Peter Pan is one of the most beloved Disney animation movies of its era, but there is a dark and depressing story behind 'the boy who never grew up' that has forever tinged the movie with sadness for me.
Bobby Driscoll, who was both the voice actor and the visual reference for Peter Pan, didn't enjoy a carefree life of frolics like his on-screen counterpart.
Bobby Driscoll: The voice and model for Peter Pan
After becoming a Disney darling in movies such as Songs of the South, Driscoll went on to win a special juvenile Oscar for roles in both Dear to my Heart and The Window in 1949. He landed his most famous role to date as Peter Pan shortly after this colossal achievement.
This was to be Driscoll's final Disney role.
Disney studios decided Driscoll's look was more appropriate for a young bully than a noble protagonist, and they struggled to find roles for him. When Bobby suffered from a severe outburst of acne during puberty, his contract with the company was severed.
Driscoll's Damaging Teenage Years
Driscoll was moved to a new school after his contract was dissolved and this was also a huge blow for the teenage star. Unlike his old establishment, the public Westwood University High School wasn't used to supporting children who had been in the film industry. He explained that:
The other kids didn't accept me. They treated me as one apart. I tried desperately to be one of the gang. When they rejected me, I fought back, became belligerent and cocky — and was afraid all the time
As a consequence, Bobby began to turn to drugs. He was addicted to heroin by the age of seventeen. He later told interviewers that:
I was 17 when I first experimented with the stuff. In no time I was using whatever was available, ... mostly heroin, because I had the money to pay for it
Driscoll was eventually sentenced to a term at the Narcotic Rehabilitation Center of the California Institution for Men in Chino, California for illicit drug use in 1961. When he was released a year later, Driscoll was unable to find acting work, and became a deeply embittered man. When the press asked him about his past glory, he spoke out to say:
I have found that memories are not very useful. I was carried on a silver platter ... and then dumped into the garbage
Despite his spell of involvement in the avant garde art scene at Andy Warhol's Factory where he produced some outstanding collages, Driscoll was penniless by the late '60s.
Driscoll's Tragic Death
In late 1968, some children playing in an abandoned tenement found the body of a vagrant surrounded by beer bottles and religious pamphlets. The 31-year-old man had perished from a heart attack brought on by years of drug use hardening his artery walls. There was no identification on the corpse and the man was subsequently buried in an unmarked paupers grave.
Over a year later, the man’s mother contacted the FBI and Disney Studios in a last bid attempt to find her son. A fingerprint match was eventually obtained which confirmed the terrible tragedy; the body was that of Bobby Driscoll.
Despite having a grave marker next to his father in the Eternal Hills Memorial Park in California, Driscoll's body lies in the unmarked grave on Hart Island, New York to this day.
I can't get over the tragedy that the real life Peter Pan really did spend his entire youth as a Lost Boy. RIP, Bobby.
Had you heard about the tragic fate of Bobby Driscoll before?
From our computer to yours! A brand NEW Facebook page, just for Moviepilot's Creators.