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Tommy Kirk (1941–2021), “Old Yeller” star

by Kirk Fox

Tommy Kirk was an actor best known for starring in Disney films such as “The Shaggy Dog” and in beach party movies.

  • Died: Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Who else died on September 28?)
  • Details of death: Died at the age of 79 in Las Vegas, according to a Facebook post from friend and fellow actor Paul Petersen.
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Disney Legend

Tommy Kirk was a teenager when he started acting, appearing in “Gunsmoke” and “Big Town.” His big break came when he won the role of Joe Hardy opposite Tim Considine on Walt Disney’s televison serial “The Hardy Boys.” That would lead to Kirk becoming a Disney favorite and he was cast as the lead in the movie “Old Yeller,” a timeless film about the bond between a boy and his dog, and in “Swiss Family Robinson.” He then appeared in a string of popular Disney movies, many opposite Annette Funicello (1942–2013), including “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Absent-Minded Professor,” and “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.”

Kirk said in interviews that he was fired by Disney when they found out he was gay while he was filming “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.” He then signed with AIP and starred with Annette Funicello in the beach party movies “Pajama Party”and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” After the mid-1960’s, his career wound down and he struggled for a time with drug addiction. He recovered and later operated a carpet cleaning company.


He was named a Disney legend in 2006.

Notable Quote

“When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that [he was gay and] wasn’t going to change.” “I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career.”

He added, “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.” – 1993 interview in Filmfax Magazine

Tributes to Tommy Kirk

Full Obituary: The Hollywood Reporter

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