Child star Shirley Temple

Child Actors

by Legacy Staff

Child stars are a very special sort of actor. They make us laugh, cry and believe — sometimes before they’re even old enough to walk. Since the dawn of the movies, we’ve been delighted by child stars like Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Gary Coleman and many more. Join us as we pay tribute to stars who found their fame at an early age with this photo gallery of child actors.

Patty Duke (1946–2016) 

Patty Duke (1946–2016) was the youngest person to have received an Academy Award in a competitive category
Getty Images / Bettman

At 16, Duke became the youngest person to have received an Academy Award in a competitive category, winning for her portrayal of young Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” Duke originated the role on Broadway at the age of 13. By 17, she had her own television series, “The Patty Duke Show.”

Read more about Patty Duke


Sawyer Sweeten (1995–2015) starred on "Everybody Loves Raymond"
Getty Images / Kevin Winter

Sweeten played Geoffrey Barone, one of the twins, on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He died by suicide at 19.

View Sawyer Sweeten’s obituary

Shirley Temple (1928–2014)

AP Photo

Temple began acting at 3 and received an honorary Academy Award in 1934 for her contributions as a child film star.

Read more about Shirley Temple

Mickey Rooney (1920–2014)

Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection

He was pint-sized, precocious, impish, and irrepressible. But “hardy” may be the most-suitable adjective for Rooney, a perennial comeback artist whose early blockbuster success as the vexing but wholesome Andy Hardy and as Judy Garland’s musical comrade in arms was book-ended 70 years later with roles in “Night at the Museum” and “The Muppets.”

View Mickey Rooney’s obituary

Annette Funicello (1942–2013)

AP Photo / Walt Disney Co.

Funicello was just 13 when she gained fame on television’s “Mickey Mouse Club,” an amalgam of stories, songs and dance routines that ran from 1955 to 1959.

Read more about Annette Funicello

Lee Thompson Young (1984–2013)

Getty Images / WireImage / M. Caulfield

Young was known for his role as the title character on TV’s “The Famous Jett Jackson.” He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at 29.

View Lee Thompson Young’s obituary

Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011)

Wikimedia Commons

Taylor appeared in her first film, “There’s One Born Every Minute,” at age 9. She went on to become one of the world’s most-famous film stars.

Read more about Elizabeth Taylor

Jackie Cooper (1922–2011)

AP Photo

One of the child stars of “Our Gang,” Cooper was the first child actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. He successfully transitioned to a career as an adult actor and notably portrayed newspaper editor Perry White in 1978’s “Superman.”

View Jackie Cooper’s obituary

Gary Coleman (1968–2010)

Getty Images / NBC / Herb Ball

As the star of TV sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” Coleman gave us beloved catchphrase “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” He died of a brain hemorrhage at 42.

Read more about Gary Coleman

Corey Haim (1971–2010)

Getty Images / The LIFE Picture Collection / Time Life Pictures

Haim, pictured with child star Alyssa Milano, was a 1980s teen heartthrob known for his roles in “Lucas” and “The Lost Boys,” as well as his frequent pairing with fellow child actor, Corey Feldman.

Read more about Corey Haim

Baby June Havoc (1912–2010)

The New York Times

Havoc, right, was charming vaudeville audiences at the age of 2. It wasn’t an easy life for Havoc and her sister: growing up on the road with a mother who was overbearing and demanding, June pretending to be younger than she was (her mother had five different birth certificates for her). But despite their mother (who would come to define “stage mom”), Havoc succeeded on stage and screen, as did her sister, burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee (1911–1970).

View June Havoc’s obituary in The New York Times

Brad Renfro (1982–2008)

Getty Images / FilmMagic / Derek Storm

Renfro’s career began promisingly with the lead role in “The Client” at age 11 followed by appearances in “Sleepers” and “Ghost World,” among other films. But his star rapidly faded as he struggled with drugs and alcohol, dying of a heroin overdose at 25.

View Brad Renfro’s obituary

Jonathan Brandis (1976–2003)

Wikimedia Commons

A child model and actor, Brandis was known best for his role as teen prodigy Lucas on TV’s “seaQuest DSV.” He died of injuries sustained after hanging himself at 27.

Dana Plato (1964–1999)

Getty Images / NBC / Herb Ball

Plato was best known for her role as Kimberly Drummond on television’s “Diff’rent Strokes.” She died at 34 from a lethal overdose of painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Read more about Dana Plato

Roddy McDowall (1928–1998)

Getty Images / Archive Photos

As a child actor, McDowall starred in the 1943 MGM film “Lassie Come Home.” He later appeared with Charlton Heston in “The Planet of the Apes.”

Read more about Roddy McDowall

River Phoenix (1970–1993)

AP Photo

A movie star, singer, and activist, Phoenix said in interviews that he didn’t choose roles he thought would advance his career, but roles he wanted to play. He died of a drug overdose at 23.

Read more about River Phoenix

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925–1990)

Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Davis was a performer from the age of 3. As he grew up, he wowed audiences with his multifaceted talent: he could sing, dance, act, and do spot-on impressions — all with ease. That’s why they call him “Mr. Show Business.”

Read more about Sammy Davis Jr.

Heather O’Rourke (1975–1988)

Heather O’Rourke (1975–1988) starred in Poltergeist
Getty Images / ABC

Director Steven Spielberg discovered 5-year-old O’Rourke and cast her in the horror film “Poltergeist.” She died during surgery at 12.

Natalie Wood (1938–1981)

Getty Images

Wood got her start at the tender age of 4 with a brief scene in “Happy Land.” Several small roles followed, but it was in 1947 at age 8 that she would make her big breakthrough in “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Read more about Natalie Wood

Anissa Jones (1958–1976)

Anissa Jones (1958–1976) played Buffy on "Family Affair"
Wikimedia Commons

Jones was a child actress known best for her role as Buffy on TV’s “Family Affair.” She also appeared in the Elvis Presley comedy film “The Trouble with Girls.”

Judy Garland (1922–1969)

Getty Images / Bettmann

Frances Ethel Gumm was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and began performing at the age of 2, appearing as one of the singing Gumm sisters at her parents’ vaudeville theater. She made her big screen debut at 7. By 13, she had a contract with MGM and a new name.

Read more about Judy Garland

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