Some celebrities are so famous that when they pass away the world mourns almost as if they were beloved friends or family members. These familiar faces, though, seemingly didn’t live long enough to become that iconic, as even if their own fans grieved for them, their deaths were noted with only the minimum of fanfare – making their early passings arguably all the more tragic. Indeed, you may recognize them and love the roles in which they starred and yet may not even have realized that they had died.
40. Chris Penn
Some people might not know that Sean Penn’s brother was also an actor. Indeed, Chris Penn turned up in movies as famous as Reservoir Dogs – where he memorably played Nice Guy Eddie – and Footloose. However, both Penn’s career and his 2006 death from cardiomyopathy at the age of just 40 may have been somewhat overshadowed by his more famous sibling’s life and work.
39. Rob Knox
British star Rob Knox may look familiar thanks to his turn as Marcus Belby in the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He was all set to appear in the franchise’s follow-up film as well but, heartbreakingly, was murdered while backing up his brother during a fracas in 2008. The young actor was only 18 years old.
38. Lee Thompson Young
At the time of his death, Lee Thompson Young had shaken off his Disney Channel past to shine as detective Barry Frost in TNT cop show Rizzoli & Isles. Behind the scenes, though, Young was afflicted with depression and bipolar disorder – factors that may have contributed to him deciding to take his own life in 2013, aged only 29.
37. Heather O’Rourke
Better known as little girl Carol Anne Freeling from horror classic Poltergeist, Heather O’Rourke tragically passed away while undergoing surgery, aged just 12. Her role in the aforementioned film secured her a place in pop culture history, but few people these days are likely to know of her 1988 death unless they take a “Haunted Hollywood” tour, where her grave is rather ghoulishly an attraction.
36. Andy Whitfield
Andy Whitfield looked lined up to hit the big time after coming to prominence as the eponymous hero of Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. However, before the Welsh-born actor ever got to make a second season of the show, he sadly became a victim of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, dying at the age of 39. News of Whitfield’s passing may have been overshadowed owing to the time at which it occurred, coinciding as it did with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
35. Lisa Robin Kelly
Anyone who watched That ’70s Show during its first five seasons will recognize Lisa Robin Kelly, who as the manipulative Laurie Forman portrayed a character that fans loved to hate. That said, Kelly’s troubled personal life rather than her talent was to the forefront in many obituaries when she passed away in 2013. The cause of the 43-year-old’s death was ruled as “multiple drug intoxication.”
34. Justin Pierce
Justin Pierce’s turn as Casper in Larry Clark’s provocative 1995 movie Kids was outstanding – so much so, in fact, that it netted the young actor an Independent Spirit Award. Tragically, though, rising fame and acclaim didn’t stop Pierce from committing suicide in 2000 when he was still just 25 years old.
33. Judith Barsi
Millions of people heard Judith Barsi’s voice in The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven, but what they may well not have known is that they were listening to a dead girl. In 1988, at just ten years old, Barsi – already a prolific actress – was killed by her abusive father. The two aforementioned animated films were released posthumously.
32. Thuy Trang
Vietnamese actress Thuy Trang was beloved of ’90s kids everywhere as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ first Yellow Ranger. Roles in The Crow: City of Angels and Spy Hard followed, but unfortunately her life was cut short before she ever made it to the top. Trang died in a traffic collision in September 2001. She was 27.
31. Andy Hallett
Andy Hallett was only really known for a single acting role, but it was a good one: the demon Lorne in Joss Whedon’s cult Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off show Angel. Hallett’s character was beloved by geeks everywhere, yet his death from congestive heart failure in 2009 at the all-too-young age of 33 passed by unnoticed by all but the most avid fans of the show.
30. Dana Hill
Dana Hill’s voice most likely makes her familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of Rugrats, Goof Troop or Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Her role as Griswold child Audrey in National Lampoon’s European Vacation may also be instantly recognizable. What’s less known, however, is that Hill is now dead, having tragically succumbed to complications from diabetes in 1996. She was 32.
29. Glenn Quinn
Roseanne actor Glenn Quinn’s battle with addiction ended tragically in 2002 when he passed away as a result of a heroin overdose at only 32 years of age. His story is a desperately sad one about the dangers of drugs: by the end of his life he had been fired from his role as Doyle in Angel and needed to resort to sleeping on a friend’s couch.
28. Nicole DeHuff
Nicole DeHuff’s acting career got off to a good start when she played Deborah Byrnes in 2000’s smash hit movie Meet the Parents. Sadly, though, the promise shown in that performance and DeHuff’s ensuing string of other minor film and TV roles never saw her make it to the top, as by 2005 the 30-year-old had passed away following a bout of viral pneumonia. At least her character apparently lives on in the Meet the Parents sequels, where Deborah is still alluded to although never seen.
27. Brad Renfro
Like way too many child stars, Brad Renfro met a tragic end. After making his debut on the silver screen in The Client at only 12, the actor netted plum roles in the likes of Bully and Ghost World only to succumb to a heroin overdose before 30. Yes, Renfro’s checkered life ended in 2008 when he was just 25 years of age.
26. Skye McCole Bartusiak
Skye McCole Bartusiak charmed audiences worldwide as the young daughter of Mel Gibson’s character in 2000’s The Patriot, a role that brought her to prominence at just seven years old. McCole Bartusiak would go on to get various other respectable acting credits to her name. However, fourteen years after her most famous role, she died, aged 21, owing to an accidental drug overdose, making her Patriot screen time even more poignant.
25. Christopher Pettiet
Cult ’90s comedy Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead made a star out of Christopher Pettiet, who played young Lothario Zach Crandell in the movie. Watching it now, though, may be bittersweet, for the actor passed away in 2000, aged just 24, as a result of an accidental substance OD. A scholarship named for Pettiet at his old acting school has helped keep his name and legacy alive since.
24. Dana Plato
Dana Plato found fame in ever-popular ’70s and ’80s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, but once her days playing Kimberly Drummond were over, she sadly descended into poverty and substance addiction. A hostile reception from callers when Plato was on The Howard Stern Show in 1999 may have been the final straw, as the day after the broadcast she tragically committed suicide – at the all-too-young age of 34.
23. Jonathan Brandis
The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter star Jonathan Brandis was once a teen idol, but as he got older his career started to slide. This turn of events may, it’s said, have contributed to Brandis making the heartwrenching decision to take his own life in 2003, aged 27.
22. David Strickland
David Strickland’s sad passing in 1999 meant that his Suddenly Susan alter ego Todd Stities was written out of the sitcom, with a tribute show that was later broadcast seemingly honoring both the on-screen character and, by consequence, the man who played him. During that episode no mention was made of Strickland’s suicide, though, which – although understandable – may have helped his death fly somewhat under the radar to this day.
21. Zoë Tamerlis Lund
Abel Ferrara’s cult movies Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant made Zoë Tamerlis Lund a star, but her death in 1999 at the age of 37 may have gone unnoticed by both fans of those films and the wider public at large. Tragically, Lund passed away due to heart failure, prompted by her cocaine use – a habit the actress acquired as a reported replacement for taking heroin.
20. David Graf
In 2004 David Graf’s widow Kathryn debuted a one-woman play in which she spoke about her late husband and her loss – perhaps to the surprise of some, who may not have known that the Police Academy star had even died. The Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry actor – who also had a recurring role in The West Wing – passed away in 2001, aged 50, owing to a heart attack suffered while at the wedding of his brother-in-law.
19. Windell Middlebrooks
Anyone who has ever watched TV has probably seen Windell Middlebrooks, even if they didn’t know his name, for his acting career took in everything from Hannah Montana to Body of Proof and from Scrubs to those famous Miller High Life beer ads. Fewer people, though, will know that Middlebrooks’ life was cut tragically short in 2015, after the 36-year-old suffered a pulmonary embolism at his San Fernando Valley home.
18. Marque Lynche
After his time as a Mouseketeer in the ’90s, Marque Lynche popped up on TV again as an adult, getting as far as the semi-finals of American Idol’s third season in 2004. The star’s career also saw him take in time as a Broadway actor, although his full potential was sadly never quite realized owing to his sad early death in 2015 at the age of 34.
17. Nathaniel Marston
Although he appeared in several movies – most notably, alongside a young Angelina Jolie in 1996’s Love Is All There Is – Nathaniel Marston was best known as a soap star. Sadly, though, the As the World Turns and One Life to Live actor would never recover from a car crash in which he was involved in October 2015, passing away owing to surgical complications less than two weeks later. He was just 40 years old.
16. Ben Woolf
Ben Woolf took on several small roles on both the big and small screens before finally winning wider recognition in American Horror Story, in which he played both Thaddeus Montgomery and, famously, Meep. Still, even avid fans of the FX show might not know of Woolf’s premature death in February 2015; the 34-year-old succumbed to a head injury after being hit by a side-view mirror from a passing vehicle.
15. Heavy D
Heavy D’s performance at the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards was his first to be shown on TV for 15 years, and it could very well have led to a career renaissance. But that wasn’t to be: the ex-Heavy D & the Boyz frontman would collapse at his home less than a month later, in November 2011, then pass away thanks to a pulmonary embolism. He was only 44.
14. Lynne Thigpen
A generation of children grew up watching Lynne Thigpen on such shows as Bear in the Big Blue House and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? – then, perhaps, when the viewers were slightly more grown-up, on All My Children and The District. But Thigpen’s absence from TV screens in recent years is down to one sad reason: she passed away in 2003 of a cerebral hemorrhage, aged only 54.
13. Rose Siggins
Rose Siggins may have only been two feet, six inches tall, but she made a big impact on the small screen as Legless Suzi in American Horror Story: Freak Show. Before fame beckoned further, though, Siggins’ life was sadly cut short when complications after a kidney stone surgery led to her death, aged 43, in 2015.
12. Suzanne Crough
Suzanne Crough found the spotlight in the ’70s as The Partridge Family’s adorable Tracy, even if it was a level of fame that she would fail to replicate with future roles. Perhaps Crough decided that acting wasn’t for her, though, as she appeared for the last time on screen in 1980. And that decision to step out of the limelight may have meant that her April 2015 death, at the age of 52 and due to cardiomyopathy, went rather unnoticed by many.
11. Kyle Jean-Baptiste
Kyle Jean-Baptiste wasn’t a star of the screen but was certainly a rising star of the stage. In fact, when he was cast in the Broadway production of Les Misérables, he became both the first African-American and the youngest person ever to portray Jean Valjean. There’s little doubt, then, that the 21-year-old would’ve gone on to bigger things; tragically, though, he passed away after a fall in August 2015 before ever achieving them.
10. Bob Peck
Remember Robert Muldoon from Jurassic Park and his iconic “clever girl” scene? The actor who played him, British star Bob Peck, shone as the doomed game warden, which makes it arguably all the sadder that he isn’t gracing movie screens today. Peck died from cancer in 1999 at 53 years old.
9. Ashleigh Aston Moore
1995 coming-of-age flick Now and Then was chock-full of fledgling and future young stars, with the likes of Christina Ricci, Thora Birch and Gaby Hoffman among them. And Ashleigh Aston Moore, who played Chrissy Dewitt, might have had a career as successful as, if not more so, those of any of her co-stars. It was success that Moore sadly never lived to find, however, as she passed away in 2007, aged only 26, of pneumonia and bronchitis.
8. Michael Clarke Duncan
Michael Clarke Duncan was incandescent as John Coffey, the falsely accused gentle giant in The Green Mile. Moreover, the power of that performance, and of many of those that followed, perhaps makes it all the more surprising that the actor’s death went by relatively under the radar. In 2012 Duncan sadly passed away in hospital, a few weeks after a heart attack, aged 54.
7. Trevor Goddard
Mortal Kombat fans may remember Trevor Goddard; he memorably played Kano in the 1995 movie adaptation of the game franchise. Future forays for the British actor included small parts in the likes of Gone in 60 Seconds and the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. Still, perhaps such roles weren’t memorable enough to ensure that his 2003 death thanks to a drug overdose at the age of 40 didn’t go unnoticed.
6. Michelle Thomas
With The Cosby Show, The Young and the Restless and Family Matters all on her resume, countless people around the world would have caught at least a glimpse or two of Michelle Thomas during her time on TV. Unfortunately, though, that time was cruelly cut short when Thomas succumbed to a rare sort of stomach cancer in 1998. She was just 29 years old.
5. Wendie Jo Sperber
Of the millions across the planet who know and love Back to the Future, perhaps only a small fraction of them know of the sad fate of Wendie Jo Sperber, who played Marty’s sister Linda. Sperber, who also starred in the trilogy’s third film, died in 2005 of breast cancer, aged 47. Her last role was voicing a character on American Dad! who would be touchingly renamed Wendie Jo as a tribute to the late actress.
4. Sawyer Sweeten
Everybody Loves Raymond turned out to be a family affair in more ways than one for Sawyer Sweeten: not only did the Geoffrey Barone actor star next to his twin brother Sullivan, who played Michael, but the pair’s older sister Madylin featured alongside them as Ally. And it was Madylin Sweeten who released a heartwrenching statement in April 2015 confirming that, tragically, her little brother had taken his own life a matter of weeks from his 20th birthday.
3. Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson was not only the spouse of an acclaimed actor in Liam Neeson, but also a star in her own right – taking home a Tony Award for playing Sally Bowles in a Broadway production of Cabaret and lighting up the silver screen in the likes of The Parent Trap and Nell. More stellar performances could very well have come from Richardson, then, were it not for the fatal brain injury she suffered after a skiing accident in 2009. The British actress was only 45 years old at the time of her death.
2. Gary Coleman
As the inimitable Arnold Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes, Gary Coleman became one of the most popular child stars of the ’80s. Sadly, though, the fame and success didn’t last as Coleman transitioned into adulthood, where financial difficulties and scandal started to blight his life. This coincided with the actor slipping out of public view, and when he died in 2010, aged only 42, his memory was kept alive more through court battles between his survivors than anything else.
1. Carl Switzer
Carl Switzer’s name by itself might not mean much to many, but the handle of his most famous character most likely will. That’s because Switzer played lovable tyke Alfalfa in the Our Gang series of short movies, otherwise known popularly as The Little Rascals. The young boy who found fame never made it to a ripe old age, though, for in 1959 he was killed in a fight about money, fatally shot at only 31. What’s more, Switzer had the misfortune to die on the same day as celebrated director Cecil B. DeMille, ensuring that his death was overshadowed at the time by that of the older man.