The late Heather O'Rourke is perhaps best remembered for her film role as "Carol Ann Freeling" in Steven Spielberg's 1982 horror classic "Poltergeist". Her trademark long blonde hair and bangs, the image of her tiny silhouette and little hands splayed across an illuminated television screen, and the words, "They're heeeeeere", are all still instantly recognizable even today, more than 20 years later, by horror movie fans the world over. A television actress as well, Heather had numerous appearances on some of the most popular 80's TV shows, as well as starring in the two "Poltergeist" sequels.
Born Heather Michele O'Rourke in San Diego, California on December 27th, 1975, Heather, (or "Bernie" as she was known to her family), grew up in the nearby town of Santee, where from an early age, she displayed a natural talent for performing. As a 3-year-old, Heather won a local "Little Miss" pageant and was already singing and dancing on stage both alone and with her 7-year-old sister Tammy, who was an accomplished tap dancer and budding young performer herself.
At the age of four, the photogenic Heather became an ad model for Mattel Toys and was appearing in television commercials for McDonald's and Long John Silver's restaurants, and by age five, barely after starting kindergarten, she had made her first TV acting appearance on ABC's "Fantasy Island" in early 1981.
During the previous summer, Heather's sister Tammy had gotten a part as a dancer in the MGM movie "Pennies From Heaven" and during the daily breaks between rehearsals and filming, the two O'Rourke sisters and their mother would usually go to the legendary MGM Studios Commissary for lunch where, on one of their outings, Heather was noticed by future "superdirector" Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg, on a chance visit to MGM, had decided to go to the commissary for lunch that day and when he saw the tiny, angelic, and blonde-haired Heather sitting alone at a nearby table, he just had to find out who she was. Heather's first words to her future director were said to have been: "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers". An interview and a "scream test" later, and Spielberg knew that he had found his leading (little) lady for one of his next films and so with his direction, and Heather's now famous words: "They're heeeeere", together they made horror movie history. The film was of course, "Poltergeist".
After "Poltergeist", Heather went on to television where, from 1982-1987, in addition to commercials, she had parts in several made-for-TV movies and specials, and had recurring roles and guest appearances on some of the most popular prime time and syndicated shows of the 1980's including: "Happy Days", "CHiPs", and "Webster". She also filmed two series' pilots, and had other non-acting appearances on a talk show, a telethon, and an amateur talent show.
The two "Poltergeist" sequels were also a major part of Heather's "filmography" and it was shortly before pre-production of "Poltergeist III" in 1987 that she began to show the first signs of the illnesses that would contribute to her untimely death at age 12 less than a year later.
On the morning of Monday, Feb. 1st, 1988, Heather woke up intending to go to school as usual, but her mother was concerned that she did not look well and had not recovered from the apparent flu that she had over the past weekend. When Heather's symptoms suddenly became worse and she collapsed, an ambulance was summoned. On the way to a local hospital, Heather went into shock and lost consciousness, followed by cardiac arrest. She was resuscitated and airlifted to Children's Hospital in San Diego where they specialized in pediatric critical care.
Exploratory surgery revealed that Heather had developed an intestinal obstruction that had later burst, causing infection to spread throughout her body. An emergency operation was immediately performed to correct the problem, and Heather survived the procedure, but she never regained consciousness, and her body could not recover from the overwhelming infection and septic shock that had followed. As complications set in, her condition worsened and later that afternoon, she died peacefully at 2:43 p.m.
On February 5th, Heather was taken to a small cemetery in the heart of the historic Westwood Village district of Los Angeles where, after a short memorial service, she was laid to rest among other well-loved and famous celebrities. The plaque that marks her resting place reads: Heather O'Rourke - Beloved Daughter - Sister - "Carol Anne" - Poltergeist I, II, III