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Top 10 Child Stars Who Died Too Soon

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script Written by Carly Comtois

The life of a child star is a tough one, and many of them continue to have a tough life when they turn to adults. Unfortunately, many child stars don’t even make it to becoming an adult due to everything from drug addiction, to suicide, tragic freak accidents like Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin. Many child stars suffer from depression, and turn to substance abuse to deal with the pressures of being a celebrity at such a young age.

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Top 10 Child Stars Who Died Too Soon

We grew up with them, but sadly, they never got to grow up. Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 child stars who died too soon.

For this list, we’ll be looking at actors that started working in film or television at an early age and unfortunately died at an early age as well. We’ll be basing our entries on the popularity and talent of the young actors, and how much they were – and still are – missed by their fans.

#10: Dana Plato

We knew her as Kimberly Drummond on the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” and that’s because after the show ended, she had trouble finding another role that stuck. Desperate to stay relevant, Plato got a boob job and tried her hand at modeling for Playboy. If you think that was her rock bottom, she then had almost all her money stolen by her accountant and lost custody of her child. Left poor and without work, she resorted to appearing in softcore porn films, engaging in petty theft, and turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort. She later only used painkillers, but an overdose led to her death at age 34. Sadly, her “Diff’rent Strokes” co-star, Gary Coleman, was yet another child star who died too soon.

#9: Sawyer Sweeten

Maybe the name Sawyer Sweeten doesn’t ring a bell, but fans know him as one half of the set of twins on the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He and his twin brother Sullivan began working on the TV show when they were a little over one year old, alongside their older sister Madylin. When the show ended in 2005, Sawyer was only 10-years-old and hardly worked. A decade later, before turning 20, Sawyer shot himself in the head. His on-screen family reached out on social media to express their sympathy and disbelief, and said his death served as a reminder to be vocal with those you care about.

#8: Lee Thompson Young

Young started acting at fourteen, and quickly landed a role on the Disney Channel series “The Famous Jett Jackson,” which he held until the show’s cancellation. After that, he appeared in a few TV episodes here and there, and starred in a few films, like the “Friday Night Lights” movie and “Johnny Tsunami.” But in 2010, Lee once again found himself a lead role on the TV show “Rizzoli & Isles.” However, more was going on behind the scenes. Young had been suffering from bipolar disorder and depression, which led the then-25-year-old actor to end his own life. His family then started a foundation in his memory to raise awareness about depression and mental illness, keeping his memory alive.

#7: Brad Renfro

At the age of 11, Renfro scored the lead role in the movie “The Client,” which was a huge success and jumpstarted his career as a serious actor. For the next few years, he continued to star in film after film, but never achieved quite the level of success that he had with his debut role. Just four years after the release of “The Client,” Renfro’s personal life started to suffer when he was arrested for cocaine and marijuana possession. He turned to substance abuse and criminal activity, and at the age of 25 he was found dead in his home of a heroin overdose. It was revealed only after his death that he had a son to succeed him, so at least his legacy lives on.

#6: Heather O’Rourke

While eating lunch one day, Steven Spielberg spotted a 5-year-old girl with her family and decided he wanted her for his new horror film “Poltergeist.” That’s the story of how Heather O’Rourke came to hold a spot on the American Film Institute list of top 100 movie quotes. She returned for the other two films in the franchise – with the third entry being released after her death – and also secured a recurring role on “Happy Days.” But unfortunately Heather’s acting career would be cut extremely short when she died of cardiac arrest, which was caused by septic shock previously misdiagnosed by doctors, when she was just 12-years-old.

#5: Anton Yelchin

He was best known for portraying Pavel Chekov in the “Star Trek” reboot films, but had an extensive resume he started building at the age of 11. Anton Yelchin’s death at the age of 27 is one of great confusion and heartbreak. While parked on a steep slope, the young actor exited his car, when suddenly it rolled down the hill and pinned him to a brick pillar. The type of Jeep he’d been driving was soon recalled for an issue with the gearshift, though the company released a statement saying that blaming Yelchin’s death on the recall issue was premature. With five projects set to be released after his death, it’s clear Anton Yelchin was far from finished leaving his mark on the world.

#4: Josh Ryan Evans

Josh Ryan Evans didn’t let his dwarfism stop him from entering the acting business at the age of 12. He had minor roles in films like “Baby Geniuses” and “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but then snagged the role of Timmy on “Passions,” for which he won two Soap Opera Digest awards and was even nominated for an Emmy. The show had planned to have the character die and come back as an angel, but Evans’ death in real life made that impossible. In fact, he had already shot his death scene, which in a tragically ironic turn of events, was aired the same day Evans died at age twenty from complications due to a congenital heart condition.

#3: Jonathan Brandis

Some child stars may only enter into the business at 10 or 12, but not Jonathan Brandis; He was modeling as early as 4-years-old, and quickly got into commercials before booking his first acting gig at 6. His foray into acting began with numerous guest appearances on television shows and eventually led to bigger roles in film and TV, most notably Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi series “seaQuest DSV,” and the miniseries based on Stephen King’s “It.” But as quickly as he skyrocketed to celebrity and teen idol status, his roles started to become few and far between, and unsatisfied with where his career was headed, he hanged himself at the age of 27.

#2: Corey Haim

Corey Haim was one half of a set of Coreys that dominated Hollywood in the 1980s: in fact, Haim and Feldman starred in seven movies together, most notably “The Lost Boys.” Unfortunately, Haim was exposed to the darker side of Hollywood before he was old enough to understand its drawbacks. He was sexually assaulted, and turned towards drugs and alcohol before he was even legal. When tried to escape his “teen icon” status, nothing proved to be a hit. Haim was actually 38 when he died from pneumonia, though his addiction to pain meds exacerbated his death. By the time he died he was trying to turn his life around, showing that he could’ve done so much more with his life.

Before we reveal the child star we miss most, here are a few honorable mentions.
· Rob Knox
· Anissa Jones
· Dana Hill

#1: River Phoenix

Back in 1993, River Phoenix, his sister Rain and brother Joaquin went to the famed Hollywood nightclub The Viper Room. Sadly, River eventually stumbled out onto the sidewalk and collapsed, suffering a drug overdose. At the time of his death, River was only 23-years-old, but had already accumulated a slew of film credits, including his most notable role in “Stand by Me.” Phoenix did not limit his efforts to the big and small screens, but also was passionate about music, as well as environmental efforts and animal rights, being a vegan his whole life. Everyone agrees he was talented beyond his years and had a bright future ahead of him – it’s too bad he didn’t get to stick around to prove them right.

Do you agree with our list? Which child star’s untimely death made you the saddest? For more nostalgic top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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