‘Old Yeller’ Star Tommy Kirk Dead at 79
Actor Tommy Kirk, best known for his role as Travis Coates in the 1957 film Old Yeller, has died. The 79-year-old was a teenage star for Disney throughout the '60s, before controversy led to his firing by the studio.
The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber are three more of Kirk's films. He came into acting somewhat accidentally in 1954, when he joined his brother for a theater audition and got the part, while his brother did not. The Hollywood Reporter shares that he was soon discovered and signed by an agent, and from there revered for his depth and ability to cry on command.
Old Yeller was roundly praised by critics and movie-goers, with Kirk and his on-screen siblings often getting extra accolades.
A few years after Old Yeller, Kirk started seeing a 15-year-old boy he'd met at a swimming pool — something that was a no-no at Disney. In a 1993 interview with Filmfax magazine, he recalled finally admitting to himself that he was gay, saying he felt it would likely wreck his career at Disney. It did, but he'd find more work with actress Annette Funicello. Movies like The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini were not received as warmly as some of his previous efforts, like Swiss Family Robinson.
The Louisville, Ky.-born Kirk battled addiction at different points in his life, but eventually cleaned up to start his own carpet and upholstery cleaning company. His cause of death is not confirmed, but TMZ shares that he was found dead in his Las Vegas apartment on Tuesday (Sept. 28). No foul play is suspected.