Actor Tommy Kirk, who starred in classic Disney movies like “Old Yeller,” “The Shaggy Dog” and “Son Of Flubber,” was announced dead on Tuesday at the age of 79.
Kirk died in his Las Vegas home, according to fellow child actor and friend Paul Petersen, who announced Kirk’s death on Facebook Wednesday.
No cause of death has been reported.
Kirk rose to fame in the late ’50s after he played Joe Hardy in two Hardy Boys serials made for the Walt Disney TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
From there, he was cast in films like “The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones,” and “The Monkey’s Uncle.”
Kirk’s relationship with studio head Walt Disney was good in the early days. He remembered running into the legend, who praised him in front of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.
“He put his arm around me and he said, ‘This is my good-luck piece here,’ to Hedda Hopper,” Kirk said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I never forgot that. That’s the nicest compliment he ever gave me.”
Things changed in 1965 when the studio got wind of then-21-year-old Kirk’s sexual encounters with a 15-year-old boy.
“When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that [I was gay and] that wasn’t going to change,” he told Filmfax magazine in 1993. “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.”
Kirk said that after the studio found out, “that was the end of Disney.”
Instead, he took roles in low-budget beach movies like “Pajama Party” and “The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini.”
He also struggled with drug abuse, according to Variety, before getting clean and running a carpet and upholstery cleaning company in the San Fernando Valley for years.
However, he said didn’t blame studios for not wanting to work with him.
In his Facebook post, Petersen said Kirk was estranged from his “blood family,” but wanted the actor’s fans to know he loved them.
“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,” Petersen wrote.
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