Skye McCole Bartusiak’s career as a child star had begun with promise with a minor role in the 1999 drama The Cider House Rules, an Academy Award-winning picture starring Michael Caine and Charlize Theron. From there McCole Bartusiak was cast as the daughters of Mel Gibson and Michael Douglas in The Patriot and Don’t Say a Word, respectively, before landing the recurring role of Megan Matheson in season two of the hit TV series 24, working alongside nineteen-year-old Elisha Cuthbert as a child escaping from her abusive father.
Described as ‘astonishingly natural’ by Los Angeles Magazine, Skye McCole Bartusiak was born in Houston, Texas on 28 September 1992 and landed her breakthrough role in The Patriot as Susan Martin, the daughter of Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin, at the age of eight, turning nine during the three-month South Carolina shoot. The movie would also mark the turning point in the career of Australian actor Heath Ledger, whose previous picture 10 Things I Hate About You had first brought him to the attention of international audiences.
Following her appearance as a young Maggie Gyllenhaal in the 2001 coming-of-age drama Riding in Cars with Boys, McCole Bartusiak was cast as the daughter of psychiatrist Michael Douglas who is kidnapped by a group of dangerous criminals led by Sean Bean in an effort to force Douglas to hand over a disturbed young patient played by Brittany Murphy. The following year McCole Bartusiak was once again cast as a younger version of the lead character in the television mini-series Firestarter: Rekindled, a sequel of sorts to the 1984 Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. Incidentally, both Riding in Cars with Boys and the original Firestarter had starred Drew Barrymore.
The casting of McCole Bartusiak in 24 as Megan Matheson would provide the young actress her first recurring role as Megan Matheson, appearing in a total of eight episodes. With Cuthbert’s Kim Bauer desperate to overcome her mother’s death at the end of the first season she has distanced herself from her father, lead character Jack Bauer, and has instead taken the position of live-in babysitter for the Mathesons, taking care of Megan while observing the abusive behaviour of father Gary. Fearing for the child’s life, Kim eventually flees from the home with Megan but Gary chases after them, finally forcing Kim to shoot him dead while a helpless Jack listens on the phone.
In February 2003 it was announced that McCole Bartusiak had been cast as blind and deaf humanitarian Helen Keller in a Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker alongside Hilary Swank. She then made her horror debut in the Sam Raimi production The Boogeyman, a movie described by L.A. Weekly as a ‘welcome throwback to the glory days of scary movies.’
The same year McCole Bartusiak was cast as the younger version of Evangeline Lilly’s character Kate Austen in an episode of Lost, in which she was show briefly in flashbacks. McCole Bartusiak was not the only veteran of 24 to appear in Lost, as other regulars of the show would also guest-star, including Reiko Aylesworth (Michelle Dessler) and Nick Jameson (President Suvarov).
While McCole Bartusiak continued to work on independent productions such as Kill Your Darlings (not to be confused with the recent Beat poet movie of the same name) and Good Day for It, McCole Bartusiak remained most known for her earlier work with Hollywood heavyweights Gibson and Douglas.
Sadly, she would not be the first of Gibson’s young co-stars from The Patriot to die at a young age, as Heath Ledger passed away in January 2008 at the age of twenty-eight shortly before the release of The Dark Knight, in which he had given his most complex role to date as the Joker. Brittany Murphy, one of the leads from Don’t Say a Word, died at the age of thirty-two a few days before Christmas in 2009.
While no cause of death has been given for McCole Bartusiak, the twenty-one-year-old passed away at her home in Texas on Saturday, 19 July. TMZ report, ‘Sources say Skye struggled after doing The Patriot…trying to establish a foot print in Hollywood, but it was largely a frustrating and unsuccessful experience. We’re told police found her dead in the garage apartment behind her home around 9am Saturday. Right now, no foul play is suspected and it’s being treated as a natural causes death – pending autopsy results. Law enforcement sources tells us…there are no ‘obvious signs’ she took her own life…however, our sources say toxicology reports could change their operating theory.’