December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988
Everyone remembers that line from Poltergeist. What a great film. It tapped into every nightmare… spooky clown puppets, trees that could eat you and dead bodies in the pool. The windows of my mind slammed shut. Little Heather starred in the first film, and both sequels. The last one, Poltergeist 3, should have been called, Everyone Looks Bloated and Unhealthy. Nobody looked good in that film. Nancy Allen looked bad, and little Heather, well, lets just say that I don’t know how pretty of an adult she would have made. It was all filmed in the John Hancock Building, (pre Chris Farley) in Chicago.
Thanks to Josh Perry for that photograph.
Heather was born two days after Christmas, 1975. In 1988, she was living in Lakeside California, near San Diego. She was attending school, and was president of her fifth grade class. This is where they lived in, and another view.
She was cute, could speak, and could memorize a 60-page script in about an hour.
In June of 1987, she had completed filming Poltergeist 3. During that shoot, she had suffered from “flu like symptoms.” She was diagnosed with a parasite she had picked up from drinking water at a campground. From what I can gather, she suffered from bowel obstructions all her life, but nobody knew about it. Heather was put on medication, and the problem had supposedly been resolved.
On the night of January 31st, 1988, many months later, Heather claimed she didn’t feel well, and crawled into bed with her parents. She woke up vomiting, so her mother gave her a Gatorade drink that was supposed to soothe her stomach.
The next morning she got up, and still complained of feeling bad. Her feet and fingers were swollen and blue. Her mother tried to give her some toast to eat, but Heather complained that she couldn’t even swallow. Her mother was going to call the doctor, but Heather passed out, so she called 911. By the time paramedics arrived, little Heather was in shock. One of them asked if she was feeling bad. “A little,” was her reply. On their way to the hospital, her mother told Heather, “I love you.” “I love you too,” were the last words they spoke. Such beautiful last words.
They took Heather to the Alvarado Medical International Hospital, 8 miles away.
She had heart failure en route, and was revived at 9:25 a.m. She was then taken by helicopter to the Childrens Hospital and Health Centre in San Diego, where they arrived at 10:45 a.m.
Here is the emergency entrance.
Her parents were informed that Heather might have suffered brain damage, because her pupils were fixed and delighted.
The doctors suspected it might be a bowel obstruction, and rushed her into surgery. They were too late. Heather died on the operating table at 2:43 p.m. Her intestines had burst, and she died from the infection. She was only 12.
Findadeath.com Super Friend Scott Williams sends this explanation of the cause of death: 1) Renal failure causes fluid retention and massive blood pressure increase leading to “Massive G.I. Bleed” (it blows it wide open), which leads to a “severe hypotension”, (from the subsequent bleeding) which leads to “ischemic cardiomyopathy (the heart does not get enough oxeygenated blood), and that’s it. Done.
Find a Death friend Dana sends us this: Just wanted to comment on the death of Heather O’Rourke. I have heard that she was posthumously diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. That would certainly explain all of her symptoms. I was diagnosed at age 27, but now that I know the symptoms, I can remember spells back to my preteen years and earlier. This would certainly explain her bowel obstructions. When you grow up with this disease, you become accustomed to the daily grind of it and don’t notice a lot of things. To say that her parents should have noticed that she was ill is a bit unfair. If she did indeed have Crohn’s Disease, normal would have been a relative term. I have been hospitalized with bowel obstructions that took weeks to develop. It didn’t occur to me that something serious was wrong until days before I had to be hospitalized with warnings from my doctor that ruptured intestines were not far off.
After the funeral Heather was interred on February 5th, at Westwood Memorial Park, just below where Peter Lawford was once interred. The plaque on her crypt reads Carol Anne, Poltergeist I, II, III. I’m surprised they didn’t put her Happy Days credit on it too.
This is Tara and I live in San Diego County and let me tell you, Lakeside, where Heather O’Rourke lived is a pretty rough neck part of town in East San Diego. East San Diego (El Cajon, Julian, Lakeside) are poor areas. Whenever anyone tells you that they are from that part of town, you can definitely assume they have no money. El Cajon has even been cited by the city council for allowing too many apartment complexes to be built there! Lakeside has lots of dirt roads and wooden houses with rusting appliances in the front yard.
There are no decent hospitals in East San Diego, everyone knows that. Alvarado is little more than a medical clinic. If you really want decent medical care, you have to go to San Diego, and that can mean the difference between life or death (as it did in this case). Anyway, I really think Heather O’Rourke died of neglect, because it’s not like she was a child growing up in a third world country where there were no doctors. Her parents should’ve known something was wrong with her. It’s ironic that she was a child actress making huge sums of money, yet none of it was being spent on her; to have suffered on and off from bowel obstructions her entire life, it really makes you wonder if she was ever taken in for yearly checkups.
Findadeath.com friend Kennedy sends us this: She did not die from neglect. Everyone one who is a “star” of a movie must undergo a physical for the purpose of obtaining an insurance policy in the event they kick off during filming so the studios can recoup their money if the film is unable to be finished. Heather was given an all clear at the time of P-3. Her mother subsequently sued all parties involved in her physical and being insured blah, blah, blah. It was settled out of court.
This in – May 2002: Hi–I was just reading the article on Heather O’Rourke and I have to take exception of Tara’s characterization of “East San Diego”. First of all, the area is called “East County” and is not part of the city of San Diego. It’s like any other suburb, it has nice areas and not-so-nice areas, but living there does not necessarily mean you’re “poor”.
A couple of years ago, they closed the hospital in El Cajon, but it was certainly still in existence in 1988. Plus, Grossmont hospital is a full-service hospital, and it should have been closer than Alvarado (which is not just a “medical clinic” but also a full hospital). I don’t know where Tara lives, but she certainly doesn’t know East County. BTW, I LOVE your site and I just finished reading your article on Gilda Radner. It’s nice to know someone else felt like they knew her and loved her even though they never met her. I still miss her.
Thanks for the clarification Kathy. I know Tara well, and I’m sure she meant nothing derogatory by her description. Gilda lives on. xx.
DECEMBER 2001 – Findadeath.com friend Jack Venturo sends us this picture of the home used in the original Poltergeist film. Thanks, Jack!
Findadeath.com friend Denise Duvall donated the photographs for this story. Thank you so much, Denise.
Wanna see her mailbox?