Disney Stars Who Tragically Passed Away

As a brand, Disney is a star-maker: household names such as Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Shia LaBeouf, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Hilary Duff, and Lindsay Lohan all got their big breaks through the House of Mouse. While all those stars have endured trials and tribulations, they've also found tremendous professional success.

Unfortunately, for every Disney alumni with a success story, there seems to be another whose life took a tragic turn. The trappings of fame and the challenges of navigating the path from child star to adult performer can be traumatizing. The following celebrities' lives were plagued by problems. Some stumbled down bad paths, and others experienced bad luck, be it poor health or falling victim to alleged criminals. From "Mary Poppins" star Michael Garber to Cameron Boyce of "Descendants," these Disney stars all died in heartbreaking ways, making the final chapters of their lives the very antithesis of the brand's signature happy endings.

Dennis Day

Dennis Day was one of the original Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club." While he lived to be 76 years old, the conditions surrounding his death are heartbreaking. According to The Oregonian, Day's husband, Henry "Ernie" Caswell, who suffers from memory loss, reported him missing in July 2018. Caswell was hospitalized at the time. Day reportedly "left his dog with a friend on the day he disappeared," and his car was "found at the Oregon coast" later that month. Also in July, neighbors complained of a foul smell coming from Day's home, prompting police to search the property.

According to CNN, it wasn't until April 2019 that Day's remains were discovered in his home with the help of a cadaver dog. In June 2019, Daniel James Burda was arrested in connection with Day's death and disappearance. Burda was charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, abuse of a corpse, identity theft, and more. Burda has called the charges "messed up." Five years after the discovery of Day's body, sentencing for Burda is yet to be handed down as his murder trial has continued to be delayed.

Matthew Garber

Matthew Garber starred in 1963's "The Three Lives of Thomasina," then broke out the following year as the young Michael Banks in the original "Mary Poppins" movie. He did one more film, 1967's "The Gnome-Mobile," before returning to school. Between 1976 and 1977, Garber traveled to India, where he reportedly contracted hepatitis. His brother told the Mail on Sunday (via Reel Classics) that Garber had returned home to London for medical treatment, but by then, the disease had caused pancreatitis and was no longer treatable. Garber died in 1977 when he was just 21 years old.

Actress Karen Dotrice, who played Garber's on-screen sister, Jane Banks, in the "Mary Poppins classic," talked to the New York Post about grappling with her co-star's death. "I've felt a huge responsibility these years representing both of us," she said. "I hope he's OK with the way I talk about the movie, because he's 50 percent of it."

Marque 'Tate' Lynche

Marque "Tate" Lynche starred in the 1990s revival of "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club," alongside Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling. Lynche later appeared in "The Lion King" on Broadway and competed on Season 3 of "American Idol." The New York Daily News reported that tragically, Lynche's roommate found him dead in their New York City apartment in December 2015. He was just 34 years old. At the time of his passing, the performer had reportedly taken a break from showbiz to cope with the death of his mother. In March 2016, People reported that Lynche's official cause of death was listed as "acute and chronic alcoholism."

One of Lynche's "Mickey Mouse Club" co-stars, Dale Godboldo, talked to People about his late friend. "Knowing Marque during the MMC days — as my little brother — I knew he was hugely talented with a passion for the arts, and a passion for life. ... Marque was a beautiful spirit that, although he had endured so much, only wanted to spread love and inspiration," he shared.

Bridgette Andersen

Bridgette Andersen starred in Disney's "The Parent Trap II" in 1986 and appeared in several other TV shows throughout her short life, including "Gun Shy," "The Golden Girls," and "Fever Pitch." She was best known for playing the titular role of Savannah in the 1982 film "Savannah Smiles." A bright young girl, Andersen knew she always wanted to be an actor. "Well, when I was two years old, I went up to my father and I said, 'I'm an actress.' So then he said, 'Well, we'll have to get you a job,'" she told The Oklahoman when she was just six.

Andersen's early talent earned her critical acclaim, but unfortunately, her acting opportunities appeared to dry up as the years went by. Andersen reportedly struggled with addiction throughout her adolescence and died of a heroin overdose at age 21 in 1997, as reported by the Colorado Springs Independent.

Actor Amber Tamblyn referenced Andersen's tragic demise in her 2015 poetry book "Dark Sparkler," telling Paper that she drew connections between Andersen and adult film actress Shannon Marie Wilsey. "Shannon went under the porn name Savannah. I read in an interview that she gave herself that name from her favorite childhood movie, 'Savannah Smiles'..." Tamblyn said. "Real cheerful anecdote, right?"

Brad Renfro

Brad Renfro was a prolific and acclaimed actor in his tragically short life. One of his early roles was Huckleberry Finn to Jonathan Taylor Thomas' Tom Sawyer in Disney's "Tom and Huck" in 1995, but behind the scenes, Renfro was reportedly dealing with serious substance abuse problems. According to BuzzFeed, sources claimed Renfro was born addicted to heroin, was smoking pot at 9, started drinking by age 11, and began shooting up when he was 12.

Renfro's troubles may have been exacerbated by Hollywood, where he was objectified for his "sex appeal" as a child. Fernando Altschul, the first assistant director of 1998's "Apt Pupil," told BuzzFeed that a teenage Renfro attended parties for adults involved with the film. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie was enveloped in disturbing controversy. "I feel like we've failed children like Brad in some ways," Altschul told the outlet. "Maybe there should be someone who says a person in his situation isn't psychologically ready to be on such a volatile place as a film set. I don't know how you make that judgment, and if you're offering somebody money, [how] they're going to say no to it."

According to People, Renfro was arrested several times for offenses that included DUI, drug possession, and attempting to steal a yacht. Sadly, the actor died from a heroin overdose in January 2008 at just 25 years old.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Michael Galeota

Michael Galeota starred in the Disney Channel series "The Jersey" in 1999. He died in January 2016 at just 31 years old. TMZ reported that Galeota had been hospitalized for abdominal pains and left before medical professionals gave him the all-clear. Galeota, who reportedly had a history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diverticulitis, was found dead in his Glendale, California, home.

The actor's brother, Jimmy, told People that their family was uncertain about the competency of care that Galeota received. "My family and I are concerned that he was not getting diagnosed properly," Jimmy told the outlet. "We're seeing reports from various doctors with different diagnoses about Mike's health. We're confused as to why one doctor would not pick up the other doctor's diagnosis." Jimmy called the circumstances leading up to the tragedy "puzzling." He added, "This whole situation, what happened to him, is heartbreaking he left so quickly and unexpectedly and it's got a lot of people in shock." It was later confirmed by People that heart disease was eventually determined to be the cause of death.

Lee Thompson Young

Lee Thompson Young, who starred as a teenage secret agent in the Disney Channel series "The Famous Jett Jackson" from 1998 to 2001, died in August 2013 by suicide. He was just 29 years old. Young's body was found in his North Hollywood apartment after he failed to appear for a scheduled call time during the production of the TNT drama "Rizzoli & Isles." According to the New York Daily News, Young was being treated for bipolar disorder and depression. Lee's family launched the Lee Thompson Young Foundation after his passing to raise awareness and help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

"It sort of makes it okay. People know that Lee wasn't the only one. And for them to see everything he accomplished in the 29 years, it's more than some people accomplish their whole lives," Young's sister, Tamu Lewis, told WIS News 10. "He was able to do that with a mental illness and, yes, it ended tragically, but through that, we're inspired."

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

Cameron Boyce

Cameron Boyce, a veteran of several Disney Channel original shows and movies, including "Jessie" and the "Descendants" franchise, died at just 20 years old in July 2019. Boyce was found unresponsive in his home in North Hollywood. Boyce's parents confirmed to People that he had epilepsy, a condition characterized by recurrent seizures. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, the actor died from "sudden unexpected death in epilepsy."

In addition to acting, Boyce was also a philanthropist. He was honored at the 2019 Thirst Gala for helping raise more than $77,000 to bring clean water to Swaziland. In his acceptance speech for the gala's Pioneering Spirit Award, Boyce quoted fellow actor Denzel Washington, summarizing Washington's words, "I've never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse ...We don't get to take what we have right now with us." Boyce said, "We all go, and I hope that all of you really think about what it is that you want to leave. We all have material things ... but what you leave should be bigger than you. And I really believe that."

Bobby Driscoll

Robert "Bobby" Driscoll was a child star of the 1940s, with some of his best-known work starring in Disney's earlier live-action films, including the 1946 controversial "Song of the South," 1949's "So Dear to My Heart," in which he won his first Academy Juvenile Award, and 1950's "Treasure Island." Driscoll also lent his voice to Goofy, Jr., in two animated Disney shorts and was the voice of Peter Pan in the classic 1953 Disney film. Driscoll's career soared during this time, and he won his second Academy Juvenile Award for his performance in 1949's "The Window."

However, Driscoll's career would never match up to that of his child roles. By 17, the actor was using drugs and had run-ins with the law. "I was 17 when I first experimented with the stuff. In no time I was using whatever was available ... mostly heroin, because I had the money to pay for it," he said during a court appearance (via Entertainment Weekly). He would star in an episode here and there for shows like "The Silent Service" and "M Squad," and his last role was starring in the 1965 film "Dirt."

As reported by Entertainment Weekly, in March 1968, Driscoll was found dead in an abandoned building in New York City from heart failure from his drug use. He was 31 years old. However, his body wasn't identified until over a year later when his mother asked for the public's help in locating her son.

Jansen Panettiere

Jansen Panettiere, the younger brother of actor Hayden Panettiere, died in his home in New York in February 2023 from an enlarged heart. He was 28 years old. Though he did not have an extensive acting career as his sister, he was known for his roles on Disney and Nickelodeon.

Jansen is best known for starring in an episode of Disney's "Even Stevens" in 2002 and joined his big sis in the network's film "Tiger Cruise" in 2004. He lent his voice to the character of Shovelmouth Boy in 2006's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and voiced Truman X in the Nickelodeon animated series "The X's." He landed his first major role in the Nickelodeon movie "The Last Day of Summer" and continued to act in TV shows and films, including starring in a 2019 episode of "The Walking Dead" before his untimely death. His last role was in 2022's "Love and Love Not."

After his cause of death was confirmed, his parents and sister shared a touching statement to People about Jansen that read, "Jansen's heart could be seen in his eyes, and his charm in his brilliant, engaging smile; his soul in his masterful and revealing paintings, and the joy of life in his dry wit. His charisma, warmth, compassion for others, and creative spirit will live forever in our hearts and in the hearts of all whom he encountered."

Tiffini Hale

Tiffini Hale was part of "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club" on the Disney Channel from 1989 to 1991, returning in 1994. It would be the same club that would help launch the careers of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling when they were a part of the famous Disney program between 1991 and 1994.

In addition to performing as a teen with the "Mickey Mouse Club," Hale and four others were also members of The Party, the first music group signed by Disney's Hollywood Records label. The group had several charting hits, including "In My Dreams," which peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, "Summer Vacation," and "That's Why." They disbanded in 1993 but reunited in 2013, with Hale not rejoining the group.

Hale died in December 2021 at the age of 46. A post on The Party's Facebook page stated that the performer "suffered from a cardiac arrest that resulted in her being left in a coma."

Michael Mantenuto

Besides Disney's popular animated films, the network is known for creating epic movies based on true inspirational stories. There's "Remember the Titans," "McFarland, USA," "The Rookie," and "Queen of Katwe" to name a few. One of Disney's most memorable of these films was also 2006's "Miracle," an underdog story based on Herb Brooks, a hockey player turned coach, who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the unbeatable Russian squad.

To help make the movie come to life, Disney hired actors who knew their way around the ice. Michael Mantenuto was one of these stars after attending the University of Maine, where he played hockey. Mantenuto was cast to play former NHL hockey player Jack O'Callahan. During an interview with The Hockey News, his castmate, Patrick O'Brien Dempsey, recalled a vivid memory of Mantenuto getting into a fight during auditions for the film. "He was upset with himself at first and said, 'Aw man, I screwed my chances. They don't want to see this.' But that's exactly what they wanted. Michael was perfect as O'Callahan. Handsome as can be, an incredible hockey player, and he had an attitude,'" he shared."

According to TMZ, in April 2017, Mantenuto, who joined the U.S. Army in 2010, died by suicide after being found in his car by police in Washington State. He was 35 years old.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

Coco Lee

Chinese actor and singer Coco Lee was a pop sensation in Asia and was known for being the first Chinese singer to make it big in the American markets. Lee died by suicide in July 2023. She was 48 years old.

In an Instagram post, Lee's sisters broke the news of Lee's death and stated that she "had been suffering from depression for a few years, but her condition deteriorated drastically over the last few months." They added, "Although Coco sought professional help and did her best to fight depression, sadly, the demon inside of her took the better of her."

In the U.S., Lee was best known for singing "A Love Before Time" in the 2000 film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Lee performed the song at the 73rd Academy Awards, becoming the first and only Chinese artist to perform at the Oscars. A year before her Oscars performance, Lee released her first English-language album, "Just No Other Way," with her song "Do You Want My Love" reaching Billboard's Hot Dance Breakout charts in 1999. In addition, Lee was also known for being the voice of Mulan in the Mandarian version of the classic Disney film.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org