Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
June 9, 1988 Edition: Valley
Section: L.A. Life
Author: Marilyn Beck
The big picture: Tom Skerritt refuses to buy into the hype that the ''Poltergeist" films carry a curse for those who make them. Skerritt, who co-stars in the third installment of the ghostly big-screen tale that hits theaters Friday, says, "I'm not one to go along with all the hocus-pocus people are generating." That "hocus-pocus" concerns the deaths of four performers - Dominique Dunne, Will Sampson, Julian Beck and 12-year-old Heather O'Rourke - following completion of a "Poltergeist" they made).
Says Skerritt: "Reality is reality, and making movies is something else again. I have no reason to feel anything other than to be personally upset about the loss of Heather." The "Top Gun" actor hasn't yet seen his ''Poltergeist" - he has been busy in Los Angeles shooting Vestron's "The Hunchback of UCLA" with Cindy Williams and Jessica Harper. "Ironically," he notes, "the film's being shot across town - at rival school USC."
Why Poltergeist star, 12, didn't have to die., Star, February 23rd, 1988.
TRAGIC STORY BEHIND DEATH OF POLTERGEIST 'ANGEL'
THE CHILD STAR WHO COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED
SIMPLE SURGERY COULD HAVE CURED 12-YEAR-OLD HEATHER O'ROURKE, BUT A YEAR OF TESTS BY TEAMS OF DOCTORS DIDN'T PINPOINT WHAT WAS WRONG...UNTILL IT WAS TOO LATE
HEATHER O'ROURKE -- the tragic child star of the Poltergeist movies --- died a heartbreakingly needless death. A battery of tests and teams of doctors did not discover that the perky 12-year-old was suffering from a congenital blockage of the intestines --- which could have been cured with a simple, 45-minute operation or with medication.
Now her mother has hired an attorney to find out who is to blame. The final year of Heather's pitifully short life is a heart-rending diary of tragedy:
* As far back as January, 1987, a lethargic and pale Heather was unable to eat and was diagnosed as having influenza.
* In early Febraury, 1987, Heather was admitted to the hospital for further tests when her ankles became swollen. One test revealed a protein deficiency, another an inflammation of her intestine.
Her doctors opted against surgical treatment and decided to treat her with drugs instead.
* Later that Febraury, Heather failed her MGM insurance physical for work on Poltergeist III (which is to be released in June), even though she was being treated with drugs.
* In March, Heather was given a clean bill of health.
* While filming Poltergeist III in Illinois, Heather was taken to a Chicago physician at the suggestion of her California doctors.
More X-rays were taken and another doctor recommended exploratory surgery. But after seeing Heather's improved health, the doctor agreed that the drug treatment seemed to be doing the job.
* The day before Heather died at the beginning of this month, she came down with what appeared to be flu symptoms.
And the final chapter in the life of the little girl who captured the hearts of millions of moviegoers with her cornsilk-yellow hair and sweet smile was played out.
Heather's stepfather, Jim Peele, told STAR magazine: "She coulden't keep anything down.
"We were going to take her to the doctor the next day."
But waiting that one day proved fatal.
Her mother, Kathy, takes up the story: "She woke up in excruciating pain and passed out on the floor. Her fingers were turning blue.
"I tried to revive her while Jim called 911. The paramedics came, and gave her oxygen immediately. But my baby had cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital."
The local hospital in Big Bear, Calif., was not equipped to care for Heather, so she was flown by helicopter to Children's Hospital in San Diego.
After she was stabilised, doctors successfully removed the part of her intestine that was blocked --- but it was too late to save her life.
Hospital spokeswoman Terry Merryman explains: "Poisons had seeped into her blood supply to such an extent that there was no way to save her."
The official cause of death was "septic shock secondary to congenital intestinal stenosis."
In layman's terms, she was born with a blockage in her bowel. By the time it was discovered, her entire body had been poisoned.
Heather's personal manager, Michael Meyer, says: "The family has turned the whole thing over to an attorney."
Her stepdad recalls when Heather's medical problems first surfaced. Her pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, Dr Dale Collins, had diagnosed the little girl as having the flu.
"They gave her flu medicine, but she was still not well," says Peele, 42. "Her feet were swollen from her ankles to her toes.
"They also took barium X-rays and found an inflammation in her intestine."
According to Peele, the doctors said they could perform surgery -- but preferred to treat it with medication. They prescribed sulfa drugs and cortisone to reduce the inflammation.
Peele adds: "Nobody ever said that it was a blocked intestine or that it could be a life-threatening situation or anything else.
"They were saying it might be Crohn's disease or other things. Dr. Collins called in a specialist from Kaiser (which has several branch hospitals) in Los Angeles.
"The specialist said the problem was probably caused by a parasite that Heather had contracted from drinking well water in Big Bear, where we'd been living."
Even though Heather was given a clean bill of health in March, Peele says that Dr. Collins still wanted Heather to see a doctor inb Chicago while she was filming Poltergeist III.
So Peele and Heather's mother, Kathy, 38, hand-delivered Heather's California X-rays to Dr. Barbara S. Kirschner in Chicago.
"She told us the X-rays were no good and that she'd have to start all over," says Peele.
"After taking new X-rays, Dr Kirschner said that the medication was apparently doing what it was supposed to do.
"Heather was on medication the whole time she was in Chicago filminf Poltergeist III," adds Peele.
But Heather's co-workers on the set of the movie never had a clue about the young star's illness.
Says Zelda Rubinstein, who has appeared in all three movies as the diminutive psychic who "exorcises" the terrifying demons: "Heather was always very professional and never appeared sick. I had absoloutely no idea that anything was wrong."
In May, Dr. Kirschner started weaning Heather of the drugs.
An independent expert, Dr. Herbert Glese, a pediatrician and specialist in infectious disease, explains that the only way to truly discover the congenital defect, intestinal stenosis, is with an operation.
Because abdominal surgery is not to be taken lightly, Dr. Glese says that other methods are considered first where possible.
"The surgical procedure is to remove the part of the intestine that is obstructed," Dr, Glese says. "The success rate is very high. The patient lives a normal life.
"There is a possibility that symptoms can reoccur if scar tissue forms and develops another stenosis."
Dr. Kirschner says that Heather "wasen't showing any symptoms," so surgery wasen't called for at the time.
Referring to a stenosis, she adds that "there are many ways to treat it other than surgery."
Dr. Collins' office was contacted, but did not respond to any messages from STAR magazine.
A public-affairs official from Kaiser Permanente, Jim McBride has declined to comment, except to say: "First of all, any discussion of any patient is covered under doctor-patient laws."
Despite all her medical problems, the last year had been an extremely busy one for Heather.
In addition to Poltergeist III, she appeared in episodes of Our House and Rocky Road, filmed a TV pilot, Here to Stay, and was in negotiations for the two other TV series.
Like any 12-year-old, she was crazy about movie stars. And she had big ambitions -- she wanted to win an Oscar and own a Rolls-Royce.
Sadly, Heather never had the chance to realize her dreams.
Heather cemented her stardom with a riveting performance in Poltergeist II. By then, the adorable little girl had already captured the hearts of TV fans on Happy Daysm with Henry Winkler (The Fonz) and Linda Purl.
Heather posed with her Poltergeist III co-stars on the set of what would be her last film. L-R; Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Lara Flynn Boyle and Kip Wentz. She was ill during filming, but one co-star says: "Heather never appeared sick. I had no idea anything was wrong."
Heather was "kidnapped" by a diobolical spirit in a terrifying scene from Poltergeist.
STAR MAGAZINE, 23RD FEB, 1988. PAGES 2 & 3.
A friend consoles Heather's distraught mom, Kathy, during the emotional funeral service for her daughter in Los Angeles.
The Poltergeist Curse, National Enquirer - Feb 23rd, 1988
ARTICLE: THE POLTERGEIST CURSE: Child star Heather O'Rourke's death is the latest tragedy to haunt horror movie series.
Heather who starred in both the 1982 "Poltergeist" and the 1986 sequel "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," became famous as the little girl who uttered the line, "They're heeeere!" She died suddenly on Febraury 1 from complications of a bowel defect.
Her costar Dominique Dunne, who played her older sister in the first film, was strangled to death by a former boyfriend on Halloween Eve 1982. Actor Will Sampson, who played a demon-battling Indian in the sequel, died last year after undergoing a heart-lung transplant.
Bizarre events on the sets of the films --- including vanishing scripts and mysterious problems with a sound track --- also baffled cast and crew members, say sources. And an explosion on the set of the recently completed "Poltergeist III" caused a fire that put two fire fighters in the hospital.
"Plain and simple, the series of films is cursed!" declared a studio insider. "There have been too many deaths, mishaps and unexplained actions on the set to believe anything else. It's as if the spirits themselves have engaged members of the cast and crew in a real-life horror movie".
A source close to all three "Poltergeist" movies revealed: "When I heard that Heather died, I thought 'Ohn no, here we go again!' There's an evil curse that's surrounded the 'Poltergeist' productions right from the very first day of shooting on the original film."
On that first day, the director put his script --- marked with his notes --- down on a chair, and when he returned minutes later it had vanished, said the close source.
"Shooting was halted for hours while everyone searched for he script. It was nowhere to be found.
"Two weeks later, actress JoBeth Williams returned to her motor home dressing room to look over her script --- and it was gone.
"Extension cords began to vanish overnight, causing lenghty delays in shooting. Two more scripts vanished in the next couple of weeks, one belonging to actress Zelda Rubinstein, who played the psychic Tangina."
The studio insider disclosed: "Scripts kept vanishing all during filming and it just freaked people out. But that was only the beginning --- problems also began with the sound track of the film."
Time and again, when footage from the day's shooting was screened, the sound was mysteriously missing.
The sound was supposed to be on a seperate tape to be added to the film in the final editing process --- but the tape was blank, said the insider. "This is totally defied technical explanation!"
A source of set revealed: "The sound technicians were baffled. They would check the microphones and recording equiptment for glitches, but they could never find anything wrong.
"One technician told me, 'It's like there's somthing invisible in the air that's blocking the microphones --- some sort of unseen electrical force that's screwing up the recording process.' "
Said the studio insider: "The problems on the first 'Poltergeist' turned into horror shortly after the release of the film, when actress Dominique Dunne was violently murdered. The news of her death sent shivers through all those who had worked on the film. The second 'Poltergeist' film also has its share of mysterious problems. As with the first film, scripts disappeared with alarming regularity.
"It was the same eerie feeling of having someone put down a script for a second, turn away --- and then turn back to find the script gone.
"Will Sampson was absoloutely convinced the set was filled with danger. At his insistence, a house that was used for the film had an actual exorcism performed to rid it of evil spirits.
"And shortly after Sampson worked on the film he died!"
The troubles continued during "Poltergeist III" in Chicago, say sources.
"There was a black cloud of doom that seemed to hang over the entire cast" said an actress who worked on the film.
"A few weeks after shooting began, a special effects explosion raged into a monstrous inferno. It was a routine shot we were filming, but somthing went terribly wrong and after the explosion the entire garage where we were shooting erupted into flames, sending people running for their lives. The garage went up like a fireball and burned for almost two hours.
"Two firefighters had to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation before the blaze was brought under control. "We all should have known then that this was just a horror movie --- it was a nightmare come to life!"
Even the death of little Heather O'Rourke was not without bizarre aspects. The kind of bowel defect that resulted in her death is usually obvious at birth.
Said a source close to the "Poltergeist" movies: "The films have been plagued by such problems and tragedies that it really makes you wonder if somebody --- or somthing --- was trying to tell us somthing."
Added another insider: "The movie series is cursed --- and everyone in Hollywood knows it!"
BY JEROME GEORGE, SAM RUBIN & MICHAEL GLYNN.
PICTURE INSET: CHILLING: Heather O'Rourke and Will Sampson, shown here in a scene from "Poltergeist II: The Other Side." Both are dead.
PICTURE INSET 2: KILLED: Dominique Dunne who starred in the first "Poltergeist" movie, was strangled by her ex-beau John Sweeney on Halloween Eve 1982.
L.A Life, May 22, 1987
On the go: Tom Skerritt jets from Chicago's "Poltergeist III" location to L.A. for his daughter Erin's wedding Saturday, then returns to the Windy City for the final few weeks of shooting on the film. Skerritt plays the uncle of young Heather O'Rourke in the third installment of the ghostly story, in which the poltergeists follow the youngster when she's sent to live with Skerritt in his Chicago high-rise. "I hadn't seen the other two 'Poltergeists' -- I took on this project for the same reasons I took on 'Alien': I liked the script, and I liked the filmmakers involved."
Skerritt admits this "is not an actor's picture -- no special-effects picture is." He adds that the special effects for "III" are "being done as we shoot. It takes a lot of patience -- a lot of time for the special-effects shots to be set up."
OBITUARIES 'POLTERGEIST' CHILD STAR O'ROURKE DIES, News of L.A , 1988
Author: MICHAEL SZYMANSKI Daily News Staff Writer
Heather O'Rourke, 12, the golden-haired actress set upon by evil spirits in the spooky "Poltergeist" movies, died Monday during surgery for an intestinal infection, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday.
The 12-year-old appeared sick with the flu Sunday in her family's El Cajon home and was rushed Monday to San Diego's AMI Valley Medical Center after complaining of severe abdominal pains, said her one-time agent Bob Preston.
She suffered cardiac arrest and was resuscitated at the medical center before she was transferred to San Diego's Children's Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Terry Merryman.
The actress died at 2:43 p.m. Monday during abdominal surgery that was complicated by septic shock, or blood poisoning, Merryman said.
The official cause of death was intestinal stenosis, a blockage caused by a congenital narrowing of the bowel that had gone unnoticed since birth, Merryman said.
Heather had recently completed filming the third film in the ''Poltergeist" series, which sets the suburban Freeling family against demons who seek to steal the character she played, Carol Ann.
In the first film, Heather spoke the key line when the evil spirits arrived, "They're heeeere!" In the sequel she warned, "They're baaaack!"
The child star, born in San Diego on Dec. 27, 1975, finished filming ''Poltergeist III" in late June. The movie is scheduled to be released this summer.
Co-workers from the "Poltergeist" series, which included scenes filmed in Newhall and Simi Valley, mourned her death Tuesday.
"I am devastated by the news of Heather's death," actor Craig T. Nelson said in a statement. Nelson played the girl's father in the "Poltergeist" films. "It's very difficult when a member of your family dies so suddenly. I loved her very much."
Her death was the fourth among the cast of the "Poltergeist" series about ghosts and the supernatural invading a quiet suburb.
Soon after the first movie was released, Dominique Dunne, 22, who played the eldest daughter, was strangled by her estranged boyfriend John Sweeney, who has since been released from prison.
Soon after the second movie, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," was released in 1985, Julian Beck, 60, died of cancer. He played the cadaverous preacher who tormented the family with the warning, "You're all going to die!"
Will Sampson, who portrayed the demon-battling Indian shaman in the sequel, died last year at 53 after a heart-lung transplant.
O'Rourke was discovered by director Steven Spielberg while at the MGM commissary waiting for her sister Tammy during filming of "Pennies from Heaven." Spielberg asked if he could talk to her, but she answered, "I can't talk to strangers," Meyer recalled.
Spielberg was impressed with her and she was hired for "Poltergeist." Spielberg, based in Universal City, was on location for the third "Raiders of the Lost Ark" movie and issued no comment about the death.
Heather was a regular on television's "Happy Days," "Webster," ''Still the Beaver" and starred in ABC's "Surviving," about teen-age suicide. She was her fifth-grade class president in Big Bear Elementary School.
Funeral services are planned Friday in Los Angeles at an undetermined time and location. She is survived by her parents, Jim and Kathy O'Rourke.
Author: Mercury News Staff and Wire Report
Alameda County officials said Wednesday they want to question the stepfather of actress Heather O'Rourke to determine if he's the man wanted for failing to pay $23,000 in child support payments to a Pleasanton woman.
Assistant District Attorney Alfred Bucher said county officials want to talk with Jim Peele to find out if he is the man who owes $23,000 in child support to his former wife, Louise Peele.
"We have a case against James A. Peele," Bucher said. "Child support is due to a woman who indicated to us that Mr. Peele is the stepfather (to Heather O'Rourke). That is essentially the information we have, and I have no reason to disbelieve that."
Mike Meyer, the manager for the 12-year-old O'Rourke who died suddenly Monday in San Diego of septic shock caused by congenital stenosis of the intestine, said Jim Peele is the name of the girl's stepfather.
''I know it's him. There's no question in my mind," said Louise Peele. "His picture was in People magazine with Heather."
Heather became famous as a child star when she appeared in "Poltergeist," the horror film that spawned two sequels. She also appeared in several television shows, including "Happy Days" and "Webster."
Heather's stepfather was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Her family had a private viewing at Lakeside Funeral Chapel in San Diego before a memorial service and burial for the child actress at Westwood Village Mortuary in Los Angeles on Friday.
''My sister and I have been trying to find him for some time," said Louise Peele's sister, Nancy Adams. "When the article came out in People magazine (last year), there was no doubt that it was him. He told my sister he was living in Big Bear."
Heather and her family lived in Big Bear Lake in 1985 and 1986. She attended Big Bear Elementary School and was president of the student council, said her principal, Tony Kerst.
Jim and Louise Peele were divorced in 1983. She was granted custody of their two daughters, Cassandra, 7, and Caitlyn, 4, and Peele, who sold T-shirts for a living, was ordered by an Alameda County judge to pay $400 a month in child support. That was the last she saw of him.
''He's never contacted the kids or anything," Louise Peele said.
She said they were living in a trailer park in Anaheim in 1983 and their neighbors were Kathy O'Rourke and her daughters, Heather and Tammy.
Meyer said Kathy O'Rourke and Peele were married three years ago.
Louise Peele said her former husband called her periodically and said he was mainly living in Canada but avoided questions on his failure to see his daughters and make payments.
''He doesn't answer questions too well," she said.
She added that her former husband has three other children that he doesn't see.
''It's very difficult being a single mother and taking care of yourself and two children," Louise Peele said. "We're getting going and doing OK . . . (but) the child support would let me give things to my girls that every mother wants them to have."
Copyright © 1988 San Jose Mercury News