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urban legends

This is the real story behind that legendary 'Poltergeist curse'

The original Poltergeist is famous for traumatizing children who grew up in the early 1980s, and today's Poltergeist remake seems primed to do the same for children in 2015. But over the years, 1982's Poltergeist (and its two sequels) have grown legendary for another reason: the whisperings of a "curse" that led to the real-life deaths of cast members.

What's the real story? The subject of a "curse" likely stems from the subject of Poltergeist — a family tormented by ghosts who are enraged at being disturbed — and the bare fact that four cast members from the Poltergeist series died within six years of the first movie's release:

1. Dominique Dunne, who played elder daughter Dana Freeling in the original Poltergeist, died in 1982 at age 22. She was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, slipped into a coma, and died several days later.

2. Julian Beck, who played the villainous spirit Reverend Henry Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died in 1985 at age 60. He was battling stomach cancer while shooting his role in Poltergeist II, and eventually succumbed to the disease before the film's release.

3. Will Sampson, who played the heroic spirit Taylor in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died in 1987 at age 53. Six weeks before his death, he had received a heart-lung transplant; he died of complications related to his condition both before and after the surgery.

4. Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne Freeling in all three Poltergeist movies, died in 1988 at age 12. An illness, originally thought to be the flu, turned out to be a bowel obstruction; she died of septic shock on the operating table during a surgery intended to remove the obstruction.

Can these deaths be attributed to a "Poltergeist curse"? Call it whatever you like — but as urban legend debunking site Snopes.com points out, two of the four deaths were older people who had been ill for many months before they died. If that's a curse, it's an unusually slow-moving one.