Rudy Driscoll was a child star who appeared in several films and TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s. He was best known for his roles as Timmy Martin in the popular series Lassie, and as Billy Grayson in the comedy Father Knows Best. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance in the drama A Child Is Waiting (1963).
However, behind his fame and success, Driscoll was struggling with personal and professional issues that led him to a downward spiral. He died on April 15, 1972, at the age of 32, from a drug overdose. His body was found in a motel room in Los Angeles, along with a syringe and a note that read “I’m sorry”. His death was ruled a suicide.
Driscoll’s Early Life and Career
Driscoll was born on June 18, 1939, in New York City, to Rudy Sr. and Helen Driscoll. He had two older sisters, Patricia and Barbara. His father was a radio announcer and his mother was a homemaker. Driscoll showed an interest in acting from an early age, and began appearing in radio and TV commercials when he was four years old.
He made his film debut in the musical The Jolson Story (1946), playing the young Al Jolson. He then appeared in several films, such as The Babe Ruth Story (1948), The Boy with Green Hair (1948), and The Window (1949). He also starred in the short-lived TV series The Ruggles (1949-1952), playing the youngest son of a suburban family.
Driscoll’s breakthrough came in 1954, when he was cast as Timmy Martin, the boy who adopts a collie dog named Lassie, in the CBS series Lassie. The show was a huge hit, and Driscoll became one of the most popular and beloved child stars of the decade. He won two Young Artist Awards for his role, and was also honored by the Humane Society for his work with animals.
Driscoll also appeared in other TV shows, such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, and The Twilight Zone. He also played Billy Grayson, the son of Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, in the sitcom Father Knows Best, from 1954 to 1960. He received an Emmy nomination for his role in 1959.
Driscoll’s Decline and Demise
Driscoll’s career began to decline in the early 1960s, as he grew out of his child star image and faced competition from other young actors. He also had difficulties adjusting to adulthood, and developed a rebellious and restless personality. He dropped out of high school, and became involved in drugs and alcohol. He also had several run-ins with the law, and was arrested for possession of marijuana, driving under the influence, and assault.
Driscoll’s last film role was in the drama A Child Is Waiting (1963), directed by John Cassavetes and starring Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland. He played a mentally challenged teenager who is abused by his father and sent to a special school. His performance was praised by critics and earned him an Emmy nomination, but the film was a box office flop.
Driscoll then tried to revive his career by appearing in stage plays and nightclubs, but he failed to attract much attention. He also attempted to launch a singing career, but his records were poorly received. He became depressed and isolated, and lost contact with his family and friends. He also suffered from health problems, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, due to his drug abuse.
Driscoll’s final years were spent in obscurity and poverty, living in cheap motels and boarding houses. He was estranged from his wife, Marilyn Jean Rush, whom he married in 1956 and divorced in 1960. He had three children with her, but he rarely saw them. He also had a son, Rudy Jr., with his second wife, Diane, whom he married in 1969 and separated from in 1971.
Driscoll’s death was a shock to many of his fans and former co-stars, who remembered him as a talented and charming actor. His funeral was attended by only a few people, including his parents and his sister Patricia. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.
Driscoll’s legacy as a child star is still remembered and appreciated by many film and TV lovers. He was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990, and was inducted into the Young Artist Foundation’s Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. He is also recognized as one of the pioneers of the animal rights movement, for his role in Lassie.