As a performer, Skye McCole Bartusiak thrilled audiences in such films as The Patriot and television shows like 24. But on July 25, in the shadow of a large wreath in the shape of a pink butterfly on the podium of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, the 21-year-old actress was remembered more for her warm spirit, sense of adventure and "uncontrollable contagious" laugh than her considerable acting talents.
"If you want to remember her, remember that smile and remember that laugh," her brother Stephen told several hundred mourners at a service to honor her memory.
Bartusiak died unexpectedly last weekend at a garage apartment adjoining her parents' home. Her mother told CNN that she had suffered periodic seizures in recent weeks. A spokesperson for the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office says the cause of death remains under investigation.
"Not just anybody can steal a scene right out from under Mel Gibson. [But] there was a depth and authenticity to this young woman," said pastor Lynne Buckridge.
Lynne Buckridge, pastor at Heights Presbyterian Church, where Bartusiak and her family were members, told mourners that throughout her life, the actress had battled acute pancreatitis, chronic back pain as a result of an injury when she appeared on Broadway in The Miracle Worker in 2003, and epileptic seizures.
"Most 19- and 20 year-olds think they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof, but Skye recognized the realities of her own physical frailties," Buckridge said. "She was a person familiar with suffering."
As a successful actress at such a young age — she was 7 when she became famous after starring opposite Mel Gibson in the 2000 hit movie The Patriot — Bartusiak was "truly unique," Buckridge said.
"I mean not just anybody can steal a scene right out from under Mel Gibson. [But] there was a depth and authenticity to this young woman. Skye was probably a bit of mystery in Hollywood. She didn't fit neatly into any of those Hollywood categories. Skye was a gifted thespian, but as everyone is this room knows, she was so much more than that."
Her father, Don Bartusiak, said the family had received notes from friends and fans from around the world that used the same phrase to describe her: "She lit up the room."
"Skye's ability to engage people emotionally was exceptional," he said.
But she also was tough and brave, he said. "As an actress auditioning, Skye probably experienced more rejection in a decade than most people do in a lifetime. She was a fighter, but she never gave up. Her successes were well-documented but her challenges less so," he said.
Her brother, Stephen, recalled a close relationship that included regular outings to see the alternative band 311. They were slated to attend a concert by the group in Houston next week. "So remember my sister for being that free-spirited, happy-go-lucky rasta girl," he said, as the audience laughed.
"If you want to know what makes Skye happy, go out and plant a tree. Make it a place you can go to when you want to reflect. Make it a place where you write or where you think. But make it your safe place, because that's what Skye would want," he said.