Former child star Tommy Kirk, best known for his roles in Disney films such as "Old Yeller" and "The Shaggy Dog," has died at age 79.
The actor's "Old Yeller" co-star, Beverly Washburn, confirmed the news, explaining that he died "peacefully" at his Las Vegas home on Tuesday night.
"He was so loved," Washburn told Fox News. "Anybody who has ever met Tommy can attest to the fact that he was so fan-friendly."
Kirk's long-time friend Paul Peterson also shared the news in a tribute on Facebook.
"Tommy was intensely private. He lived alone in Las Vegas, close to his friend…and "Ol Yeller" co-star, Bev Washburn…and it was she who called me this morning," he wrote. "Tommy was gay and estranged from what remains of his blood-family. We in A Minor Consideration are Tommy’s family. Without apology. We will take care of this. Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans. You lifted him up when an Industry let him down in 1965. He was not bitter. His church comforted him. May God have mercy on his soul."
Kirk began his career with appearances in television shows including "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure" and "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Ghost Farm," which aired in 1956-1957, according to the Associated Press.
Then, in 1957, he landed the breakout role as Travis Coates in "Old Yeller." This launched his career and Kirk would go on to star in several films such as "The Shaggy Dog" and "Swiss Family Robinson."
Then, in his late teens, Kirk came out as gay and would later reveal in an interview with Filmfax magazine that his sexual orientation destroyed his career.
"When I was about 17 or 18 years old I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change," he said, according to Deadline. "I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career. It was all going to come to an end."
Also in the interview, Kirk admitted he was "desperately unhappy" during his teenage years.
"I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings," he explained. "It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize. It wasn’t until the early ’60s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. The lifestyle was not recognized, and I was very, very lonely."
Kirk quit acting in the 1970s and later established a carpet cleaning business in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.
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