Former child actor Tommy Kirk has passed away at the age of 79 in his Las Vegas home.
Kirk, whose heartbreak in the Disney film Old Yeller left viewers in tears, was found lifeless by his neighbor, TMZ reported.
His grieving friend and fellow actor Paul Peterson took to Facebook and wrote: “My friend of many decades, Tommy Kirk, was found dead last night. You will surely recall his string of Disney movies: “Shaggy Dog. Ol’ Yeller,” etc.”
“Tommy was intensely private. He lived alone in Las Vegas, close to his friend … and “Ol’ Yeller co-star, Bev Washburn and it was she who called me this morning,” Peterson continued.
“Tommy was gay and estranged from what remains of his blood-family. We in A Minor Consideration are Tommy’s family. Without apology. We will take care of this. Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans.
“You lifted him up when an industry let him down in 1965. He was not bitter. His church comforted him. May God have mercy on his soul. – Paul Peterson.”
The Kentucky-born actor rose to popularity at the age of 16, thanks to 1957’s Old Yeller.
But while filming The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, Disney executives discovered that Kirk, who was 21 at that time, was dating a 15-year-old boy.
Kirk’s mother gave more details to the company, which immediately fired him, The Hollywood Reporter said.
In 1965, Kirk was brought back for the Old Yeller sequel, The Monkey’s Uncle.
Later that year, he was dropped from the movies How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and The Sons of Katie Elder after he was arrested for possession of marijuana.
In an article called S*x, Lies, and Disney Tape: Walt’s Fallen Star for Filmfax magazine, Kirk discussed the moment he came out as gay.
“When I was 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that and wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career,” he said.
“Disney was a family film studio and I was supposed to be their young leading man. After they found out I was involved with someone, that was the end of Disney.”
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