Sad news has come in as actor Tommy Kirk has reportedly died. The former child star, best known for his role as Travis Coates in the 1957 movie Old Yeller, was found dead by a neighbor in his Las Vegas home at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday evening. A cause of death hasn’t yet been revealed, but authorities do not believe foul play is a factor. Kirk was 79 years old.
Thomas Lee Kirk was born on Dec. 10, 1941. As a teenager, Kirk got the acting bug when he performed a production of Ah, Wilderness! at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. From there, he was noticed by an agent and started to land television roles during the mid 1950s. This includes making appearances as a teenage actor in shows like Lux Video Theatre, Big Town, Crossroads, and Gunsmoke.
By 1956, Kirk had landed a starring role alongside Tim Considine in The Mickey Mouse Club serial The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure. He made an impact with the filmmakers at Disney, and he was soon after cast to play his biggest role yet in Old Yeller. That movie starred Tommy Kirk in the lead, following a young boy and his heroic dog. The movie famously ends with Tommy’s character compelled to put down his dog to stop its suffering.
Kirk’s role in Old Yeller led to more success for the young actor. Disney would bring him back for The Shaggy Dog, a comedy released in 1959. In that movie, Kirk plays a teenage boy who gets magically transformed into a shaggy, old English Sheepdog. The movie was followed by various sequels and remakes, including a 2006 theatrical remake starring Tim Allen. The Shaggy Dog also turned out to be an even bigger hit at the box office than Old Yeller.
After that role, Tommy Kirk was cast as middle son Ernst Robinson in 1960’s Swiss Family Robinson. The actor would later name this movie as his favorite movie he’s worked on. The actor would go on to appear in many other Disney projects including The Absent-Minded Professor, The Horsemasters, Angel, Moon Pilot, Bon Voyage, Son of Flubber, and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. He also appeared in Savage Sam, a sequel to Old Yeller, which was released in 1963.
Kirks’ acting career was derailed after a falling out with Disney. Per TMZ, the actor once said, “When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I 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. It was all going to come to an end… Eventually, I became involved with somebody and I was fired.” Kirk was not happy with the roles offered to him after parting ways with Disney.
In 2006, Tommy Kirk was honored by Disney when he was inducted as a Disney Legend. His old co-stars Tim Considine and Kevin Corcoran were also inducted. Meanwhile, the first of Kirk’s Hardy Boys serials was released on DVD in 2006, reintroducing the child actor to modern Disney audiences. May he rest in peace as his memory lives on. This news comes to us from TMZ.