O'Rourke in the 1982 film Poltergeist
Heather Michele O'Rourke
December 27, 1975
|Died||February 1, 1988 (aged 12)|
San Diego, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cardiac arrest caused by septic shock due to intestinal stenosis|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
Westwood, Los Angeles, U.S.
|Other names||Heather Michele O'Rourke|
|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 Michele O'Rourke (December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988) was an American child actress. She made her debut after being discovered by director Steven Spielberg while visiting MGM's studios. Spielberg promptly casted her in the horror film Poltergeist (1982) as Carol Anne Freeling, and was recognized for her performance. She was also notable for saying her iconic line, "They're here!" She then reprised the role in the second and third installments. O'Rourke was also recognized for her work in television, and appeared in recurring roles on Happy Days from 1982 to 1983, on Webster in 1983, as well as appearing in the television-film Surviving in 1985.
Throughout her career, O'Rourke had been nominated for six Young Artist Awards, winning one for her role in Webster, and appeared in a total of three films (all of which are from the Poltergeist franchise) and twelve television series. On February 1, 1988, O'Rourke died at the age of 12 of cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis.
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-time truck driver Jim Peele in 1984, while they were living in a trailer park in Anaheim, California.
Her success later allowed the family to purchase a home in Big Bear Lake, California. Between acting jobs, O'Rourke attended Big Bear Elementary School where she was president of her 5th grade class. At the time of her death, the family was living in Lakeside, California, a suburb of San Diego.
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). While eating in the MGM commissary, Spielberg saw five-year-old Heather O'Rourke having lunch with her mother while older sister Tammy was shooting Pennies from Heaven. 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.
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." 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. For her work in Poltergeist, O'Rourke earned between $35,000 and $100,000. 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. "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! 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. She also appeared in the television movies Massarati and the Brain and Surviving: A Family in Crisis.
Illness and death
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. 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 complicated by septic shock. She was entombed at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
|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.|
|1981||Fantasy Island||Liza 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"|
|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"|
Awards and nominations
|1983||Young Artist Award||Best Young Actress in a Comedy Series||Happy Days||Nominated|
|1983||Young Artist Award||Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture||Poltergeist||Nominated|
|1984||Young Artist Award||Best Young Actress, Guest in a Television Series||Webster||Nominated|
|1985||Young Artist Award||Best Young Actress, Guest in a Television Series||Webster||Won|
|1986||Young Artist Award||Exceptional Performance by a Young Actress in a Television Special or Mini-Series||Surviving||Nominated|
|1987||Young Artist Award||Exceptional Performance by a Young Actress Starring in a Feature Film - Comedy or Drama||Poltergeist II: The Other Side||Nominated|
- "Heather O'Rourke death certificate" (PDF). Autopsyfiles. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- Heather O'Rourke at the TCM Movie Database
- "Heather O'Rourke, Star of 'Poltergeist' movies, dies at 12". San Jose Mercury News. February 2, 1988. p. 6A.
- "Heather O'Rourke, 12; Starred in 'Poltergeist'". The New York Times. February 3, 1988. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- 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 Jun 15, 2019.
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- "Child actress Heather O'Rourke". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 3, 1988. p. 6. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- "Child star of 'Poltergeist,' Heather O'Rourke, dies". The Vindicator. February 3, 1988. p. 44. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
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- A Current Affair) on YouTube
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- Brode, Douglas (2000). Films of Steven Spielberg (2 ed.). Citadel Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-806-51951-7.
- "Money". Money. Vol. 11. New York City. 1982. p. 140. ISSN 0015-8259.
- 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.
- Cotter, Bill (May 31, 2009) . The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History (illustrated ed.). New York City: Disney Hyperion. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-7868-6359-4.
- "Miss O'Rourke, Morey Amsterdam in TV special". Indiana Gazette. Indiana, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. March 19, 1983. p. 5.
- "Heather O'Rourke". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
- Nash, Jay Robert; Ross, Stanley Ralph (1989). The Motion Picture Guide Annual. Cinebooks. p. 132.
- 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.
- 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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