Lee Aaker, best known as the 1950s child star of The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, died at the age of 77. The news is spread on social media by former child actor and activist Paul Petersen. Petersen said Aaker “passed away in Arizona on April 1, alone and unclaimed, listed as a ‘destitute deceased’.”
Aaker was 11 when The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin first appeared on ABC. The original western Friday night run lasted from October 1954 to May 1959. Aaker played Rusty, an orphan boy in an Indian raid raised in Fort Apache. He performed alongside James E. Brown’s Lieutenant Ripley “Rip” Masters and, of course, a number of German Shepherds who portrayed the titular dog.
Aaker’s career started cleanly. Even before Rin Tin Tin, by the age of 8, he had uncredited appearances in films such as The The biggest show in the world (1952) and High noon (1952). Aaker then appeared alongside Barbara Stanwyck in director John Sturges’ noir thriller. Peril (1953). That same year he starred in five other movies including Hondo alongside John Wayne and Geraldine Page.
But it was Rin-Tin-Tin it solidified it in the public imagination. ABC relaunched the series from 1959 to 1961. It was then picked up by CBS from 1962 to 1964. A new series of reruns began in 1976 and continued into the 1980s.
In the early 1960s, Aaker appeared in episodes of The Donna Reed Show, Road 66, Lucy’s show, Make room for daddy and The magical world of disney, among other shows.
His career thereafter did not continue at a steady pace. By the mid-sixties, the roles dried up.
According to Petersen, Aaker served in the Air Force but died this month “alone and unclaimed … destitute”. Petersen said he was working on a proper burial, which Aaker is entitled to because of his uniformed service.