Mysterious death of 80s childstar Heather O’Rourke and the ‘Hollywood curse’ surrounding it

Shrouded in superstition following a handful of mysterious cast deaths, the 1982 film’s grim history has followed it through decades – even casting fear over the critically reviled 2015 remake.

Heather O’Rourke died suddenly after filming the third instalment of the Poltergeist franchise. Picture: Supplied.Source:News Corp Australia

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The “Poltergeist curse”, as it’s become known, came about after four of the cast members died of mysterious circumstances – the most shocking being that of Heather O’Rourke – the cherubic 12-year-old childstar who played protagonist Carol Anne in all three Poltergeist films, as well as Heather Pfister in Happy Days.


Set in a house built on an ancient Native American burial ground, the original Poltergeist trilogy told the terrifying story of the Freeling family and their encounters with the supernatural.

Gifted with a connection to the spiritual world, the youngest daughter, Carol Anne (O’Rourke), was haunted by the malicious spirits buried beneath her home, including that of a sadistic doomsday cult leader named Kane.

Heather O'Rourke played a child harassed by evil spirits in Poltergeist. Picture: Getty Images.

Heather O’Rourke played a child harassed by evil spirits in Poltergeist. Picture: Getty Images.Source:Getty Images

It was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 4, 1982 and was a commercial success, grossing $1.13 million in the United States, making it the highest-grossing horror film of 1982 and eighth overall for the year.

The film’s special effects – inventive for its era – makes it frequently ranked among the greatest horror films of all time.


Many believe the “Poltergeist Curse” began the same year the first movie was released.

Actress Dominique Young, who made her film debut in Poltergeist as the elder sister of Carol Anne, died a violent death shortly after its release in 1983.

She was strangled to death by her boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney.

According to a New York Times article, Young was put on life support after the attack but passed away five days later.

Sweeney was later found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, according to a 1983 article from The Freelance Star.


It was the actor who played Carol Anne’s most intimidating spirit, doomsday cult leader Kane, who died next.

Julian Beck, who played Kane in Poltergeist II sadly did not live to see the release of the sequel.

He was 60 when he lost a battle with stomach cancer on September 14, 1985, according to The New York Times.


The third in the spooky string of deaths associated with the film was of the man who portrayed a friendly ghost named Taylor in the second Polergeist film, Will Sampson.

Sampson died on June 3, 1987, aged 53, after of an illness caused by a chronic degenerative condition, according to The Herald Journal.


It was the unexpected nature of Heather O’Rourke’s death which led many to believe the “Poltergeist Curse” was real.

Known for adorable, blue-eyed angelic looks and her creepy delivery of the line; “They’re here” in the first film of the series, it was largely O’Rourke’s chilling performance that made the film iconic.

At 12 years old, she passed away suddenly.

The actress died in surgery when doctors were attempting to repair an acute bowel obstruction, caused by what was believed to be a long battle with Crohn’s disease, the LA Times reported.

The young address was tragically pronounced dead after suffering septic shock, on February 1, 1988.

Heather O'Rourke rose to fame in the first film of the Poltergeist trilogy. Picture: Supplied.

Heather O’Rourke rose to fame in the first film of the Poltergeist trilogy. Picture: Supplied.Source:Supplied


When Poltergeist was rebooted in 2015, superstitious film buffs were quick to unearth rumours of the “curse” surrounding the film.

Starring Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, the movie may have been widely panned, but no cast members died.

In a Reddit AMA, however, director Gil Kenan recalled “paranormal activity” during filming.

“Lights that could turn on anywhere else in the neighbourhood would blow out the second you’d try to light them on (the set),” Kenan wrote.

“Also, I used a lot of aerial drone photography in the film, and the drone pilots were never able to lock in the GPS signal in this field. We would have to move 10 feet away to launch the craft.”

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