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Heather O’Rourke (December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988)

Heather O’Rourke was an American child actress discovered at the age of 5 by director Steven Spielberg himself. He quickly cast her
as Carol Anne Freeling for his 1982 horror film Poltergeist. She reprised her role in two sequels. From 1982 to 1983, O’Rourke had a recurring role, Heather Pfister, on Happy Days. She appeared on CHiPs, Webster, The New Leave it to Beaver and Our House. O’Rourke can be seen in the TV movies, Massarati and the Brain and Surviving: A Family in Crisis.

In early 1978, O’Rourke was misdiagnosed as having Crohn’s disease. She was prescribed cortisone which made her cheeks puffy. In late January 1988, she became ill again. The next day, she collapsed while preparing to leave for the hospital. During the ride, she suffered cardiac arrest. O’Rourke was resuscitated and airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. She died later that day.

Her manager later stated that they believed she died of influenza. On February 3, the San Diego County coroner’s office released her official cause of death. O’Rourke had died during surgery to repair an acute bowel obstruction that had been caused by a congenital stenosis (an abnormal narrowing of a blood vessel) of the intestine, complicated by septic shock. O’Rourke was only 12 years old. She died four months before Poltergeist III was released. (The film was dedicated to her.)

O’Rourke’s tomb is a stop on the “Haunted Hollywood” tours because her death (and the deaths of four others) are attributed to a curse on the Poltergeist films. This urban legend claims the first film used a real human skeleton as a prop. O’Rourke will always be remembered for her contributions to pop culture: “They’re here!” in Poltergeist and “They’re back!” in Poltergeist II.

Trivia: O’Rourke’s role could have gone to a young Drew Barrymore instead. Thankfully for O’Rourke, while her older Tammy was on an MGM lot filming Pennies from Heaven, that Spielberg spotted her and her mom in the dining room eating lunch.