10 AMAZING ACTORS Who DIED While Filming Movies
The art of movie-making is not without its roadblocks. Financial troubles, contract negotiations, and inclement weather are just a sample of the dilemmas that a production crew can run into. We’ll be covering something far more tragic than poor location choice, as we look at ten actors and actresses that never saw their final project to completion.
The death of Heath Ledger shocked the entertainment industry and derailed production of Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Coming off his heavily taxing preparation to bring The Joker to life, which included locking himself in a hotel room for a month to perfect the character, fans were quick to blame his methodology for his mental downturn. While the timing kind of matches up, Ledger’s accidental mixture of oxycodone, temazepam, alPRAzolam, doXYLamine, hydrocodone, and diazepam could have just been an effect of an alleged drug problem the actor struggled with. After his death, Gilliam toyed with ending production on the fantastical Parnassus or digitally adding Ledger in, but instead utilized Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to portray different versions of Ledger’s character, Tony.
Like his son Brandon, Bruce Lee was in the middle of film production when his life suddenly ended. In May of 1973, Lee was diagnosed and treated for a cerebral edema, possibly caused by head trauma incurred during his martial arts career. Two months after his first treatment, symptoms returned. Hoping to reduce the pain, Lee took Equagesic, a painkiller, and laid down for a nap that he never woke up from. The official cause of death was said to be an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller. Adding to the tragedy was The Game of Death, a martial arts film Lee was in the process of writing, directing, producing, and starring in. With Lee absent, The Game of Death remained incomplete until 2000, when what was filmed was released alongside behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.
For his terrifying portrayal as the pale fiend of the night in the 1931 classic, Dracula, Lugosi found himself being typecast as a horror villain, and it was within this realm that his career shined the most. When he branched off, Lugosi’s fame declined, leading to a string of drug use and poverty that had promise of turning around when the aging actor was paired up with ambitious filmmaker Ed Wood. Wood’s most notable piece, 1959's "Plan 9 from Outer Space", starred Lugosi, though much of what’s seen of the actor on-screen were from test scenes for other projects the two had been working on together. Wood also had his wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason, fill in for Lugosi, though he was always seen with a cape over half of his face as the two shared no physical similarities. Lugosi suffered a heart attack at the age of 73 and is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
While shooting for the 1994 western comedy Wagons East! in Durango, Mexico, legendary funnyman John Candy suffered a heart attack that proved to be too much for his body to handle. Candy died on March 4th, 1994, leaving the creative minds behind Wagons East! the difficult task to fill in the empty gaps that his death would cause. Thanks to the wonders of technology, filmmakers were able to integrate stand-ins and special effects to complete the film. Though the movie marked one of his last film appearances, his last film release wound up technically being Canadian Bacon. The 1995 movie completed filming prior to Wagons East! but delays in the release schedule pushed it further out. Unfortunately, neither movie performed well enough to act as proper send-offs to one of comedy’s greatest men.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
When highly regarded actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away from a lethal dosage of heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines, it shocked Hollywood and movie-goers. Despite a history of drug abuse in the 80’s, Hoffman’s rehabilitation at 22-years-old lead to 23 years of sobriety and an incredibly successful career. On February 2nd, 2014, the actor was found dead on the floor of his apartment’s bathroom with a needle in his arm. The devastating effects of Hoffman’s accidental death were felt heavily by the entire crew of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 as Hoffman still had several pivotal scenes left to film as Plutarch Heavensbee. Rather than turn to CG recreation of the actor, director Francis Lawrence instead had Plutarch’s scenes rewritten for other characters and cut in real footage of Hoffman.
With advancements in film-making technology, the loss of an actor mid-production, while felt hard by those closest to them, can be worked around without having to alter the script. When Oliver Reed died of a heart attack on May 2nd, 1999, he was on a short break from filming Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. As a mentor to the protagonist, Maximus Meridius, Reed’s role was fairly large in the movie and, to finish the scenes still needing to be shot posthumously, Scott employed CGI tactics and mannequins to fill Reed in. While enjoying a few too many drinks at a pub in Valletta, Malta with soldiers of the British Royal Navy and crew of the HMS Cumberland, Reed collapsed and died before an ambulance could get to him.
River Phoenix became known as one of the most influential younger actors of his era, astonishing audiences with his natural talent. By the early-90’s, Phoenix’s do-good attitude changed and started him down a path that would be his undoing when, on Halloween night in 1993, the 23-year-old actor died of an Acute multiple drug ingestion of cocaine, morphine, Valium, and ephedrine at Johnny Depp’s former nightclub, The Viper Room. Along with future films he had been cast in, such as Interview with a Vampire and Broken Dreams, Phoenix left the thriller Dark Blood unfinished. For 19 years it remained so, until director George Sluizer re-edited the footage for a 2012 release.
On November 30th, 2013, Paul Walker and friend Roger Rodas were involved in a single-vehicle collision. The Porsche Carrera GT, driven by Rodas, crashed into a concrete lamppost and burst into flames. Neither Walker nor Rodas survived the crash and the raging fire left their bodies unrecognizable by the time emergency services arrived. What followed was a mix of anger and sorrow from fans of Walker as further investigation into the case determined that Rodas was speeding between 80-90 miles or 130-150 kilometers per hour in a 45-mile or roughly 70-kilometer per hour zone when the car struck the post. The timing of Walker’s death came during the filming of The Fast and the Furious 7, forcing rewrites and his brothers Caleb and Cody to stand-in for him.
Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le, Renee Shin-Yi Chen
Outside of The Twilight Zone: The Movie, these three actors likely had very little in common. Vic Morrow was an established television actor while Myca and Renee were both under 10-years-old, but in 1982, their paths crossed and came to a sudden end due to alleged carelessness during the filming of John Landis’ theatrical Twilight Zone movie. While escaping from a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter as part of a scene in the “Time Out” segment, Morrow and the two children were killed when the chopper lost control after a mortar effect detached the tail-rotor. The chopper came down on Morrow and Le, decapitating them, and Chen was crushed to death, though the six passengers on board all survived with injuries. Landis had allegedly ignored warnings about the danger of the stunt, but he was acquitted of manslaughter during the criminal investigation.
Mention the name Brandon Lee and chances are the 1994 film, The Crow, is going to come up. Lee’s most notable role, the ill-fated Eric Draven in Alex Proyas’ adaptation of the comic book, also happened to be his last. During filming of the alleged “cursed” movie, Lee was accidentally shot on set and died shortly after, nearly ending production of the movie entirely. Time constraints during production led to sloppy gun handling as the prop crew created their own dummy cartridges, which led to a bullet being driven partway through the barrel of a .44 Magnum. When the gun was reused with blanks that give the illusion of a gun firing, the force of the blank dislodged the dummy round, which struck Lee in the abdomen.