Heather Michele O'Rourke was born on December 27th, 1975 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in La Mesa, California. She weighed 7lbs 6oz.
Spielberg spotted exactly what he was looking for when he saw four-year-old Heather O'Rourke at a nearby table. The director walked over and asked, who's the proud mother or agent of this child?"
He claimed that two hands went up immediately--the mother's and the agent's.
He signed O'Rourke the next day.
"She's very professional," said her mother, Kathleen, though professional is not the word to describe the nightmare Heather endured in Poltergeist.
"The wind machine drove her ears crazy, she panicked when the room shook and she even wet the bed one time--Steven cleaned it up. But she wouldn't tell anyone she had to go to the bathroom. She'd just stand there doing a take, doing it until someone said, 'it's a cut.' " (May 1986; People magazine)
Heather never took any acting lessons.
"She was a born actor," says JoBeth Williams, who played Carol Anne's mother in the Tobe Hooper-directed film. "I had a scene where I'm screaming and crying, and Heather started to cry--really sob. After the scene was over, I told Heather that it was only pretend, and she turned to me and said, 'I know that.'" (Cinefantasque; 1988)
"When I have to learn lines, I just memorize them," says Heather. "It's like learning something in school." (Doll Stars interview; 1986)
Heather says acting isn't difficult. When she has to cry in front of the camera, she thinks of something happening to her dog, Bea. If she has to be angry, she thinks about getting into a fight with her sister. (Doll Stars magazine, 1986)
After her appearance in the 1982 horror classic Poltergeist, Heather soon became a familiar face on TV. She became a regular on Happy Days as Heather Pfister, the daughter of Fonzie's girlfriend (1982-83 season), and also appeared on Our House (Dana, a blind girl), Webster (1983-Melanie), and had several other acting credits.
In 1986, Heather returned to the big screen in Poltergiest II: The Other Side. This time, Carol Anne is stalked by Reverend Kane, a religeous zealot responsible for the deaths of his many followers. His goal is simple - he wants the angelic Carol Anne; but the love of her family and the power of psychic Tangina once again unite, along with an elderly native American, to fight for her life.
Heather did not think Poltergeist II was as good as the first film.
"I thought is was too boring," says Heather. "I don't think it would scare anyone." (People magazine, June 1988)
In an article from "Cinefantasque", she made an artistic comparison between the films(Poltergeist and Poltergeist II). In her words -"The second movie was very disorganized, we would only get one scene done a day. There's more physical stunts in this one."
Heather's last major movie role was Poltergeist 3, where she once again, played Carol Anne Freeling. In this film, Carol Anne is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle in an effort to hide her from the clutches of the ghostly Reverend Kane, but he tracks her down and terrorises her in her relatives' appartment in a tall glass building.
As an actor, Heather was very proud of the fact that she never used a stunt double on Poltergeist III, only a mime double because, she explained, "I couldn't be in two places at once."
Heather had much dialogue as some of the adult actors, too. She had to do alot of acting in this film, not just reacting like she did in the first two. In fact, her role was the main thrust of the film. Heather was convinced that she would get an Academy Award for this picture.
With some of the money from her films and a brief stint on Happy Days (as the daughter of Fonzie's girlfriend, played by Linda Purl), Heather was able to buy a three-bedroom house in Big Bear, 120 miles east of L.A., where she lived with her mother, her sister, Tammy, and her stepfather.
The home was an improvement over the Anaheim trailor camp where Kathy and her daughters were living earlier. That was after Heather's mother and father split up.
"We had really rough times," says Kathy, who worked as a seamstress.(May 1986; People magazine.)
Despite Heather's fame, she was really a regular kid. She enjoyed school and was president of her 5th grade class at Big Bear Elementary. She loved all the wildlife and beautiful scenery, which she saw while riding her motorized dirt bike. When she was indoors, Heather liked to read and sew. She designed fashions for herself--and for her dolls, too! (BARBIE magazine; December 1986)
"I love the fashions of the '80s," Heather says breezily. "I like to take a lot of money--oh, $15--and just shop." (May 1986; People Magazine)
Although Heather enjoyed acting, she wished someday to direct. She liked to make home movies of her family with her video camera.
Just before filming Poltergiest III, Heather went back to Kaiser for a follow up visit. They did more tests, which showed that the parasite was gone, but there was still some kind of inflammnation. Her doctor diagnosed the inflammnation as Crohn's disease (a chronic inflammnation of the intestine), and she was given cortisone and sulfa to treat it. After taking the medication for two months, Heather was told she was well enough to go to Chicago to film Poltergeist III. But even there, she was under constant medical care.
During the time they were in Chicago for Poltergeist III, Heather's health improved and she had no symptoms. With permission from her doctor, Heather was gradually eased off the cortisone.
To celebrate the end of shooting, Heather and her family went on vacation to Florida for the summer. Heather's health seemed excellent. There seemed to be no cause for alarm until Sunday, Jan 31, 1988.
At Children's Hospital, Heather underwent emergency surgery for bowel obstruction. The doctors desperatly tried to save her life, but they were too late. Heather was already in septic shock. Although the obstruction was corrected, she could not be saved. Heather died at 2:43 p.m.
The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.