Judith Eva Barsi (June 6, 1978 – July 25, 1988) was an American child actress in the mid- to late 1980s. She began her career in television, making appearances in commercials and television shows, and later appeared in the films Jaws: The Revenge, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven, supplying the voice for animated characters in the latter two. She and her mother, Maria, were both killed in July 1988 as a result of a double murder–suicide perpetrated by her father, József.
Her father, József Barsi, fled Communist Hungary after the 1956 Soviet occupation. He relocated to New York in 1964, and then to California, where he met Maria Virovacz, also a Hungarian immigrant escaping the Soviet occupation. They married and Judith's birth quickly followed in Los Angeles, California, on June 6, 1978, where she was raised.
Maria began grooming Judith to become an actress, and at the age of five, she was discovered at a skating rink. Barsi's first role was in Fatal Vision, playing the three-year-old Kimberley MacDonald. She went on to appear in more than 70 commercials and guest roles on television. As well as her career in television, she appeared in several films including Jaws: The Revenge as Thea Brody and provided the voices of Ducky in The Land Before Time, and Anne-Marie in All Dogs Go to Heaven.
By the time she started fourth grade, Judith was earning an estimated $100,000 a year, which helped her family buy a three-bedroom house in West Hills, Los Angeles. As she was short for her age (she stood 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) at age 10), she began receiving hormone injections at UCLA to encourage her growth. Her petiteness led casting directors to cast her as children that were younger than her actual age. Her agent was quoted in The Los Angeles Times as saying that when she was ten, "she was still playing 7, 8."
As Judith's career success increased, József became increasingly angry and would routinely threaten to kill himself, Maria, and Judith. His alcoholism worsened, causing the police to arrest him three separate times for drunk driving. In December 1986, Maria reported his threats and physical violence toward her to the police. After police found no physical signs of abuse, she decided not to press charges against him.
After the incident with police, József reportedly stopped drinking, but again he continued to threaten Maria and Judith. His various threats included cutting their throats as well as burning down the house. He reportedly hid a telegram informing Maria that a relative in Hungary had died, in an attempt to prevent her and Judith from leaving America. Physical violence continued, with Judith telling a friend that her father threw pots and pans at her, resulting in a nosebleed. As a result of his abuse, Judith began putting on weight and exhibited disturbing behavior, which included plucking out all her eyelashes and pulling out her cat's whiskers. After breaking down in front of her agent during a singing audition for All Dogs Go to Heaven, she was taken by Maria to a child psychologist, who identified severe physical and emotional abuse and reported her findings to Child Protective Services.
The investigation was dropped after Maria assured the case worker that she intended to begin divorce proceedings against József and that she and Judith were going to move into a Panorama City apartment she had recently rented as a daytime haven from him. Friends urged her to follow through with the plan, but she resisted, reportedly because she was afraid that she would lose the family home and belongings.
Judith was last seen riding her bike on the morning of July 25, 1988. That evening, József shot her in the head while she was sleeping, and then murdered Maria. He spent the next two days wandering around the house, and said during a phone conversation with Judith's agent the next night that he intended to move out for good, and just needed time to "say goodbye to my little girl." He then poured gasoline on the bodies and set them on fire. After incinerating the bodies, he went to the garage and shot himself in the head with a .32 caliber pistol. On August 9, 1988, Judith and Maria were interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Judith's final film, All Dogs Go to Heaven, in which she provided the speaking voice of Anne-Marie, was released in November 1989. Don Bluth, the director of The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, described her as "absolutely astonishing. She understood verbal direction, even for the most sophisticated situations," and he intended to feature her extensively in his future productions. The end credits song "Love Survives" was dedicated in her memory.
|1984||Fatal Vision||Kimberly (age 3)||Miniseries|
|1984||Jessie||Katie||Episode: "Valerie's Turn"|
|1985||Kids Don't Tell||Jennifer Ryan||Television movie|
|1985||Do You Remember Love||Kathleen||Television movie|
|1985||The Twilight Zone||Gertie||Segment: "A Little Peace and Quiet"|
|1985||There Were Times, Dear||Molly Reed||Television movie|
|1985||The Fall Guy||Little Girl||Episode: "Escape Claus"|
|1986||Remington Steele||Laurie Beth Piper||Episode: "Suburban Steele"|
|1986||Punky Brewster||Anna||2 episodes|
|1986||Trapper John, M.D.||Lindsay Christmas||Episode: "Life, Death and Dr. Christmas"|
|1986||Cheers||Child #1||Episode: "Relief Bartender"|
|1986||Cagney & Lacey||Shauna Bard||Episode: "Disenfranchised"|
|1986||The New Gidget||Little Girl||Episode: "It's Only Rock & Roll"|
|1986||Eye of the Tiger||Jennifer Matthews|
|1986||The Love Boat||Christmas angel||Episode: "The Christmas Cruise: Part 2"|
|1987||Destination America||Amy||Television movie|
|1987||Jaws: The Revenge||Thea Brody|
|1987–88||The Tracey Ullman Show||Little Girl / Karen||2 episodes|
|1988||St. Elsewhere||Debbie Oppenheimer||Episode: "The Abby Singer Show"|
|1988||Growing Pains||Young Carol||Episode: "Graduation Day"|
|1988||ABC Afterschool Special||Billie Foster||Episode: "A Family Again"; Released posthumously|
|1988||The Land Before Time||Ducky (voice)||Released posthumously|
|1989||All Dogs Go to Heaven||Anne-Marie (voice)||Released posthumously|
|1992||Growing Pains||Young Carol||Episode: "The Last Picture Show, part 2" (archive footage)|