James Dean courtesy Everett Collection, Heath Ledger by Jeff Vespa/WireImage.com James Dean courtesy Everett Collection, Heath Ledger by Jeff Vespa/WireImage.com

In light of the sad news about Heath Ledger's overdose, we started thinking about some of the other bright young talents who never got to show the world what they might have done. Starting with Ledger and looking all the way back to the original actor who lived fast and died young, James Dean, here are some of our favorite stars who were gone before reaching the age of 30. - Nina Hämmerling Smith

Heath Ledger (April 4, 1979 - Jan. 22, 2008, accidental overdose):
Perhaps what's hardest about this loss was how unexpected it was; the star of Brokeback Mountain and 10 Things I Hate About You was a young father with a seemingly glowing future ahead of him. | Watch Heath Ledger clips.

Brad Renfro (July 25, 1982 - Jan. 15, 2008, unknown causes):
Trouble courted this young star, whose first role, in The Client, put him on the map as one to watch at the tender age of 11. Sadly, substance abuse and run-ins with the law plagued him toward the end of his life. | Watch Brad Renfro clips.

Aaliyah (Jan. 16, 1979 - Aug. 25, 2001, plane crash):
Aaliyah had just wrapped shooting a video in the Bahamas when her plane, overloaded with equipment, crashed shortly after takeoff. Although she was only 22, the R&B sensation had already had success both as a musician and as an actress in Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned. | Watch Aaliyah clips.

David Strickland (Oct. 14, 1969 - March 22, 1999, suicide):
The Suddenly Susan star, who had a history of drug and alcohol addiction, took his own life in a Las Vegas motel room. The movie Forces of Nature, in which he appeared with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck, had opened shortly before his death. | Watch David Strickland clips.

River Phoenix (Aug. 23, 1970 - Oct. 31, 1993, drug overdose):
Beloved by fans around the world since his appearance in 1986's Stand by Me, Phoenix established himself as a serious actor in movies like My Own Private Idaho. He died outside of the L.A. night club the Viper Room on Halloween, after taking heroin and cocaine; his brother Joaquin called 911. | Watch River Phoenix clips.

Brandon Lee (Feb. 1, 1965 - March 31, 1993, accidental gunshot wound):
Rumors abounded of a curse on this talented family after the son of Bruce Lee, who himself died young, was killed on the set of The Crow. Brandon was shot in the abdomen by a malfunctioning prop gun. | Watch Brandon Lee clips.

Rebecca Schaeffer (Nov. 6, 1967 - July 18, 1989, homicide):
This promising young star, who was best known for her role opposite Pam Dawber in My Sister Sam, was murdered by a deranged stalker. In response to Schaeffer's death, California state law was changed to make it harder for would-be stalkers to obtain personal information about celebrities. | Watch Rebecca Schaeffer clips.

Freddie Prinze (June 22, 1954 - Jan. 29, 1977, suicide):
A dependence on quaaludes was likely largely responsible for the Chico and the Man star's decision to shoot himself in the head. He was also going through divorce proceedings at the time of his suicide. | Watch Freddie Prinzie clips.

Sharon Tate (Jan. 24, 1943 - Aug. 9, 1969, homicide):
The massacre of Tate and four of her friends at the hands of Charles Manson's "family" ranks among the most gruesome and notorious in American history. The Valley of the Dolls star and wife of Roman Polanski was eight and a half months pregnant at the time of her death. | Watch Sharon Tate clips.

James Dean (Feb. 8, 1931 - Sept. 30, 1955, car accident):
It's a testament to his charisma that Dean remains an indelible cultural icon more than 50 years after his death. His three film credits - Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant - defined teen angst. Dean, who had a passion for fast cars, was killed while driving his Porsche on a stretch of California road. | Watch James Dean clips.

Who did we forget? Who could you never forget? Share memories of some of your favorite actors who were gone too soon.

Check out our photo gallery of actors who were gone too soon.