The Tragic Death Of Child Actor Jane Withers

Former child star turned commercial queen, Jane Withers, died at age 95 in Burbank, California. Withers — who Variety called "one of the most popular child stars of Hollywood's golden age" — passed away on August 7 surrounded by loved ones, per People. Her daughter Kendall Errair confirmed her death to Deadline, expressing her mother's enduring passion for acting: "My mother was such a special lady. She lit up a room with her laughter, but she especially radiated joy and thankfulness when talking about the career she so loved and how lucky she was."

Withers starred opposite a plethora of stars, including James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shirley Temple. And like Temple, she showed natural talent from a very young age, which could be partly credited to her mom's strong support. The Hollywood veteran was born in Atlanta in 1926 and began tap lessons at 2. Withers told People in 1974 that her mother was "determined" to have a child enter showbiz — even turning down "several marriage proposals because the men wouldn't go along with the plan." Withers' mom taught her to sing, despite not being able to "sing on pitch herself," and often took her to the movies so she could "learn." She even named her Jane so "it would fit on a marquee."

After winning a local contest, Withers was cast in a morning children's show "Aunt Sally's Kiddie Revue," and shortly after, was given her own radio show at 3 years old. At 6, she and her mom made the move to Hollywood. 

Jane Withers is fondly remembered for her role in the Comet cleanser ads

Jane Withers eventually fulfilled her mom's dream of seeing her daughter achieve stardom — but perhaps not the way she anticipated. In 1960, Withers was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a popular television ad, per Deadline. Prior to this, Withers scored her big break when cast as the "spoiled" antagonist to Shirley Temple in "Bright Eyes." The role propelled Withers to childhood fame, earning her a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox (she's reportedly the only child star of her time to complete such a contract). Just a year later, her name was in lights for the 1935 film "Ginger" and a slew of credits followed.

At 21, Withers retired from Hollywood to raise a family. She married twice and became a mother of five, per Independent. But in 1956, she slid right back into showbiz for the film "Giant" opposite Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson. But New York Post says Withers reached her "widest audience" away from the big screen, playing Josephine the Plumber on Comet Cleanser commercials during the 1960s. Withers revealed in 2007 that even 40 years on, she was still being recognized for the character. She told The Long Beach Press-Telegram (per NYT), "I can be at a market and I'll be talking to somebody there about a can of peas and all of a sudden they'll say, 'I knew that was you! I recognized your voice right away.'"