Top 10 Movies Starring People Who Died While Filming Them

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Movies might be make-believe, but there are times when they have to actually deal with some very real life issues. For instance, what if a main actor in your production dies during or prior to the filming of the movie? The show must go on, after all. So here are some of the more creative ways in which movies have gotten around a main star dying.

10. Desperado (1995)

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Raul Julia was a respected character actor perhaps best known for his interpretation of Gomez Addams in the Addams Family movies. Julia had dealt with a food poisoning issue in early 1994. In October of that year, Julia was admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital with stomach and abdominal pains. Julia’s next movie was to be the Robert Rodriguez film Desperado. As a matter of fact, he had even brought the script for Desperado with him to the hospital. Julia suffered an unexpected stroke while in the hospital, from which he never recovered. On the day that Julia died, shooting on Desperado started. At the very last minute, Rodriguez had to replace the role of primary bad guy Bucho with Joachim De Almeida. Reportedly, Rodriguez is still touched to this day that the script was in Julia’s hospital room right till the end.

9. The Crow (1994)

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Brandon Lee’s work on The Crow was mostly finished when the fatal accident occurred which resulted in his death. He was supposed to get shot with a gun loaded with blanks, but there was a fragment of a prop bullet in the gun’s barrel, which pierced Lee’s side and fatally wounded him.

However, the problem is that Lee was only mostly finished with his scenes. The scene which Lee was filming at the time of his death was also the same one in which his character, Eric Draven, “dies.” A body double was used through most of the scene, and the part where Draven is falling to his death actually has his face superimposed over another actor’s body. His face is not shown in the rest of the sequence. Such a trick led to the frightening possibility of dead actors one day “starring” in new movies.

8. Game of Death (1978)

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Bruce Lee was filming Game of Death at the time of his death in 1973. The original film was supposed to feature Lee climbing up five levels of stairs facing a different style of martial arts at each level. As the levels progressed, so did Lee’s understanding of martial arts. As Lee died during the production, Game of Death’s release was delayed by five years. There was a sub-plot added in which Lee’s character is shot in the face. Lee is then allowed to “fake” his death and receive plastic surgery, in order to explain the two different actors playing Billy Lo. While the idea was clever, the final film received very mixed reactions.

7. Wagons East! (1994)

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After John Candy died in Mexico while filming the comedy Wagons East!, the production team was left with a dilemma. Namely, they needed to finish a film in which Candy was required for several sequences. They turned to new digital technology in order to try and digitally recreate Candy for some sequences. In addition, they also resorted to tricks usually reserved for action movies, such as a body double. How would you like to get that call? “Hi, we need a body double for John Candy, and after seeing you scarf down two whole pizzas by yourself, we knew you were the one.”

They also used a voice actor to try and sound like Candy. The director later remarked that he hoped it would be remembered as one of Candy’s better roles. Somehow, it rarely comes up in the conversation.

6. Transformers: The Movie (1986)

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It is widely known that the voice of Unicron in the Transformers: The Movie was Orson Welles last role. Welles reportedly died at a typewriter attempting to write a new script for a potential television endeavor. There is, however, some debate as to the impact that Welles’ death had on the production. The popular theory for years was that Leonard Nimoy finished the work for Welles. In recent years, that claim has been refuted by voice director Wally Burr. Burr states that Welles was done with his role by the time of his death, and Nimoy was never used as the voice of Unicron.

Years later, director Michael Bay would half-joke that Burr does bear some responsibility for Welles’ death. Burr was apparently pretty legendary for making voice actors work a full eight-hour shift. This is partially backed up by voice actor Maurice LaMarche ( who voiced Brain in Pinky and the Brain,) sparking a mini-feud between LaMarche and Burr.

5. Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

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The death of Peter Sellers in 1980 after a long battle with heart disease at the age of 54 would also have seemed to stop Sellers from starring in Pink Panther movies as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Ultimately, this was not to be the case. Director Blake Edwards cobbled together another movie out of unused outtakes from their five previous Pink Panther collaborations to make Trail of the Pink Panther. It was not even Edwards’ last Pink Panther film. In 1983, Edwards would make Curse of the Pink Panther centering around the “search” for Inspector Clouseau, which had even more archived footage. The search did not manage to end with someone whacking a dead horse next to Sellers’ grave.

4. Gladiator (2000)

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Oliver Reed had a certifiable reputation as an alcoholic as well as a womanizer. On the night of his death, he was reportedly in a bar, and died owing a nearly $900 bar tab. At the time of his death, he was currently filming his role as Proximo in the Ridley Scott film Gladiator. In order to film Reed’s screen death, a body double was used. The scene was shot mostly around Reed’s face, but did give glimpses of it for under two minutes in the actual film. Doing so cost Scott nearly $2 million.

3. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

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Schlock director Ed Wood’s movie Plan 9 From Outer Space was Bela Lugosi’s last film, as he died while filming it. Wood did not have any resources to make a new film, much less go back and re-make an old one. Wood finished his film by using stock footage of Lugosi from other, unrealized films, such as Ghouls on the Moon. The rest of the scenes were legendarily finished by Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, Thomas Mason, who was not the same height as Lugosi, not to mention several years younger. Also, he didn’t look a thing like Lugosi, a problem Wood easily solved by making Mason shoot every scene holding his cape over his face. At least they tried.

2. Shrek (2001)

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Chris Farley’s death of an overdose in 1997 had a lot of adverse effects. One of the most practical ones was the fact that his voice work for the upcoming animated film Shrek was not finished for Dreamworks. The alternate trouble was how to market a kid’s movie with a dead actor’s voice. In the end, Shrek’s voice was done by Mike Myers, and the rest is history. Farley’s voice recordings have never been released to the public.

1. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)

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The death of Heath Ledger was indeed shocking, but the production affected was not The Dark Knight. Joker was good to go by that point. What was endangered was Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Ledger had filmed scenes for his Brothers Grimm collaborator, but was by no means finished with the film. Ledger’s role replacement would require some … well … imagination. Ultimately, Ledger would be replaced by not one, but three actors. The first replacement to come on board was Johnny Depp, but his schedule did not allow him to finish all of the scenes. Thus, Jude Law and Colin Farrell were brought in to finish the role. To explain all of this away, Gilliam had all their scenes take place beyond a “magic mirror” in another reality. This served to help suspend our disbelief as to why Tony had a new face every other scene.


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11 Comments

  1. “Fast & Furious” Paul Walker and “Hunger Games” Philip Seymour Hoffman.
    Both are the most recent deaths. 🙁

  2. ELLIOTT J. SCHERTZER on

    Jean Harlow in Saratoga died as her final scenes a double was used. Several 3 stooges shorts a double was used for a deceased Shemp Howard, and Tyrone Power died while filming a fight scene with George Saunders , Yul Brenner replaced Power cant recall name of that film.

  3. Hugh Manatee on

    Yul Brynner (in a wig) replaced Tyrone Power in SOLOMON AND SHEBA with Gina Lollobrigida (1959). Power had filmed about half the movie before having a heart attack filming the duel. Power still remains visible in some long shots.

  4. There are several deleted scenes on the DVD release of Shrek in which the character is voiced without a Scottish accent and it’s not Mike Myers. I was under the impression that those clips used the original Chris Farley audio.

  5. did I miss it and maybe it did not qualify, but didn’t james dean die in a car crash in calif while filming Giant with Rock Hudson

  6. Heather O’Rourke died during post-production of Poltergeist III. Now there was a child actor that really could act.

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