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Tommy Kirk, Star of Disney’s ‘Old Yeller’ and ‘The Shaggy Dog,’ Dies at 79

The ”intensely private“ former actor was found dead in Las Vegas

Tommy Kirk, the actor best known for his childhood roles in Disney classics like “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Son of Flubber,” has died.

According to a Facebook post written by “The Donna Reed Show” actor Paul Petersen II, the “intensely private” 79-year-old lived alone in Las Vegas at the time of his death on Tuesday night.

“Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans,” Petersen wrote. “You lifted him up when an Industry let him down in 1965.”

Kirk, who Petersen says was “estranged from what remains of his blood-family,” told Kevin Minton in a 1993 issue of “Filmfax” magazine that being openly gay ruined his career at Disney. “When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that [I was gay and] wasn’t going to change,” he said. “Disney was a family film studio and I was supposed to be their young leading man. After they found out I was involved with someone, that was the end of Disney.”

Born Dec. 10, 1941 in Louisville, Kentucky, Kirk got his start with guest appearances on series such as “Gunsmoke” and “The Loretta Young Show” before making his name as a young Disney star. In the late ’50s and early ’60s he starred as Joe Hardy in two television serials based on “The Hardy Boys” mystery books, alongside Tim Considine.

In 1957, Kirk reprised that role on “The Mickey Mouse Club” before going on to headline big-ticket Disney films such as “Old Yeller,” “Shaggy Dog,” “The Absent-Minded Professor,” and “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.”

After his Disney days were over, Kirk signed with American International Pictures (AIP) and transitioned into leading man roles in beach party films, a popular genre in the 1960s. 1964’s “Pajama Party” saw him reunite with frequent co-star Annette Funicello from “Shaggy Dog” and “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones,” with whom he also made travelogues and musicals. Fred MacMurray, another collaborator from the early Disney era, appeared with him in a series of comedies and family comedies in the 1960s as well.

tommy kirk
Tommy Kirk in a publicity still for 1957’s “Old Yeller” (Disney)

For the next decade, Kirk would make appearances in a spate of science fiction, horror and beach party films, such as “The Ghost in the Bikini,” “It’s a Bikini World,” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror.” He would spend the rest of his career occasionally featuring in lower-budget films and TV movies. His last featured credit was Albert Kornfield in 2001’s “The Education of a Vampire.”

The coroner’s office of Nevada’s Clark County told TheWrap that the case is pending and therefore could not confirm Kirk’s passing.