Norman Chaney was a child actor who rose to fame in the late 1920s and early 1930s as one of the stars of the popular comedy series Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals. He played the role of Chubby, a lovable and chubby kid who often delivered witty lines and funny expressions. However, his life was cut short by a rare medical condition that caused him to gain weight rapidly and die at the young age of 21. Here is the tragic story of Norman Chaney’s cause of death and his legacy.
A Star is Born
Norman Chaney was born on October 18, 1914 in Cambridge, Maryland. He was the son of James and Elizabeth Chaney, who were both farmers. He had a normal diet and exercise routine since childhood, but he was naturally overweight. He was nicknamed “Chubsy-Ubsy” by his family and friends.
In 1929, when he was 14 years old, he entered a nationwide contest to find a replacement for Joe Cobb, the previous chubby kid in the Our Gang series. The series was produced by Hal Roach and directed by Robert F. McGowan, and it featured a group of children who had various adventures and mishaps. The series was transitioning to sound, and they needed a new actor who could deliver dialogue well.
Chaney won the contest and was offered a two-year contract by Roach. He made his debut in the second sound entry, Railroadin’, and appeared in 19 Our Gang films over a period of two years. He quickly became a fan favorite for his affable personality, his flair for comedy, and his priceless frown of frustration. He also had memorable moments in films such as Love Business, where he competed with Jackie Cooper for the affections of their teacher Miss Crabtree, and Teacher’s Pet, where he tried to impress his classmates with his knowledge.
A Star is Gone
By 1931, Chaney was getting taller and heavier. He reached a height of 4 feet 7 inches and a weight of over 300 pounds. He also outgrew his role as Chubby, as the series was looking for younger actors. His contract was not renewed by Roach, and he left the series along with other cast members such as Allen Hoskins, Jackie Cooper, and Mary Ann Jackson.
Chaney returned to his hometown of Baltimore and attended public school. He excelled in his studies and had plans to become a doctor. However, his weight continued to increase despite having a normal diet and exercise. He was diagnosed with a glandular ailment that caused his body to produce excess hormones and store fat.
In 1935, he underwent treatment for his condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His weight dropped from over 300 pounds to less than 140 pounds in a matter of months. However, this drastic weight loss also took a toll on his health. He became seriously ill from the stress on his body and developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
On May 29, 1936, Chaney died at his grandparents’ home in Baltimore. He was only 21 years old. His death certificate listed myocarditis as his cause of death. He was buried at Baltimore Cemetery alongside his mother, who had died two years earlier from pneumonia. They did not have headstones until 2012, when a singer named Mikal C.G. raised funds to honor their graves.
A Star is Remembered
Norman Chaney’s death was mourned by his fans and co-stars. He was remembered as a talented and kind-hearted actor who brought joy to millions of people with his performances. His films have been preserved and shown on television and DVD over the years, introducing him to new generations of viewers.
Chaney’s legacy lives on as one of the most beloved members of the Our Gang series. He is also recognized as one of the first child stars to suffer from the pressures and pitfalls of fame and fame-related health issues. His story serves as a cautionary tale for other young actors who face similar challenges in their careers.
Norman Chaney’s cause of death may have been tragic, but his life was full of laughter and love. He will always be remembered as Chubby, the little rascal who made us smile.