It is always exciting seeing a child or teenager starring as a breakout character in a movie. Many times, we have seen young actors stand out from a very tender age, earning rave reviews for their performances in movies. These child actors get into the show business early and a lot of expectations tail their early achievements, with the world waiting for them to mature into megastars.
However, some of these actors do not stay alive long enough to reach the lofty standards, they have set for themselves. They pass away too soon, sometimes tragically, only to be remembered for their legacy as child actors. Below is a list of some of the greatest child movie stars who died young.
• Jonathan Brandis (April 13, 1976 – November 12, 2003): Jonathan Brandis was an American actor who has been lauded as the greatest child actor of his time. His acting debut was as Kevin Buchanan on the ABC Soap Opera “One Life To Live”; at the age of 6. He was most popular for his role as a teen prodigy, Lucas Wolenczak on the 1993 NBC series, “seaQuest DSV”.
Jonathan Brandis, hanged himself in the hallway of his house on November 11, 2003. Although he did not die immediately, he passed away from the injuries sustained from the hanging, after being taken to a medical center. Although he did not leave a suicide note, his close friends reported that he was fighting depression as a result of his waning career.
• Brad Renfro (July 25, 1982 – January 15, 2008): Brad Renfro was an American actor, who made his film debut with a lead role. At the age of 11, he was cast in the lead role of the movie “The Client”. Renfro went on to star in 21 other feature films. After a few years of fame, Renfro’s career began to fade due to substance abuse and alcoholism.
Brad Renfro was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment on January 15, 2008, at the age of 25. His death was attributed to a heroin overdose.
• Anton Yelchin ( March 11, 1989 – June 19, 2016): Anton Yelchin was an American actor popular for starting in all three Star Trek films. Among the movies, he acted in as a teen are “A Man Is Mostly Water”, “Hearts in Atlantis” and “Alpha Dog”.
Yelchin was killed in a freak accident. He got out of his car, in his driveway which has a steep incline. The car then rolled back and trapped him against a pillar and security fence, crushing his lungs in the process. Anton Yelchin was pronounced dead on June 19, 2016, at the age of 27.
• Lee Thompson Young (February 1, 1984 – August 19, 2013): Young, a Black American actor was popular for his teenage role, as the title character on Disney series “The Famous Jett Jackson”. He also featured as Chris Comer in the 2004 movie, “Friday Night Light”. He also had roles in “Johnny Tsunami” and “Rizzoli & Isles”.
Lee Thompson Young suffered from bipolar disorder, which led him to commit suicide through a self-inflicted gun wound at 29.
• River Phoenix (August 23rd, 1970 – October 31st, 1993): River Phoenix started his acting career at the age of 10, featuring in TV commercials. He also starred in 1985 adventure movie “Explorers”, “Stand by Me”(1986) and “Running On Empty“(1988) amongst others. With about 24 films and television appearances, Phoenix cemented his status as a teen idol.
River Phoenix passed away during the early hours of October 31, 1993, after suffering a drug overdose in the presence of his siblings. He died at the age of 23.
• J Madison Wright ( July 29, 1984 – July 21, 2006): J Madison Wright, started her career as a child model at the age of 5. She went on to star in the science fiction television series “Earth 2”. Her other roles include 1998 Disney Film “Safety Patrol”, The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy, Shiloh, The Burning Zone amongst others.
Madison was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy in 1999, which was treated through a transplant. She later died on July 21, 2006, at the age of 22, after suffering heart failure.
• Bridgette Andersen (July 11, 1975 – May 18, 1997): Bridgette Andersen began her career at a very tender age; being a child model from the age of 2. She is best known as the title role for Savannah Smiles, a 1982 comedy. She also appeared in “Remington Steele”, “Family Ties”, and the horror film “Nightmares”.
Andersen developed a serious drug addiction as a teenager; particularly heroin. She was reportedly attempting to stay at the time of her death. She died at the age of 21, after an accidental heroin & alcohol overdose.
• Justin Pierce (March 21, 1975 – July 10, 2000): Justin Pierce was a British-American actor, who gained prominence for starring in controversial 1995 film “Kids”; which earned him an Independent Spirit Award. Justin Pierce went on to appear in 1997 film, “A Brother’s Kiss”, and “Next Friday”, in which he starred alongside Ice Cube and Mike Epps
Justin Pierce passed away on July 10, 2000. He was found hanging in a hotel room by a hotel security. Two suicide notes were found, and the death was determined to be a suicide. Pierce died at the age of 25.
• Johnny Lewis (October 29, 1983 – September 26, 2012): Johnny Lewis was a budding American actor who was best known for playing Kip Epps in the “Sons of Anarchy” FX series. He also featured in other films including Aliens vs Predators: Requiem (2007), The Runaways (2010) amongst others.
Although the circumstances surrounding Lewis’ death are not so clear. The LAPD report says that Lewis either jumped or fell off his landlady’s roof. Lewis died at the age of 28
Other notable child stars who died young are Josh Ryan Evans, Sawyer Sweeten, Matthew Garber, Rob Knox, Skye Bartusiak, Sammie Kane Kraft to mention a few.