Eleven-year-old Shannon Tavarez, who played Young Nala in the Broadway musical The Lion King, has lost her battle with acute myeloid leukemia. The young actress passed away on November 1 after spearheading efforts to register new bone marrow donors.
"Shannon's strength and her happy, positive spirit will live on in our hearts and minds each day," her mother Odiney Brown said in a statement. "[Her] dream was to perform on stage, and that she did. We are grateful for the ongoing support from her Lion King family and the Broadway community. Shannon wanted to recruit people everywhere to 'get swabbed' and help save the lives of those in need of a bone marrow transplant. In her memory, our family and friends will work tirelessly to carry out her wish through MatchShannon.com. It is our hope that Shannon's legacy will continue to inspire other brave children battling leukemia."
Tavares was diagnosed with AML leukemia in April after suffering pain in her lower back and legs. Doctors had been unable to find a bone-marrow match, and Tavarez received chemotherapy as well as an umbilical-cord transplant from an anonymous donor.
The daughter of an African-American mother and Dominican father, Tavarez took a pro-active approach to her diagnosis, including appearances in PSA videos urging people of all ethnicities to sign up as bone marrow donors. Her fight drew the attention of celebrities including Alicia Keys and Rihanna.
The Queens native made her Broadway debut in September 2009 and had been appearing in four shows a week at the Minskoff Theatre before falling ill. The Lion King dimmed the marquee lights at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre in Tavares' honor on November 2.