Disney Legend Tommy Kirk (Old Yeller) has sadly passed away at the age of 79. Kirk lived alone in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was found dead Tuesday, actor Paul Petersen reported on Facebook.
Kirk was cast as a clean-cut teenager in The Hardy Boys serial feature which was aired in the Mickey Mouse Club television series in 1956 and 1957. He played Joe Hardy opposite Tim Considine. Following this, Disney used Kirk and Judy Harriet to cover the 1956 Democratic and Republican conventions for the Mickey Mouse show.
Kirk’s career received its biggest break yet when Disney cast him as Travis Coates in the Walt Disney live-action classic Old Yeller (1957), an adventure story about a boy and his heroic dog. He had the lead role in the film, which was enormously successful, and he became Disney’s first choice whenever they needed someone to play an all-American teenager. Kirk would return for the sequel Savage Sam (1963).
Kirk continued to be a mainstay with Disney starring in classics including The Shaggy Dog (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Bon Voyage! (1962), and Son of Flubber (1963).
Kirk was inducted as a Disney Legend on October 9, 2006.
Kirk recalled bumping into Walt Disney at a hotel in Beverly Hills when the studio head with was a gossip columnist: “He put his arm around me and he said, ‘This is my good-luck piece here,’ to Hedda Hopper. I never forgot that. That’s the nicest compliment he ever gave me.”
On Facebook, Petersen — the Donna Reed Show star who launched the support group A Minor Consideration to lend a hand to former kid actors like himself — noted that Kirk was “estranged from what remains of his blood-family.”
“Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans,” he added. “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.”