley, mourned her death Tuesday.

"I am devastated by the news of Heather's death," actor Craig T. Nelson said in a statement. Nelson played the girl's father in the "Poltergeist" films. "It's very difficult when a member of your family dies so suddenly. I loved her very much."

Her death was the fourth among the cast of the "Poltergeist" series about ghosts and the supernatural invading a quiet suburb.

Soon after the first movie was released, Dominique Dunne, 22, who played the eldest daughter, was strangled by her estranged boyfriend John Sweeney, who has since been released from prison.

Soon after the second movie, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," was released in 1985, Julian Beck, 60, died of cancer. He played the cadaverous preacher who tormented the family with the warning, "You're all going to die!"

Will Sampson, who portrayed the demon-battling Indian shaman in the sequel, died last year at 53 after a heart-lung transplant.

O'Rourke was discovered by director Steven Spielberg while at the MGM commissary waiting for her sister Tammy during filming of "Pennies from Heaven." Spielberg asked if he could talk to her, but she answered, "I can't talk to strangers," Meyer recalled.

Spielberg was impressed with her and she was hired for "Poltergeist." Spielberg, based in Universal City, was on location for the third "Raiders of the Lost Ark" movie and issued no comment about the death.

Heather was a regular on television's "Happy Days," "Webster," ''Still the Beaver" and starred in ABC's "Surviving," about teen-age suicide. She was her fifth-grade class president in Big Bear Elementary School.

Funeral services are planned Friday in Los Angeles at an undetermined time and location. She is survived by her parents, Jim and Kathy O'Rourke.

Heather O'Rourke

Suffered congenital defect

Copyright 1988 Daily News of Los Angeles
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