Disney star Tommy Kirk dies at 79; starred in Old Yeller, Shaggy Dog, Absent Minded Professor

Thu. September 30, 2021 6:17 PM by Gerald Farinas

tommy kirk in the absent minded professor

photo credit // screenshot from the absent minded professor

When Disney discovered a relationship with another young man, Kirk was fired

An original Disney star, Tommy Kirk died on September 29 in his Las Vegas home. He is famous for his roles in classic Walt Disney films Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, and Babes in Toyland. Kirk's coming out led to his firing by the Disney company.

The child star's role as Travis Coates pulling the trigger to euthanize his beloved dog Old Yeller is considered one of the most memorable heart-wrenching scenes in classic Disney motion picture history.

Old friend and Mickey Mouse Club star Paul Petersen announced Kirk's death for an organization called A Minor Consideration. The group advocates for child stars.

"Tommy was gay and estranged from what remains of his blood-family," Petersen wrote on Facebook.

Kirk offered several interviews about his difficult life from child star into adulthood. He spoke of anguish trying to thrive closeted in a time where homosexuality doomed careers and lives.

His fears were confirmed when Disney executives discovered his relationship with another young man and sacked him.

Kirk moved on to another studio but couldn't regain the popularity he had at Disney. He struggled with drug addiction and financial ruin.

He found a second life through an upholstry business.

Apart from Petersen, Kirk remained friends with Old Yeller co-star and Las Vegas neighbor Beverly Washburn. It was Washburn who was the first to discover Kirk's death.