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Shannon Tavarez, 11-year-old actress in Broadway's 'The Lion King,' dies of leukemia

Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old girl who starred on Broadway in "The Lion King" and whose story of a battle with leukemia won the hearts of many including Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent, has died.

Tavarez died Monday afternoon at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, on Long Island, said Katharina Harf, co-founder of the bone marrow donor center DKMS.

Adriana Douzos, a spokeswoman for the long-running Tony-winning show, also confirmed the death but declined further comment.

Tavarez, who played the young lion Nala, had received an umbilical-cord blood transplant in August. The procedure was performed as an alternative to a bone marrow transplant. Her doctor, Dr. Larry Wolfe, said that a perfect bone marrow match for Shannon could not be found.

The search for a match was especially daunting because Shannon's mother is African American and her father is Hispanic, from the Dominican Republic. For bone marrow transplants, minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time finding good matches because there aren't as many people from those groups signed up as potential donors. Right now, 83% of African American patients who need marrow transplants don't find matches after six months of searching, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping patients receive transplants.

Tavarez was forced to quit the show in April. She beat out hundreds of other hopefuls last year to earn her spot playing Nala, the childhood pal and girlfriend of Simba, hero of "The Lion King." She split the role with another girl, performing four shows a week for six months.

Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent campaigned to help Tavarez find a bone marrow donor, and cast members held bone marrow donor registration drives. Harf said the donor center registered 10,000 people as potential donors. Keys talked via Skype with Tavarez while she was at the hospital, Harf said, and the singer, Rihanna and 50 Cent urged their fans to sign up as potential donors.

Child performers from "The Lion King" and other shows also sold bracelets and key chains that read, "Shine for Shannon," to raise money to help pay for her medical bills.

"It's rare that you meet such a spirited girl at such a young age," Harf said. "She touched so many people to register. She was really, really a special girl."

"Shannon's bright smile, amazing talent and courage will continue to inspire us in our efforts," the New York Blood Center said in a statement.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Shannon Tavarez in July. Credit: Associated Press

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Comments (26)

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may the littel angels in the sky be with her RIP baby girl

Now it's time to take your place next to the father, you will be missed that beautiful smile. But your energy will continue to live on,RIP and may God bless her family.

My heart is broken for her family.My thoughts & prayers are with you.

RIP,little sister.

Bless her heart and her family. So sad to hear. She is soaring higher than she ever dreamed she could. RIP little angel.

The sad part is this article would not have been posted if it wasn't for the celebrities involved.

So sad I couldnt read the article
RIP little girl

"Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old girl who starred on Broadway in "The Lion King" and whose story of a battle with leukemia won the hearts of many including Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent, has died."

I really feel for her family, but it's interesting, had this little girl been white, would the aforementioned celebrity dolts have been so moved? This isn't racist, but merely an observation. It just seems, having seen them react to similar stories in the past, they tend to come running when it's a black cause, story, etc. Their actions seem to be motivated by race, so it does come off as a form of racism to me.

@Brian - Shannon was herself a celebrity. This article is about her and not the other celebrities who helped her fight for life. Your negativity is sad. Rest in peace Shannon.

My thoughts and prayers go to the family of this little star.

@EK: If she'd been white, the celebrity names would have been different. Fortunately for sick white kids, there are a lot more white people with money and power to rally to their cause. I'm glad she got support; I wish that it wasn't all so one-sided.

I'm registered as a bone marrow donor, but (like most folks who are registered) I'm white. I wonder what can be done to diversify the registry more? Maybe some good will come of Shannon Tavarez's death, in raising awareness of the desperate need for people of all backgrounds to register.

@EK - How bitter and hateful and stupid do you have to be to post a comment like that?

Racism is defined as racial prejudice or discrimination. It would be racism to discriminate against someone based on their race; it is NOT racism to help someone because of their specific race.

Bone marrow matches are usually (though not always) found within one's ethnic community. Minorities in the U.S. have lower odds of finding a match because they generally have a smaller pool of donors to pick from. The numbers are even lower for people of mixed race.

Encouraging more minorities to register as bone marrow donors is akin to a "get out the vote" campaign. A voting drive targeted to a specific community -- African-American, Latino, senior citizens, whoever -- is not racism. Preventing people from voting because of their race is. There is a huge difference between the two.

On a practical note, though a match wasn't found for Shannon Tavarez, because of all the people who registered as bone marrow donors, a match may be found for someone else.

What kind of person is opposed to that?

What an amazing, beautiful, bright little girl...
This story makes me so sad for her family but so thankful that God has this precious angel in his care! He will take care of her.
Love and prayers to the family. Be strong.
I'll hug my 2 year old a little tighter tonight :(

How do you register as a bone marrow donor? Is it any more painful than giving blood?

Information on registering as a bone marrow donor can be found here:

How incredibly sad for everyone who loved her, God put her here for a reason, and those that knew and loved her, know what it was. My heart goes out to her family and friends. God bless her soul

It doesn't matter what race she was..... she was a child, a talented child who was living a dream and trying to beat a terrible and painful illness, everything happens for a reason and the GOOD LORD felt it was time for her to shine in the heavens above. My prayers are with her family and close friends. Just know she is no longer in any pain.

@Mickey: I registered to be a bone marrow donor recently. There is no pain, whatsoever. Just a cheek swab. I understand that the actual process of donating is either equivalent to, or slightly worse than, donating blood, based on the type of donation you are doing.

My heart goes out to the parents, familly and many friends of the beautiful Shannon. I hope we can get funding for the research for African American Bone Marrow transplants.

Everyone should register with the National Marrow Donor Program. Most other marrow programs cross-register their members with them. Submitting a sample is very easy, much easier than when I registered 20 years ago: you only need to send in a cheek swab instead of having someone take a blood sample from you. Who would turn down a chance to save someone's life, especially when it involves so little personal sacrifice?

You can register and get a swab kit here:

Another angel passed on Earth, enchanted us with your bright and now is gone...

I lost my 9 year old daughter to leukemia in summer of 08 after she fought it for 2 years. My thoughts and prayers are with the parents.

r.i.p thats sad <3

Saw Miss Shannon in the Lion King in New York; she was AWESOME! Going to miss her!

To the family of Shannon Tavarez: My prayers are with you all during this difficult time and always. Know that she was a blessing to all that knew her or who were able see her talents. May God bless you always.



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