Eugene Gordon Lee, better known as Porky, was one of the most popular and adorable child actors of the 1930s. He starred in the Our Gang (or Little Rascals) comedy series as the younger brother of Spanky, and charmed the audiences with his cute appearance and catchphrase “O-tay!”. But what happened to him after he left the show business? And how did he die of brain cancer at the age of 71?
Porky’s Early Life and Career
Eugene Lee was born on October 25, 1933 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was adopted by a family who traveled to California to pursue acting opportunities for him. He was discovered by producer Hal Roach, who noticed how much he resembled Spanky McFarland, another Our Gang star. He was nicknamed Porky by the studio and joined the cast in 1935, when he was only 18 months old. He appeared in 42 Our Gang shorts over four years, and became one of the most beloved characters of the series. He also originated the catchphrase “O-tay!”, which was later attributed to Buckwheat, another Our Gang member.
Porky was part of the most famous and successful incarnation of Our Gang, along with Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, and Buckwheat. They moved from Hal Roach Studios to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938, after Roach sold the series. However, Porky’s career was cut short in 1939, when he grew several inches in height and was replaced by Mickey Gubitosi, later known as Robert Blake. Porky retired from acting and entered public school, where he faced bullying and teasing for his former fame.
Porky’s Later Life and Death
After leaving the entertainment industry, Porky changed his name to Gordon Lee, after his favorite Our Gang director, Gordon Douglas. He became an alternative school educator at Broomfield High School in Colorado, where he helped troubled students. He also embraced his past and started attending Little Rascals reunions and selling Porky-related merchandise. He said that he and his co-stars were “relics of history” and enjoyed meeting his fans.
Porky moved to Minnesota in the 1990s to be closer to his son, Douglas. He also had a partner, Janice McClain, who stayed with him for his final 13 years. Unfortunately, Porky was diagnosed with lung cancer and brain cancer in the early 2000s, and his health deteriorated rapidly. He died on October 16, 2005, in a Minneapolis nursing home, nine days before his 72nd birthday. He was survived by his son, his partner, and his many friends and fans.
Porky’s death was a sad loss for the Our Gang community, as he was one of the last surviving members of the classic cast. He was remembered as a sweet, funny, and kind person, who brought joy to millions of people with his innocent and charming performance. He was also a dedicated and compassionate educator, who made a difference in the lives of many students. Porky will always be remembered as one of the most iconic and lovable child stars of all time.