Tommy Kirk, the former Disney star of such films as Old Yeller and Swiss Family Robinson, has died. He was 79. Kirk was huge for Disney, as big or bigger than Kirk Douglas, until a 1964 drug arrest and rumors of his homosexuality changed his image. According to Variety, Disney chose not to renew his contract after discovering that Kirk had gotten a boyfriend while filming The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. After parting ways with Disney, Kirk found a new home at AIP and the Annette Funicello beach-blanket films of the mid-’60s. Funicello was also a member of the Disney diaspora. But then Kirk was arrested for possession of marijuana and (prescribed) barbiturates. He was recast in AIP’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.
Kirk came out as gay in 1973. “I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize,” Kirk said in Filmways magazine in 1993. “It wasn’t until the early ’60s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. The lifestyle was not recognized and I was very, very lonely.” Kirk said he didn’t blame the studios for not wanting to work with him after his struggles with drugs.
“I want to be remembered for my Disney work,” Kirk said when he became a Disney Legend in 2006. Many of Kirk’s Disney films can be found on Disney+, such as The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Old Yeller, and Swiss Family Robinson.