Tommy Kirk, a legendary child actor for Disney who starred as Travis in 1957’s Old Yeller, has died at 79. The news was announced on Facebook by Kirk’s friend and fellow child star, Paul Petersen II, who listed Kirk’s other notable films, many of them cultural touchstones like The Shaggy Dog, The Swiss Family Robinson, and Flubber. Kirk, who had figured out that he was gay and “wasn’t going to change” by the time he was 18, was fired by Disney after they discovered he had a boyfriend in the early sixties.
After the company chose not to renew his contract, Kirk’s star faded. An arrest for possession of marijuana and (prescribed) barbiturates in 1964 further harmed his career. He left show biz and came out publicly in 1973. In an interview with The Shelby Star in 2013, Kirk said that he had, “No bitterness. No regrets.” A Wednesday tweet from Disney said that the company was “saddened” by his death. Petersen said Kirk had been “estranged from what remains of his blood-family,” and his friends would take care of his affairs. “Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans,” Petersen added. “You lifted him up when an Industry let him down in 1965.”