Heather O'Rourke

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Heather O'Rourke
picture of young female child with long blonde hair dressed in blue pajamas
O'Rourke in the 1982 film Poltergeist
Born Heather Michele O'Rourke[1]
(1975-12-27)December 27, 1975
San Diego, California, U.S.
Died (1988-02-01)February 1, 1988
San Diego, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cardiac arrest caused by septic shock due to intestinal stenosis[1]
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Westwood, Los Angeles, U.S.
Other names Heather Michele O'Rourke[2]
Occupation Actress
Years active 1981–1988
Parent(s) Michael O'Rourke (father)
Kathleen O'Rourke (mother)
Relatives Tammy O'Rourke (older sister)
James A. "Jim" Peele (stepfather)
Charlie Walker (brother-in-law)

Heather O'Rourke (December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988)[3] was an American child actress. She was discovered by director Steven Spielberg when she was visiting MGM's studios.[4] Spielberg cast her as Carol Anne Freeling in the horror film Poltergeist (1982), where she is known for saying "They're here!" She reprised the role in the second and third installments.

O'Rourke also had a recurring role on Happy Days in 1982 and 1983, and she made several television guest appearances. In February 1988 she died at the age of 12 of cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis.

Early life[edit]

Heather O'Rourke was born on December 27, 1975, in San Diego, California, to Kathleen and Michael O'Rourke. Her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a carpenter. She had an older sister, Tammy O'Rourke, also an actress. Her parents divorced in 1981, and O'Rourke's mother married part-truck driver Jim Peele in 1984, while they were living in a trailer park in Anaheim, California.[5][6]

Her success later allowed the family to purchase a home in Big Bear Lake, California.[6] Between acting jobs, O'Rourke attended Big Bear Elementary School where she was president of her 5th grade class.[7] At the time of her death, the family was living in Lakeside, California, a suburb of San Diego.[8]

Career[edit]

In a contemporary interview with American Premiere magazine, producer Steven Spielberg explained that he was looking for a "beatific four-year-old child...every mother's dream" for the lead in his horror film Poltergeist (1982).[9] While eating in the MGM commissary,[4] Spielberg saw five-year-old Heather O'Rourke having lunch with her mother[9] while older sister Tammy was shooting Pennies from Heaven.[6][10] After his lunch, Spielberg approached the family and offered O'Rourke the Poltergeist role; she was signed the next day, beating Drew Barrymore, who was also up for the role.[9][11]

In the Poltergeist trilogy, O'Rourke played Carol Anne Freeling, a young suburban girl who becomes the conduit and target for supernatural entities. The New York Times noted that she had played the key role in the films and commented, "With her wide eyes, long blonde hair and soft voice, she was so striking that the sequel played off her presence."[4] During the production of the original Poltergeist, Spielberg twice accommodated the child actress when frightened. When scared by performing a particular stunt, Spielberg replaced O'Rourke with a stunt double wearing a blonde wig; and when disturbed by the portrayal of child abuse, Spielberg did not require her to perform the take again.[12] For her work in Poltergeist, O'Rourke earned between $35,000 and $100,000.[13] O'Rourke played the role in all three films.

O'Rourke's delivery of the lines "They're here!" in the first film, and "They're baa-aack!" in the second (that film's tagline), placed her in the collective pop culture consciousness of the United States.[14] "They're here!" is #69 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Movie Quotes.

After her work in Poltergeist (1982), O'Rourke secured several television and TV movie roles. In April 1983, she starred as herself alongside Morey Amsterdam and well-known Walt Disney animated characters in the hour-long television special, Believe You Can...and You Can![15][16] She also appeared in CHiPs, Webster, The New Leave It to Beaver, Our House, and had a recurring role on Happy Days as Heather Pfister.[4] She also appeared in the television movies Massarati and the Brain and Surviving: A Family in Crisis.[17]

Illness and death[edit]

Inscription at O'Rourke's crypt

O'Rourke became ill with giardiasis in early 1987 and was later diagnosed as having Crohn's disease. She was prescribed a steroid to treat the disease during the time she was filming Poltergeist III.[18] On January 31, 1988, she began vomiting. The next morning she collapsed; she suffered cardiac arrest en route to the hospital and died later that day after surgery to repair an acute bowel obstruction caused by congenital stenosis of the intestine[19] complicated by septic shock.[4][20] She was entombed at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.[1]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1982 Poltergeist Carol Anne Freeling
1986 Poltergeist II: The Other Side Carol Anne Freeling
1988 Poltergeist III Carol Anne Freeling Released in some areas with the subtitle The Final Chapter. Released posthumously. Dedicated to her memory.

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1981 Fantasy Island Liz Blake (Age 5) Episode: "Elizabeth's Baby / The Artist and the Lady"
1982–83 Happy Days Heather Pfister Recurring role, 12 episodes
1982 Massarati and the Brain Skye Henry Television film
1983 CHiPs Lindsey Episode: "Fun House"
1983 Matt Houston Sunny Kimball Episode: "The Woman in White"
1983 Webster Melanie 3 episodes
1984 Finder of Lost Loves Jillian Marsh Episode: "Yesterday's Child"
1985 Surviving: A Family in Crisis Sarah Brogan Television film
1986 Around the Bend The Daughter Television film
1986–87 The New Leave It to Beaver Heather Episodes: "Material Girl", "Bad Poetry"
1987 Our House Dana Episode: "A Point of View"
1987 Rocky Road Russian Girl Episode: "Moscow on the Boardwalk"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Heather O'Rourke death certificate" (PDF). Autopsyfiles. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  2. ^ Heather O'Rourke at the TCM Movie Database
  3. ^ "Heather O'Rourke, Star of 'Poltergeist' movies, dies at 12". San Jose Mercury News. February 2, 1988. p. 6A.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Heather O'Rourke, 12; Starred in 'Poltergeist'". The New York Times. February 3, 1988. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  5. ^ Stark, John; Hoover, Eleanor; Keogh, Peter (June 13, 1988). "Heather O'Rourke's Grieving Mother Tells Why She's Suing Her Child's Doctors for Wrongful Death". people.com. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Bonnie, Johnson (June 9, 1986). "Snatched by Poltergeist's Demons, Heather O'rourke Gets Some Bad News—they're Here Again". People. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  7. ^ "Child actress Heather O'Rourke". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 3, 1988. p. 6. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  8. ^ "Child star of 'Poltergeist,' Heather O'Rourke, dies". The Vindicator. February 3, 1988. p. 44. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Spielberg, Steven; Friedman, Lester D.; Notbohm, Brent (2000). Friedman, Lester D.; Notbohm, Brent, eds. Steven Spielberg: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 88–89. ISBN 1-578-06113-X.
  10. ^ Heather O'Rourke Story (A Current Affair) on YouTube
  11. ^ Simpson, Paul (2010). The Rough Guide to Cult Movies (3 ed.). Penguin. p. 195. ISBN 1-405-38322-4.
  12. ^ Brode, Douglas (2000). Films of Steven Spielberg (2 ed.). Citadel Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-806-51951-7.
  13. ^ "Money". Money. Vol. 11. New York City. 1982. p. 140. ISSN 0015-8259.
  14. ^ People Magazine (2007). People: Gone Too Soon: Remembering 65 Celebrities Who Died Too Young (illustrated ed.). New York City: Time Home Entertainment. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-933821-17-7.
  15. ^ Cotter, Bill (May 31, 2009) [1997]. The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History (illustrated ed.). New York City: Disney Hyperion. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-7868-6359-4.
  16. ^ "Miss O'Rourke, Morey Amsterdam in TV special". Indiana Gazette. Indiana, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. March 19, 1983. p. 5.
  17. ^ "Heather O'Rourke". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  18. ^ Nash, Jay Robert; Ross, Stanley Ralph (1989). The Motion Picture Guide Annual. Cinebooks. p. 132.
  19. ^ Baker, Bob (May 26, 1988). "Suit Blames Doctors in Death of Young Actress". Los Angeles Times. p. 35. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Retrieved August 7, 2008.
  20. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (February 2, 1988). "`Poltergeist' Star Heather O'Rourke Dies at Age of 12". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California, US. p. 3. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Archived from the original on May 18, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2011.

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