ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

In this day and age, it's pretty much common knowledge that all the glamour and glitz of Hollywood can conceal a dark underbelly that the general public doesn't see until tragedy strikes.

Too often, these tragedies occur in the form of a young celebrity death, with a beloved individual shockingly passing away way too soon. The narrative is so familiar now, it's almost expected, and that might be the most upsetting part of all.

In the spirit of remembrance, here is a collection of celebrities whose unexpected deaths continue to rattle us to our core.

1. Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy was America's sweetheart for years, and her death is still wrapped in so much mystery and speculation. She was found collapsed in her bathroom and went into cardiac arrest in the hospital. Her primary cause of death was ruled to be pneumonia, but she also had elevated levels of legal drugs in her system. After her husband died less than a year later under suspiciously similar circumstances, rumors whirled about different possible causes including toxic mold or even poisoning by her mother.

However it happened, I can't shake the feeling that Brittany was under-appreciated while she was still with us. She was only 32-years-old when she died, but she had already done so much. Many people didn't even know that she could sing, but all you have to do is watch her rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love" to realize that we lost a true talent.

2. Jonathan Brandis

Jonathan Brandis was on the cover of seemingly every teen magazine for the early '90s, but once the acting roles began drying up, he became a symbol of the dark future for many child stars. Following his main role on the TV show seaQuest DSV—which netted him 4,000 fan letters and tons of early popularity—he couldn't break out of "kiddie roles." When he got increasingly discouraged with the lack of opportunity and the total loss of any fanbase, he committed suicide by hanging himself at the age of 27-years-old.

Though he may not have been the biggest name, Jonathan represents the reality that many child stars face. It's a tragic life to be revered one minute and chewed up and spit out the next. His death highlighted how expendable Hollywood treats its actors—even if they're children.

3. Paul Walker

Paul Walker continues to drive through all of our hearts on screen in [Furious 7](movie:264263), but we've been without him in reality for over a year now. While filming that movie, Paul and a friend left his charity event to benefit victims of a typhoon in the Philippines. With his friend driving, the car crashed into a lamppost and two trees before bursting into flames. By the time authorities got there, both Paul and his friend were dead at the scene, their bodies burned beyond recognition. He was just 40-years-old and still had so much ahead of him. Paul left his fortune to his teenaged daughter Meadow. Fans can remember this amazing guy through the roles he cared so much about.

4. Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield with daughter Mariska Hargitay
Jayne Mansfield with daughter Mariska Hargitay

Jayne Mansfield was a major blonde bombshell in the 1950s and the mother of [Law & Order: SVU](series:755869) actress Mariska Hargitay. In 1967, Mansfield's driver was taking her and her three children (including Mariska) to an early television interview in New Orleans. Early in the morning, the car careened into the back of a tractor-trailer that was slowing to a stop. The vehicle then flew under the tractor-trailer, instantly killing Mansfield in the front seat. A three-year-old Mariska and her two siblings were all in the back and survived.

Mariska doesn't remember the incident, but the traumatic episode has deeply affected her: "Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul, but I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here." Appropriately, Mansfield's gravestone reads "We Live to Love You More Each Day." Jayne Mansfield was 34-years-old.

5. River Phoenix

By the early '90s, River Phoenix, brother of Joaquin, was on the fast track to becoming Hollywood's A-list leading man after a string of successes as a teen sensation. With success came access to the film industry's dark side, however, and Phoenix began abusing alcohol and dabbling in cocaine and heroin before he was even 21-years-old. On the early morning of Halloween in 1993, he started having seizures outside a nightclub until he went into full cardiac arrest. By the time they got there, paramedics were unable to revive him. The cause of death was an acute drug intoxication that included cocaine and morphine, a sudden and shocking outcome that no one really saw coming. River was 23-years-old at the time of death.

6. Judith Barsi

You may not recognize Judith Barsi's adorable face, but you would almost certainly be able to recognize her voice. She played Ducky in The Land Before Time (the original) and the main character Anne-Marie in All Dogs Go to Heaven.

Barsi's home life was far from glamorous. With her success came great pressure from her father József who became physically abusive and threatened to kill himself, his wife, and little Judith. The violence escalated until Judith showed some disturbing behavior in public, like plucking out all of her eyelashes and yanking out her cat's whiskers. Despite efforts from Child Protective Services and family friends, Judith's mother faltered when it came to getting her child to safety. It all ended when József shot Judith in the head and then shot his wife. He lit their bodies on fire before committing suicide. Judith was only 10-years-old.

7. Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger won an Academy Award for his demented and chilling turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, but he would never be able to receive that award.

Heath had endured major troubles with insomnia leading up to his tragic death, and former co-star Christopher Plummer thought he had walking pneumonia. He was found by his housekeeper and masseuse, and by the time paramedics arrived, there was no longer hope. He had taken a variety of prescription medication for insomnia, anxiety, pain, and/or common cold symptoms, and his overdoes was ruled unequivocally accidental. Heath's daughter, Matilda, was only 2-years-old when he passed away at age 28.


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