On July 6, 2019, actor Cameron Boyce passed away in his sleep following a seizure. He was 20 years old. According to CNN, the star had an ongoing medical condition, for which he was receiving treatment. Forbes claims it was a seizure disorder, which affects roughly 1.2% of the U.S. population.
Boyce was best known for his work on the Disney Channel. For four years, he starred in the sitcom Jessie alongside Debby Ryan, then transformed into Cruella de Vil’s son, Carlos, for the network’s TV movie Descendants. The film was an instant success, and the sequel drew a whopping 21 million viewers across 6 networks, according to Deadline. With Descendents 3 awaiting release, Boyce had finally managed to transition out of Disney into more adult roles, like in the upcoming HBO comedy Mrs. Fletcher and the indie thriller Runt.
Despite his tenure with the Mouse, Boyce was so much more than an average Disney Channel star, the kind of child actors whose coming of age tales are often riddled with controversy and scandal (see: Miley Cyrus’ salvia incident). Instead, he sought to lead with compassion and leave behind a legacy of charity work. He managed to always make his relationships a priority — from his bond with his cast mates to the inspiration he’s found in his grandmother. This is the untold truth of Cameron Boyce.
He got his start in a pop punk music video
Cameron Boyce has heard of “closing the god—n door,” mostly because he worked with pop rockers Panic! At The Disco in 2008, just a couple years after their breakout hit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” skyrocketed them into fame. According to CNN, Boyce was just eight years old when he played a younger version of guitarist Ryan Ross in the music video for “That Green Gentleman.” It was his first major acting credit.
While casual fans of the band (including Boyce’s Descendants co-star Dove Cameron) might not recognize him in the video, Panic!’s super stans absolutely do, and they don’t let the Disney Channel star forget it. “I actually hadn’t heard of [Panic!] when I got cast, and I still get hate because of it,” Boyce told Crookes Magazine (via Medium). “Panic! fans are real fans. It’s funny, a lot of times they’ll comment on my pictures and tell me how lucky I was to be in their presence.”
That same year, Boyce performed alongside Kiefer Sutherland in the horror flick Mirrors, and Shia LaBeouf in Eagle Eye. The latter was just a small foreshadowing into Boyce’s future career with Disney. Remember: LaBeouf got his start on the Disney Channel, too. Boyce also dove into the steamy, betrayal-laden world of soap operas. He scored a role on the soap spin-off, General Hospital: Night Shift, but the series ended after Boyce filmed just seven episodes.
Debby Ryan made Cameron Boyce a Disney Channel star
Cameron Boyce has been working with Disney ever since his role on General Hospital: Night Shift. Let’s not forget that ABC is controlled by the white-gloved hand of the Mouse, but minor ABC soap success is not the same thing as Disney Channel stardom. That’s a whole different beast, and Boyce finally got a taste of it in 2011 thanks to his future Jessie co-star Debby Ryan.
Ryan was the driving force behind Jessie. In a series of tweets, the star opened up about how she pitched, produced, cast, and directed the series “right outta high school,” which made her Disney’s youngest female director and producer. Before landing the role of Luke Ross, Boyce had only appeared on the Disney Channel for small, one-off roles in series like Good Luck Charlie and Austin & Ally. In an interview with YSBnow, he admitted that seeing Ryan for the first time was a major moment.
“I was auditioning for Jessie, and Debby Ryan, this girl who I had watched for three years on Disney Channel, walked through,” he said. “And you know, she walked past us … that was like really cool to just like see her and then know that okay, now it’s real.”
Thus began Boyce’s long-term relationship with the Disney Channel, which resulted in his most recognizable role: Cruella de Vil’s son in Descendants. He filmed the third installment of the TV movie series before his passing.
Cameron Boyce's grandmother was a civil rights hero
Cameron Boyce had some pretty strong blood pumping through his veins. The Disney star’s grandmother was a civil rights pioneer in the 1950s. According to Dazed, Jo Ann Allen Boyce — who’s cited as Cameron’s “greatest inspiration” — was part of the Clinton 12. A year before the Little Rock 9 made national headlines, the Clinton 12 were the first group of black students to attend Tennessee’s Clinton High School after the Supreme Court made their landmark 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling demanding the desegregation of public schools. A James Earl Jones documentary was released about the group in 2006.
“She had to be so brave,” Cameron told Dazed. “She had to face death threats, berating and violence just to go to school. She’s a hero — they’re all heroes.”
Cameron first opened up about his family’s background in 2016 during Black History Month as part of Disney’s “Be inspired” campaign. He admitted to Schon Magazine that sharing his grandmother’s story is a “top priority” for his family because it’s “bigger than her or me or any movie or show I’ll ever do.”
Cameron Boyce was proud to be biracial
Cameron Boyce’s unique look afforded him the opportunity to adopt a number of roles. According to Teen Vogue, his biracial background let him shift from playing the son of Salma Hayek, who is Latinx, to the sun of Wendy Raquel Robinson, who is black. He also played the son of Michelle Monaghan, who is white. It’s clear the star is difficult to typecast because of his unique heritage, and he’s always been proud of that fact, even if he admitted it makes landing a lead role more difficult. In an interview with RAW, the star opened up about his black and Jewish heritage, which he calls “bl-ewish” — and he loves the features if gave him down to his very last freckle.
“I mean, when you’re mixed … people sort of place you in a weird category. Especially if you have freckles, or if you’re really light with curly hair, or if there’s something different about you, green eyes, something weird. Not weird, but different. And as a kid, I always sort of liked the fact that I didn’t look like everybody else … I’ve always sort of known that I was mixed and different, and I’ve always loved it,” he said.
He'd travel across the world for his TV brother
Cameron Boyce and Karan Brar might have only played sibling on television, but the pair formed a real-life brotherly bond. They actually moved in together — along with fellow Disney actress Sophie Reynolds — in 2019, but the actors’ relationship goes much, much deeper than roommates.
Boyce and Brar clearly put in the effort to never be apart for the big moments. In 2017, Boyce flew halfway around the world to celebrate Brar’s 18th birthday with him in Australia (while the rest of us cross our fingers and hope our friends remember to send a measly birthday text). According to Just Jared Jr., Brar returned the favor and flew to Vancouver in 2018 for Boyce’s 19th birthday. When Brar turned 20 in 2019, the pair met up in New York, and Boyce shared the most heartfelt Instagram message imaginable. Be warned, your heart might have trouble digesting this level of best friendship.
“I love this man … Time flies and sh*t changes, but he’s been a constant in a life that I literally couldn’t picture without him,” he wrote. “Kar you’re 20!! That’s wild.. Feels old right now, but by the time my kids are calling you ‘Uncle Kar’ we’ll laugh and probably realize we’re still bs’ing our way through this stuff.”
Anyone need a Kleenex? Just us?
No, the rumors aren't true
Dating is tough for everyone, but it’s extra tough when cameras are always in your face and every innocent Instagram photo sparks tabloid rumors. Needless to say, Boyce has been subject to a number of dating rumors that claim he’s involved with some of his co-stars. In an interview with TOPP, the star dished up a hefty dose of truth: no, he wasn’t dating his Descendants co-stars Dove Cameron, Brenna D’Amico, or Sophia Carson (and he wasn’t dating Carson’s sister either). Nor was he dating his Gamer’s Guide co-star and roommate Sophie Reynolds. The rumors, which he claims are some of the craziest he’s heard about himself, are false.
Boyce is actually pretty open about having problems in the dating department. While playing a word association game with RAW, he admitted it was “hard to get” a girlfriend. He also had a disastrous first kiss experience, which he shared with Young Hollywood.
“I was, like, maybe 11, and I had a ‘girlfriend,’ and I tried to kiss her on her forehead, but she went on her tippy toes. … She caught my lips,” he said. “And it took me by surprise … I was just going for your forehead, man. So, that was the most un-smooth first kiss, just so not romantic at all. That’s actually pretty bad.”
Adam Sandler left Cameron Boyce starstruck
It’s not often that a genuine celebrity gets starstruck. Hanging around A-listers is sort of just business as usual, but Boyce fell victim when he landed the role of Adam Sandler’s son Keithie Feder in the 2010 comedy Grown Ups. “The first person I was actually starstruck over was Adam Sandler,” Boyce told Young Hollywood. “I was nine years old, and I knew of him very well. A nine-year-old likes their fart jokes. So, he’s good at those.”
In an interview with Crookes Magazine (via Medium), Boyce admitted that working with a “genius” like Sandler taught him how to roll with the punches. The comedian only used the script as “a mere suggestion” and Boyce had to learn to adapt. Though the young actor was the one who was initially starstruck, he clearly left an impact on Sandler, too. The comedian shared a heartbreaking statement on Twitter after the news of Boyce’s death hit headlines. “Too young. Too sweet. Too funny. Just the nicest, most talented, and most decent kid around. Loved that kid. Cared so much about his family. Cared so much about the world. Thank you, Cameron, for all you gave us,” he wrote.
Cameron Boyce actually went to a regular high school
Many child actors fall into a dangerous cliche of DUIs and drug arrests. It happened to Boyce’s Jessie co-star Debby Ryan, who got arrested for felony drunk driving in 2016, according to TMZ. It also happened to former That’s So Raven star Orlando Brown and former Hannah Montana star Mitchel Musso. Boyce’s parents didn’t want him to follow down that same path, so they made every effort to keep Boyce’s life as normal as possible. Though the star told Schon Magazine that he doesn’t have any memories from when he was “just a normal kid,” he did go to a real high school, rather than being privately tutored or homeschooled, like many young actors. The star ended up graduating with honors.
“I was lucky enough to be surrounded by adults who didn’t want to see me turn into the stereotype,” he told the outlet. “My parents were hesitant about me pursuing my career at one point because they were aware of the pattern that took so many child actors hostage. As I grew, I developed a knack for recognizing ugly traits found in the industry. You could say I’ve become jaded. But at least I didn’t fall victim to the harsh reality most child actors endure.”
Fame made Cameron Boyce afraid to leave his house
Disney Channel stardom is pretty much instant. You land a role on a hit show or one of those infamous Disney Channel Original Movies, and your name is splashed across the pages of J-14 as you struggle to avoid fans while grabbing a Wetzel’s pretzel at The Grove. But, Hollywood has its dark side, and Boyce initially struggled with his enormous success.
In an interview with i-D, Boyce opened up about his first year of major stardom. He struggled with the idea of constantly being bombarded with cameras and fans — and if you couldn’t tell by literally anything surrounding High School Musical or Hannah Montana, Disney stans are absolutely fierce. To cope, he just avoided the whole thing altogether.
“For about a year of my life, if I didn’t have to leave my house, I wouldn’t,” he told i-D. “It was a bad way of dealing with fame, but it’s a scary feeling to know that everybody is looking at you all the time.”
Thankfully, Boyce found his way out of the darkness and decided to use his success to boost the profile of his charity work.
He originally wanted to be a dancer
Cameron Boyce’s first ever job was as a model in a Disney print ad in which he used his background as a dancer to nail a mid-air split for the camera. He told Young Hollywood it was “the craziest photo,” and he’s still tagged in the picture on Instagram to this day. Unfortunately, Boyce’s dance career never actually got legs even if the photo still comes up every now and again. Nonetheless, dancing was the actor’s very first love.
In an interview with Schon Magazine, Boyce opened up about his passion for dance. The star had a break dance troupe called X Mob, but for some reason, he unexpectedly fell into a career as an actor instead (which, in all honesty, is pretty great for something that just sort of happened).
“[Dancing] was my first true passion and what really showed me the values of creative freedom, and surrounding yourself with people who have a similar drive and love for the same things you do,” he said. “Dancing will forever be a passion of mine. It was instilled in me at such an early age and celebrated so frequently.”
Cameron Boyce went into isolation for an indie thriller
Cameron Boyce is one of the few actors who managed to transition away from the Disney Channel into more serious roles. The star was so versatile with his craft that he could effortlessly switch back and forth — from playing Cruella de Vil’s kid in Descendants 3 to starring as Cal in the violent thriller Runt. He used method acting as part of the process when diving deep into his most gritty characters.
Though we’re guessing Boyce didn’t skin a bunch of dalmatians to make a fur coat for Descendants, he did end up completely isolating himself for his role in Runt, which does not have a release date, as of this writing. In an interview with Dazed, he admitted the role was extremely different for him because it had the “complicated nuance of traumatic childhood events.” He had to pull from somewhere darker.
“Because the kid is so isolated and because I’m so family-oriented, a week or so before we started shooting I warned [my family], like ‘hey guys I’m gonna be ignoring you for a month and a half, completely,'” he said. “I started to sort of detach myself from things. I didn’t talk to my best friends for a month and a half. I isolated myself the same way the character does. That allowed me to sit with my thoughts and understand where this kid is coming from.”
He wanted his charity work to be his legacy
Since discovering the dark side of fame — the one that made him not want to leave his house for a year — Cameron Boyce used his celebrity status for the greater good. The Disney star teamed up with the Thirst Project, a charity that helps bring clean drinking water to underdeveloped countries. According to Haute Living, he raised more than $30,000 to build two wells in Swaziland. He later won the Pioneering Spirit Award at the 9th Annual Thirst Gala for bringing attention to the Global Water Crisis. He even had the opportunity to meet Joe Biden at the 2019 Biden Courage Awards.
Boyce comes from a line of activists and humanitarians. Not only was his grandmother part of the Clinton 12, but according to Dazed, his mother was a social worker when the AIDS epidemic first surfaced. She later shifted her focus to helping the homeless. Boyce sought to follow in their footsteps and hoped his philanthropy would be the legacy he left behind.
Quoting fellow actor Denzel Washington while he accepted his award at the Thirst Gala (via GMA), Boyce said, “I’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse … we don’t get to take what we have right now, with us.” He continued, “We all have material things, we all have things that we own … but what you leave behind should be bigger than you. And I really believe that.”
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