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Tuesday
Nov022010

Broadway's "Lion King" Star Dies of Cancer

Photo Courtesy - Odiney Brown | ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old who played Young Nala in Broadway's The Lion King, has died after a sixth month battle with leukemia, it was reported Monday.

The 11-year-old star hoped to find a bone marrow donor to help her fight the disease, but multiple donation drives failed to find a suitable match. More than 8,000 people from around the country, including the rapper 50 Cent, volunteered to be bone marrow donors in her name.

The little girl with the big voice received a cord-blood transplant in August that doctors hoped would save her life, according to BroadwayWorld.com. The star also underwent chemotherapy last summer.

The fact that Shannon, who had no siblings, was part African-American and part Hispanic made it harder to find a bone marrow transplant. Of the seven million Americans listed as potential donors, only 12 percent are minorities, according to DKMS Americas, the world's largest bone marrow center. "We know minorities are underrepresented and have more varied DNA," said Katarina Harf, DKMS Executive Vice President. "It's like finding a needle in a haystack, looking for your genetic twin."

Shannon was five years old when her mother realized she could sing. By 11, the talented girl competed against thousands of other star-struck young girls to win the part of Young Nala, Simba's feisty feline girlfriend, in the Broadway production of The Lion King.

Tavarez got the role of Simba's girlfriend in the popular musical after her first-ever open audition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She never had appeared in a professional production, only in school recitals and plays.

"It's a great feeling, performing for people and being Young Nala, because she's tough and I feel like that's who I am through this whole experience," Shannon told ABC News last summer.

In April, when she was performing on stage, she knew something wasn't right. "It was hard to walk," Shannon told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I was fatigued and tired a lot."

She was diagosed with acute myeloid leukemia and immediately began chemotherapy, finishing fifth grade in Queens, N.Y., but missing her graduation and the big school dance.

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