Heather O’Rourke (December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988) was an American child actress famous for playing Carol Anne Freeling in the Poltergeist film trilogy and made several television guest appearances. O’Rourke died due to medical error, and her death had long-lasting effects on her family and the media industry.
In the Poltergeist trilogy, O’Rourke played Carol Anne Freeling, a young suburban girl who becomes the conduit and target for supernatural entities. The New York Times noted that she had played the key role in the films and commented, “With her wide eyes, long blonde hair and soft voice, she was so striking that the sequel played off her presence.” During the production of the original Poltergeist, Spielberg twice accommodated the child actress when frightened. When scared by performing a particular stunt, Spielberg replaced O’Rourke with a stunt double wearing a blonde wig; and when disturbed by the portrayal of adult abuse toward the child characters, Spielberg did not require she perform the take again.For her work in Poltergeist, O’Rourke earned between US$35,000–$100,000. O’Rourke played the role in all three films. The Carol Anne character was the only member of the Freeling family to appear in the third film, Poltergeist III.
O’Rourke’s delivery of the lines “They’re here!” in the first film, and “They’re baa-aack!” in the second (that film’s tagline), placed her in the collective pop culture consciousness.
O’Rourke’s death complicated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s marketing for her last work, Poltergeist III, out of fear of appearing to be exploiting her death. Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen, O’Rourke’s co-stars, were discouraged from giving interviews about the film to avoid questions about O’Rourke’s death. O’Rourke died four months before the theatrical release of Poltergeist III, which was dedicated to her memory.
O’Rourke’s death (as well as four others) has been attributed to a supposed curse on the Poltergeist films and those associated with them; this urban legend supposedly stems from a real human skeleton used as a prop in the first film. According to backstage personnel, the ghost of O’Rourke herself haunts Paramount Pictures’ stage #19, where she filmed episodes of Happy Days.