LOS ANGELES -- William Thomas, 49, who played Buckwheat in 89 'Our Gang' movie comedies in the 1930s and 1940s, has been found dead in his home, apparently of natural causes.
Coroner's investigator Philip Spada said a neighbor who had not seen Thomas for several days entered his southwest Los Angeles house Friday afternoon and found the man dead in his bed.
Police said was no sign of injury or forced entry to the residence. An autospy was expected to determine the cause of death.
The former child actor, who was a movie lab technician in his later years, lived alone but is believed to have left a son.
'All we know is there is a son, whereabouts unknown,' Spada said.
Thomas joined the 'Our Gang Cast' at the age of 3 and played the part from 1934-44, when he got too tall and left the group.
Buckwheat, wearing a dress and his curled hair often hidden by a large straw hat, joined 'Spanky' and 'Alfalfa' in planning the mischief that made the kids famous.
He was the third black youngster featured in the series, following Farina, played by Allan Clayton Hoskins, and Stymie, portrayed by Matthew Beard, Jr.
More than 300 children appeared in the 'Our Gang' comedies, first produced by Hal Roach in the 1920s. The films were sold to televison in 1951 and renamed 'The Little Rascals.'
In recent years, Thomas was involved in a dispute with a man names James Frazier, who claimed he was the real Buckwheat.
Although other former child actors who had worked with Thomas in the series vouched for his authenticity, the dispute was never completely settled.
'William took my place when I got too tall,' 'Stymie' Beard said. 'I don't know anything about James Frazier.
Darla Hood, who played 'Darla' in the comedies, also vouched for Thomas before her death earlier this year.
'There was only one Buckwheat,' she said. 'William Thomas was Buckwheat.'
Frazier, 59, now a city park attendant, said, 'We looked like twin brothers when we was growing up. He was always a nice guy. We didn't fall in love or nothing but I'm sorry to hear that he's dead.'