Tommy Kirk of ‘Old Yeller’, ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and ‘Shaggy Dog’ dies at 79

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Unspecified – 1952: (L-R) Judy Harriet, Tommy Kirk, Mickey Mouse Cub reporters covering the 1952 National Conventions promotional photo. (Photo by Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Kirk, a child star who played in Disney films such as “Old Yeller” and “The Shaggy Dog,” has died. He was 79.

Kirk’s longtime friend and former child star, Paul Petersen, said he was found dead in his Las Vegas home on Tuesday. The cause of death has not been released.

Petersen said Kirk lived a private life as a gay man and was estranged from what “remains of his blood family.”

“He was very much a part of our kid star community,” Peterson said. “He made some wonderful films back in the day. We saw and enjoyed them. He was respected in his church. He lived a quiet, but full life.”

Kirk started his career with several television shows including the Mickey Mouse Club’s serialized adventure “The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure” and “The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Ghost Farm,” which aired in 1956-1957. His big break came when he starred as Travis Coates in the 1957 film “Old Yeller,” a story about a teenage boy and his heroic yellow dog.

In “The Shaggy Dog,” Kirk portrayed a teenage boy who was cursed with occasionally turning into a sheepdog. He played the middle son alongside James MacArthur and Kevin Corcoran — who played his brothers — in the 1960 film “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Kirk played in a slew of other films in the 1960s including “The Absent-Minded Professor” and its sequel “Son of Flubber.” He also starred in “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.”

In 1973, Kirk publicly came out as gay during an interview. The actor opened up 20 years later that he realized he was gay at age 17 or 18 and that his career was destroyed by his sexual orientation.

Kirk made some appearances in the 1990s and 2000s in films such as “Billy Frankenstein” and “The Education of a Vampire,” his final film.

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