Lee Aaker, a child actor during the 1950s best known for his role as Rusty on “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” has died. He was 77.
According to his obituary on Legacy.com, Aaker died April 1 near Mesa, Arizona.
Aaker had suffered a stroke before his death and was alone with one “surviving relative that could not help him,” Paul Petersen, the former “Donna Reed Show” star who serves as an advocate for former child actors, told The Hollywood Reporter. Petersen added that Aaker’s death certificate listed him as an “indigent decedent.”
Aaker portrayed the kidnapped son of a nuclear scientist (Gene Barry) in “The Atomic City” (1952), the son of an Arizona homesteader in “Hondo” (1953) and the son of a desperate woman trying to save her trapped husband in “Jeopardy.” (1953).
Other television credits included “Fireside Theatre,” “The Lone Ranger” and “The Donna Reed Show,” People reported.
However, Aaker’s signature role was Rusty, who starred alongside a German shepherd in “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.”
The show debuted in 1954 and aired on Friday nights for five seasons and 164 episodes, according to IMDb.com. Aaker played an orphan raised by U.S. cavalry soldiers at Fort Apache after his parents were killed by Native Americans, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Aaker’s final roles came in 1963 when he played a student leader in the film “Bye Bye Birdie” and as Cadet Blake on “The Lucy Show.”
Aaker found roles harder to find as he grew older and eventually worked as a carpenter for 20 years, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Aaker also spent time as a ski instructor at California’s Mammoth Mountain, teaching the sport to people with disabilities and to underprivileged children.