Actress Zelda Rubinstein; who was nearly fifty years old when she made her first major film appearance in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist playing a pint-sized psychic medium; died yesterday at the age of 76.
Rubinstein; who was an odd presence on-screen with a child like voice and a diminunitve 4'3 frame; appeared in all three Poltergeist films as well as the spin-off tv series Poltergeist: The Legacy making her the only cast member to be involved in all of the series incarnations. The actress succumbed to kidney and lung failure after a two month hospitalization. This is not an uncommon or surprising demise for a 76-year old, though that hasn't stopped some people from mentioning the absurd 'Poltergeist Curse' in online reports of her passing. The 'Curse' is an urban legend stemming from the supernatural nature of the films premise and the nasty habit of cast members dying shortly after shooting films in the series. It began when shortly after the release of the first film, one of the young actresses; Dominique Dunne, was murdered by her deranged ex-boyfriend. When the actor who played the villain in Poltergeist II: The Other Side died during filming, then one of his co-stars passed away the following year; the urban legend was born. It really gained momentum in 1988 when the 12-year old star of the series, Heather O'Rourke tragically died during post production of Poltergeist III. The death of a 12-year old actress known for her role in a franchise of horror films makes for a morbid hook for the notion of the film being cursed - according to the legend because of a scene where actual human skeletons were used instead of props - is really kind of silly and disrespectful to those that have died. Young O'Rourke died of septic shock after a bowel obstruction sent bacteria through her bloodstream. The others who died weren't necessarily big surprises like the passing of a youthful child star.
Actor Julian Beck, who played the creepy Kane, died before the shooting of Poltergeist II: The Other Side wrapped production, but he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer a year and half before being cast in the film. His co-star Will Sampson died on the table during a heart and lung transplant procedure. Not exactly a shocker or something that sounds like the tragic fate of a cursed man. Amazingly the passing of a 76 year old woman is seen as further evidence of this 'Curse' for those that want to believe it to be true. I hope I get 'cursed' to a tragic 76 years on the planet. Earlier today wikipedia - the giant bathroom wall of the world - had listed Zelda Rubinstein as the latest victim of the dastardly 'Poltergeist Curse,' but to their credit, the information has since been edited and now, strangely, a truncated CNN wire service report of her passing is now awkwardly pasted at the bottom of their entry on the 'Poltergeist Curse.'
If you enter 'Poltergeist Curse' into google, amazingly, perhaps sadly, over two million hits come up. If you type the word 'coincidence' into google, you get 16,000,000 hits. I think that's something that is lost on those that think a tragic string of untimely deaths is evidence of a 'curse.'