Being 'Peter Pan' Ruined Its Young Star's Life

Do you remember being 16? Do you remember Peter Pan being a particularly cool thing for a 16-year-old to be?
Being 'Peter Pan' Ruined Its Young Star's Life

It's well known that the family who inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan's adventures didn't exactly fare well in the wake of their immortalization. In fact, the number of them who suffered young deaths and other misfortunes could be chalked up to a curse. Not to give credence to that theory, but the death of Bobby Driscoll, the voice actor and character model for Disney's animated 1953 production (you know, the racist one), seems even more directly connected to the boy who refused to grow up.

Driscoll was no scrappy urchin plucked off the street and into a Disney film. He was actually a 10-year Hollywood veteran by the time he scored the role, even winning an Oscar in 1949 for his roles in So Dear to My Heart and The Window. This was back when they had a special Oscar for kids who were just generally impressive -- Judy Garland won it 10 years before.

In fact, he was 16 years old in 1953. Do you remember being 16? Do you remember Peter Pan being a particularly cool thing for a 16-year-old to be?

It sure wasn't for Bobby, who was promptly dropped by Disney shortly after Peter Pan on account of a raging case of acne that was weirdly and lovingly described in an interview with him at the time. From then on, his career consisted mostly of one-off TV guest appearances, so with no further reason to remain at the Hollywood Professional School, his parents tore this braces-wearing, acne-ridden, Peter-Pan-playing kid away from his friends and dropped him into the local high school. Obviously, he was relentlessly bullied, and according to his mother, he had always had a soft spot for the misunderstood. Which, in this case, meant he fell in with drug dealers.

Between the ages of 17 and 31, he was in and out of various jailhouses and rehabs. Things started briefly looking up in the mid-'60s when he hooked up with Andy Warhol's Factory and became a somewhat renowned artist, but he disappeared about a year later, and Warhol wasn't known for running after people. In 1968, he died of a drug-induced heart attack, and he was buried in a pauper's grave because he had no identification on him at the time. His body went unidentified for more than a year because it took that long for anyone to come looking for him, and it took four more years for the media to discover and report his death. Again: This was an Oscar winner. In fact, his body was initially found by a group of children in a way that mirrored his Oscar-winning performance as a boy who stumbles upon a murder. If that doesn't sound like a curse, well, it doesn't, but it sure is eerie.

Top image: The Walt Disney Company

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