Biography Of Heather Michele O'Rourke

December 27, 1975 - February 1, 1988

Written by Celia Foster

After she miscarried her baby boy, Kathleen O'Rourke was completely distraught. The doctors couldn't define the exact cause. It seemed God would never let her have another child. Still, she felt blessed to have Tammy, now four years old. The morning came and to her complete astonishment, she was very dizzy and felt sick. She decided to call the doctors. They dismissed it as nothing more than a dizzy spell or possible flu. But, why was she so hungry all the time? After more insistence, the doctors were surprised to learn she was still pregnant with a little girl. She had been carrying fraternal twins.

Several months later, Kathy gave birth to a small girl on December 27th, 1975. Her name was to be Heather Michele O'Rourke, Michele after her daddy, Michael. She was a miracle child. Though quite tiny and fussy, she appeared to be healthy and full of life. Heather seemed to always cry or whine as a baby. Kathy just figured all babies must go through that phase.

Kathy was all-aglow with a mother's pride as she took her girls to the MGM studio. Today, Tammy would wrap up shooting the dance number in Pennies From Heaven with comedian Steve Martin. Heather was off to a much slower start with only a few Barbie Ads and spots and a local talent competition victory. Tammy was already going to do another movie, Annie. Heather was just too shy and too young-a fresh five years of age.

Kathy was getting tired and needed to sit down. Heather was getting feisty and began to complain of her hunger. They went into the nearby Commissary. Heather was munching on her favorite sandwich, a BLT on white. She marveled at the cakes and huge sugar cookies around. But she would wait. Mommy was too tired. She would have to wait.

Steven Spielberg was having a bad day. Well, a bad month. He sat chewing his finger, wondering if Drew Barrymore was the one to go with. Sure, she was cute. She was young and six-a perfect age, wonderful smile and laugh. But not angelic. No light was with her. He grunted softly. Nothing seemed to go right with this new project. Something-a laugh, a giggle, a light, maybe an angel-something-made him turn his head. He froze with awe. Here was a little white-headed blond girl, maybe a fallen angel, who he had never seen before-she looked so young. Where did she come from? Why was she by herself?

Steven rose up from his seat, totally intrigued. He walked over to her.

"Hi," he said gently. "Would you like to talk to me for a little bit?" Heather barely looked up at him.
"I don't talk to strangers."
"Where is your mommy?"
"Not here."
"Can I wait with you?"
"I don't know."

He sat down. Heather dropped under the table. Steven followed her.

"Whatcha doin'?"
"Playin'."
"Can I play too?"
"I guess so."

They played on the floor for thirty minutes together. Heather liked this man. He was really a big boy. The brother she had once lost must be here tickling her, talking baby talk to her. She liked him.

Despite her age, Heather was given an audition. When she laughed, Steven frowned. Had she made him angry? These animals were cute and funny looking. She had never even heard of a purple fish before.

"You're too young," Steven told her.
"Fine," she returned.

On their way out, Heather had pouted, looking sad. What was she doing to him now?

"There's something about her," he told one of his assistants. "Bring her back."

"Stop, no more, enough," Heather screamed in a crying fit. Her face was turning a bit purple. She was amazingly controlled in her own fit.

"That was good, Heather," he said. "You just got the job."

What a funny man, she thought. Were brothers like this too?

Working on a movie was tiring. The funny man just kept asking her to scream too much, or to cry. But this was by far the worst-that big loud wind machine. At first, she just screamed because after a while, they'd say it was a print and they could turn it off. But now-now she had to dangle on her harness too long and it hurt and made her tummy feel funny. And then, she heard her toys crash on the doorjamb and walls. What were they going to do to her? She felt real tears come streaming down her hot face.

"Stop it! Cut!" Steven shouted. The camera squeaked off. He undid her harness. "Heather," he cooed. "What is it, angel?"

Heather was terrified and would not go back in that harness.

"Okay, no more. We won't do this again." And he kept his word. She decided for sure that she liked him this time.

After Poltergeist, Kathy was a little tired and overwhelmed, but now things had apparently gone back to normal. Work for Tammy had slowed down. Then, the phone rang. It was an agent from Happy Days. They wanted to interview Heather. Shy, quiet, little Heather now almost 7.

Can she handle live audiences, they had asked. "I really don't know," Kathy shrugged.

"Can you handle a live audience, Heather?" she asked her. "Yeah, sure, no problem," she said breezily.

She went through it as if it were totally natural to make a group audience laugh at one-liners. Kathleen was a nervous wreck, but very proud of her youngest. She had established herself, what Kathy thought would never happen.

More guest appearances came pouring in from Fantasy Island (1982-Unborn Child), Webster (1983-Melanie), Matt Houston (1983-Sunny Kimball), and a made for TV Special called Believe You Can, and You Can (1983- as herself). That had been tons of fun because she had gotten to go to Disneyland.

But later in 1984, Kathy's divorce was final from Michael Roy O'Rourke, and she remarried this time to Jim Peele, a retired drummer-now a three-wheel all terrain vehicle salesman. With money earned from Heather's roles, they moved from a trailer park in Anaheim, CA to a three bedroom apartment complex in the Lakeside and Big Bear area, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles.

"Those were some hard times," Kathy remembers.

But, always a trouper, Heather put on her poker face and worked through stress by acting in her TV and movie roles. She rarely saw her real dad, and loved Jim as a father and would even call him dad. At home, she doted on her Saint Bernard, Bea, and later, Bea's puppy, Bea's Rhapsody. She loved all animals dearly and in her spare time, read Nancy Drew mysteries and sewed her own clothes and dresses for her dolls. At school, she was president of her 5th grade class, loved English and Social Studies, but always was nervous about upcoming math tests.

"It's not my best subject," she admitted.

In 1985, they had started production work for Poltergeist II. Heather was totally bored with the scenes and story, but as always, she gave 110%, and managed to have fun, too. Poor Brian Gibson didn't seem to know what he was doing. A lot of other scenes they had all shot somehow were cut. And the Julian fellow seemed to be getting so tired and sicker-he did look dead. And all those reshoots didn't help him at all. They helped no one.

There was one really good thing about shooting Poltergeist II-meeting Sly Stalone. Heather was crazy about him early on. She loved him as Rocky Balboa! They met on the set of P II. He kissed her hand. She was tongue-tied, in awe, dazed. And he had invited her to lunch the next day! It was like a Cinderella dream! She didn't stop talking about her lunch date with Sly for weeks. Her stepdad, Jim, was utterly bored with her versions of it. As her story about the lunch faded, her star continued to rise with a few more guest spots: Our House (Dana-1986) and The New Leave it to Beaver (Heather Montgomery-1986-1987).

And her movie adventures weren't yet over, either. She was to fly with her folks to Chicago, a place she'd never been to before. That year in January 1987, Heather's feet swelled, and she had failed the cast physical. She was worried she wouldn't be cast as her signature roll, but Gary Sherman dismissed it. They suggested doctors' visits. They relied on the hospital of her birth to handle her needs. She was having unexpected diarrhea and could barely eat. Kathy took her to a regular doctor who said she had the flu. It seemed right, considering her symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, slight fevers, appetite was waning. But they had to take her to a specialist to make sure nothing else could go wrong.

The specialist, however, said she had a parasite in her colon after the barium x-ray and gave her drugs to kill it. For a little while, it seemed to work. But, periodically, the same symptoms kept returning and seemed to worsen each time. Doctors eventually, after several tests, said she had Chrone's Disease, a chronic inflammation of the lower intestine. More drugs to take were all she needed to puff up her cheeks, making her all but embarrassed about her appearance. She never let it show on the set, though, and was happy that she had to be in full makeup for a few scenes in the movie.

She loved working everyday. The cast was her surrogate family, Gary Sherman, a surrogate father to them all. He had gotten close to her family too. He was a joy to work with. Heather loved him. She also thought Kip Wentz was cute. She never said it out loud, though. Too forward, too embarrassing. Well, he figured it out. He wrote her a letter on one of the last days of shooting, before the big cast break. Heather was very excited about replying, but her mom and dad had a wonderful road trip planned for two months. They even drove to New Orleans, LA and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Heather bought a lot of earrings and watches to add to her collection.

When everything was settled in late 1987, Heather was very joyful, vibrant, so full of dreams, hope and life. On Christmas 1987, and on her birthday, she received a Panasonic Video Camera and full recording equipment. Heather made several short home movies and practiced directing her family. Since 1986, she wanted to act and direct, just like Sly Stalone and Michael Landon were doing. Now, she seemed completely healthy again, and her cheeks and face returned to normal proportions. Everything was all so perfect.

Suddenly, on the evening of January 31, 1988, Heather could not eat without vomiting her contents back up. They'd visit the doctors tomorrow. At bedtime, Heather had the strangest feeling inside her. This was no inflammation or flu feeling. Something different and very strong….building….inside her body. Though she did not let on, she sensed it was very bad, and, scared, she crawled in bed with Kathy and Jim.

The next morning, she woke up and regurgitated again. She felt very dizzy and hot. Stumbling into the kitchen, she sat down.

"I'm going to school," she announced. "No, you're not," Kathy replied.

She picked up some toast, but could not swallow it. Kathy made her drink some Gatorade. It did not go down.

"I can't even swallow!" she gasped.

Kathy rushed to the phone, dialing any nearby doctor's number.

"I've got a little girl-her fingers are blue!"

The phone dispatcher said to bring her right in.

"Heather, get your clothes on, I'll get mine on!" Kathy called.

Thirty seconds later, Heather wailed "Oh, Mom!" and fainted. When she rushed up to her, Heather was barely conscious, but talking. Jim Peele called the paramedics in.

"I don't need oxygen!" Heather protested. "Yes, you do," they insisted. "Are you feeling bad?" they had asked her. "Just a little bit," she returned They prepared the gurney and right outside their apartment door, Heather, once again, threw up. Kathy wiped her mouth.

"I'm sorry, mom," Heather squeaked. "It's okay. I love you!" "I love you, too!"

Those were the last words her family would ever hear again. She would die on the operating table on February 1, 1988, at the very new, tender age of 12. Kathy and the rest of the family were in shock. Kathy puzzled over the fact that only hours before, Heather had tried to convince her that she was well enough to go to school. Between 8:00 AM-9:58 AM she had suffered full cardiac and pulmonary arrest, and possible brain damage-her pupils were fixed. But by far the most puzzling was the fact that the doctors at San Diego Children's Hospital said her lower intestine was completely blocked due to a defect she had had since her birth. They had fixed it with emergency surgery within a few hours, but she was too far-gone.

Kathleen went to spiritual and finally legal counseling where she met LA lawyer Sanford Gage. Kathleen quickly became his primary client. They filed a Wrongful Death Suit against Kaiser Hospital and its staff and won an undisclosed amount in damages.

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing for everyone on the day of her funeral. It was an open-casket, private service. Just before they closed the lid, Kathy put her half of the Christmas gift Heather got her-a best friend necklace-around Heather's neck. Heather wears the "F-R-I-E-N-D" portion, and Kathy, still to this very day wears her "B-E-S-T" half.

Among the pallbearers at the service were Gary Sherman, Tom Skerrit, Kip Wentz, and Henry Winkler.

Heather remains at the New Mausoleum Wall in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles. Her marker reads:

"Beloved daughter, sister. Carol Anne: Poltergeist I, II, and III"

Her image is burned into each life she touched, however briefly. She will always be longed for here on Earth as she is in Heaven.

Rest in peace, our little angel, our star that still shines, the life-force robbed, the child who was a miracle, and who is forever young. Our Heather Michele O'Rourke.