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Heather O'Rourke - 'Poltergeist' Movies Little Girl, Dies


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Posted 04 September 2009 - 09:12 AM

Heather O'Rourke, `Poltergeist' movie's little girl, dies suddenly

BYLINE: Joe Cantlupe, Staff Writer

SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A-3

LENGTH: 646 words

Heather O'Rourke, a 12-year-old actress who played an innocent little girl who battled evil spirits in the scary "Poltergeist" movies, has died in San Diego from complications of an intestinal ailment. The San Diego native, whose film career began like a page out of an old Hollywood script when she was discovered by director Steven Spielberg in an MGM cafeteria, died Monday at Children's Hospital. Hospital spokesman Vince Bond said death was attributed to septic shock resulting from congenital intestinal stenosis.

The condition was described as a narrowing of the intestine caused by a birth defect. "The bowel obstruction was complicated by septic shock, which occurs when bacteria gets in the blood and releases poisons that depress the heart and blood vessels," Bond said. Bond said he was unaware if Heather's family knew of her congenital disorder. The child actress, a seventh grader at Tierra del Sol Middle School in Lakeside, had complained Monday morning about severe cramps and suffered a heart attack while being rushed to AMI Valley Medical Center in El Cajon from her family's East County home. From there, she was taken by Life Flight to Children's Hospital where she died at 2:43 p.m., two hours after surgeons began operating, said Bond, the hospital's spokesman. Heather's manager, Michael Meyer, yesterday said he was stunned to hear of the young actress's death.

"She had always been the healthiest little kid. She had never missed a day of work," he said. Heather was probably best known to movie fans for her portrayals of the sweet child who screamed "They're heeere!" when the evil spirits arrived and later kidnapped her in the original Poltergeist.

In the sequel, she warned: "They're baaack!" Heather also appeared regularly in the television show "Happy Days," and was a recurring character in "Webster" and "Still the Beaver." She finished filming Poltergeist III last June, starring as Carol Ann for the third time. Four actors who appeared in the "Poltergeist" movies have died and Heather was the second actress to die unexpectedly.

Dominque Dunne, who starred as a teen-age daughter in the original, was strangled by a jealous boyfriend on Oct. 30, 1982. Will Sampson and Julian Beck both died after appearing in "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."

Sampson portrayed an Indian who battled evil spirits and Beck played a frightening old man in that version. Heather portrayed a blind girl in a recent episode of "Our House" and was a Russian girl in an episode of "Rocky Road."

She also was one of the stars in an ABC miniseries on teen-age suicide called "Surviving." "Heather was bright and articulate and had the incredible ability to memorize 60-page scripts," Meyer said yesterday in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. At Lakeside's Tierra del Sol Middle School, Heather was active in the school's literary club.

Last Thursday, the seventh grader joined her fellow students in presenting the club's community program before the school board. Her parents, Kathy and Jim O'Rourke, moved to Lakeside from Big Bear, east of Los Angeles, a year ago.

At Big Bear elementary school, Heather had been president of her class. Heather was born Dec. 27, 1975, in San Diego but had moved with her family several times after she filmed the original "Poltergeist" in 1982, according to Meyer. Yesterday, Meyer described the O'Rourkes as "extremely distraught" over Heather's death and did not want to talk about it. Meyer said that O'Rourke was "discovered" in true Hollywood fashion, reminiscent of Lana Turner. "She was in the MGM commissary with her sister, who was in the movie "Pennies From Heaven."

Steven Spielberg saw her and came over.

He asked to talk to her but she told him she wasn't allowed to talk to strangers. Steven got her mother's permission." That discussion with the superstar director, Meyer said, led to her first role.
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