Lance Kerwin, Teen Star of ‘James at 15,’ ‘Salem’s Lot,’ Dies at 62

Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Lance Kerwin, the onetime child actor who featured prominently on American families’ TV screens in the 1970s, died on Tuesday, according to his daughter. He was 62.

“We appreciate all the kind words, memories, and prayers that have been shared,” Savanah Kerwin wrote on Facebook, adding, “He loved each and every one of you.”

His talent agent, John Boitano, also confirmed Kerwin’s death to CNN.

A cause of death was not immediately clear, but according to a 2021 GoFundMe page started by a friend, Kerwin had been suffering “from a back injury and other health issues.” The page also shared that Kerwin, who had retired from acting in the 1990s to become a youth minister, was preparing to make a return to his first career.

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Born in 1960 as the youngest of five brothers in a showbiz-oriented family, Kerwin began acting at 13 years old. He made appearances on shows like Little House on the Prairie, Gunsmoke, Wonder Woman, and The Bionic Woman before graduating to larger roles. In 1977, he won the lead role in James at 15, a made-for-television movie that turned into a pilot for a popular show of the same name.

The coming-of-age series stirred up controversy and conversation for its depiction of teenage sexuality, with Kerwin’s title character losing his virginity to a Swedish exchange student on the cusp of his birthday in its 12th episode, with the show subsequently assuming the name James at 16. Its two-season legacy far outlasted its time on air, with the creator of Dawson’s Creek, among others, citing it as a major influence.

In 1978, Kerwin told People that he would be alright if James aged off of audience’s screens. “I’ll try for good parts in films and television,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind having more time to myself. I’ll take whatever comes.”

Kerwin went on to appear in 1979’s Salem’s Lot, a television adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that aired on CBS. A cult hit, it spawned for him invites to horror conventions for years to come.

His final role before leaving Hollywood in the ’90s was in 1995’s Outbreak, a star-studded medical disaster film starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman.

Before returning to acting, he worked for the U-Turn for Christ ministry in Hawaii. His most recent credit was for a role in 2022’s The Wind & the Reckoning, a Hawaiian historical drama.

Along with Savanah, Kerwin is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and children Fox, Terah, Kailani, and Justus, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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