The Tragic 2005 Death Of The Little Rascals' Gordon 'Porky' Lee

The lives of child actors, especially after the cameras have stopped rolling for good, have often ended in tragedy. The stars of the "Our Gang" short films of the 1930s — later rebranded for television as "The Little Rascals" — were no exception. One of them would die in a bloody fight after years of drifting and another in a head-on collision with a truck while still a teen. Gordon Lee, who portrayed "Porky" in the films from 1935 to 1939, managed to make it out of Hollywood and go on to have a normal life, per CBS News. But he, too, would die tragically.

Born Eugene Lee in Fort Worth, Texas in 1933, he was only two years old when producer Hal Roach chose him to portray the younger brother of George "Spanky" McFarland, according to UPI. Lee's adoptive mother sent his photo to the studio and they were soon on a train to Los Angeles. A few days after that, Gordon Lee had a contract to portray "Porky," he recalled in a 1998 Star Tribune interview. His adoptive parents began calling him Gordon after Gordon Douglas, who directed many of the "Our Gang" shorts, and Lee kept the name as an adult, per CBS News.

Life as a Depression-Era Child Star

Gordon Lee was so young that he only had hazy memories of his time as a member of the "Our Gang" cast, although getting ice cream and spending time with his costars, especially Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, remained vivid, he told the Star Tribune. "We were partners," he said of Thomas in that interview. It was Lee's character, rather than Buckwheat, who first uttered the famous line, "Otay," in the series, per CBS News. Spanky McFarland, who was five years older than Lee, recalled that day-to-day life for the young actors involved a few hours of schooling, an hour for lunch, and five hours of shooting film, per The New York Times. Laura June Kenny, who had a minor role, remembered the "early risings, the long ten-hour days at the studios five days a week, and the loss of any semblance of normal family life," per her 2004 autobiography, "Fleeing the Fates of the Little Rascals."

Lee's income went from $40 a week to $300 a week (the equivalent of about $6,400 today) over the more than 40 short films he starred in. However, his career was short-lived, per The Star Tribune. Just before first grade, Lee, who was a larger child, went through a sudden growth spurt, and he was unceremoniously replaced, per The Star Tribune. None of the child actors received residuals from the films, according to the 2006 book, "Great News! We've Sold the Company." Lee returned to Texas and had a very different life than in Hollywood, per CBS News.

What Did Porky Do After The Little Rascals?

Perhaps it was the fact that Gordon "Porky" Lee not only got out of Hollywood early but that he also hid his past as a star which helped him have a relatively normal life and eventually becoming a history teacher, per UPI. He lived in Texas and later in Colorado before retiring in Minnesota to be closer to his son, Douglas, according to CBS News.

It wasn't until 1971 that a fellow teacher and friend convinced Gordon Lee to tell the world the truth, per the Star Tribune. He then reconnected with some of his costars at various reunion events. Unfortunately, he never reunited with Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, who died of a heart attack in 1980 at age 49, per The Star Tribune. Thomas' untimely death was only one of many that the cast of "The Little Rascals" experienced. Lee would end up in a Minneapolis nursing home, dying from a disease that slowly consumed him.

Lee's Tragic End Was One of Many For Our Gang

On October 16, 2005, Gordon "Porky" Lee died of lung and brain cancer at the age of 71, according to CBS News. Even so, he'd outlived many of his costars. One of the most iconic members of "The Little Rascals," Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, famous for his warbly singing voice and cowlick, died a violent death in 1959, when he was 31, after a post-Hollywood life that included working as a bartender and having several run-ins with the police, according to History. Switzer was shot and killed after breaking into a man's home in Mission Hills, California, over an unpaid debt Switzer believed the man owed him, per History. Billy "Froggy" Laughlin, the gravel-voiced character with coke-bottle lenses, died when he was only 16 after he and a friend crashed headlong into a truck while on a motor-scooter, according to IMDB. Darla Hood, who played the lead female role in the series, died at 49, of complications from acute hepatitis after receiving a tainted blood infusion during minor surgery in 1979, per IMDB.

Gordon Lee also outlived George "Spanky" McFarland, the actor who portrayed his older brother. McFarland died in 1993 after suffering a heart attack, according to the AP. Like Lee, McFarland left Hollywood at an early age and moved back to Texas, living a normal existence, per AP. The young actors whose antics continue to entertain through their films didn't live out their silver screen dreams. But in Hollywood, it's the shiny image that remains, while the mundane reality gets buried.