Top 10 Post-1980s Movies With The Highest Real-Life Death Rates

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You always hear about supposedly “cursed” movies, like Poltergeist or The Crow or Twilight Zone: The Movie, as having a high rate of actual death. So, I decided to put it all to the test. I went through over a hundred listings on the Internet Movie Database, to see which films truly had the most death among its cast.

I had the following criteria. The movie or event had to have been produced after 1980. If a film was from the ’70s or earlier, it just makes sense to have a lot of the actors no longer with us. Also, to be considered, at least 25% of the total cast had to be deceased. Some of these might bring up sad or fond memories, so have a hankie ready.

10. WrestleMania V (1989, 25% Death Rate)

wrestlemania-V

OK, so wrestling isn’t technically a movie, per se. But with all of its bombast and theatrics, it might as well be. And, when you realize how many stars of the 1989 WrestleMania are gone, you realize just how cursed this event truly was.

 Several people on camera, wrestler or not, died early of unnatural causes. Adolfo Bresciano (also known as Dino Bravo) was shot seventeen times, back in 1993. It is suspected that Bresciano was involved in illegal activities.  “Sensational” Sherri Martel died of an accidental overdose of drugs in 2007, including oxycodone. “Miss” Elizabeth Hulette died in 2003, as a result of a mix of vodka and painkillers. Referee Joey Marella died on 1994 as a result of falling asleep at the wheel of his own vehicle. Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, who performed at the event, died from a gunshot wound, and his killer has never been found. Most of the dead did not reach the age of 50, aside from “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who died in 2011 at age 58, from a combination heart attack/car crash.

Most Tragic Death: At the May 1999 Over the Edge event, 34-year-old Owen Hart fell 70 feet to his death, in front of thousands of fans.

9. The Blues Brothers (1980, 25.4 % Death Rate)

blues-brothers

One of the things saving The Blues Brothers from not being higher on this list, is the fact that there were over a hundred credited performers in the movie. Even with that figure, it still tops the threshold of 25%. The Blues Brothers combines people from genres that seem to not have long lifespans, namely comedy and music. As such, there were more than a few people that died who were not on the “natural causes” list. The Blues Brothers set was legendary for drug use, and you have the added cache of throwing in the Saturday Night Live curse as well. Many of the musical icons in that movie have sadly passed on.

Most Tragic Death: On March 5, 1982, lead actor John Belushi was found dead at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, California. The 33-year-old had died as a result of an overdose of illegal narcotics.

8. Cocoon (1985, 25.6% Death Rate)

cocoon

It is actually mildly surprising that this movie is not higher on the list. Cocoon was an early Ron Howard film about elderly citizens who find an alien fountain of youth. Many of the elderly citizens in the movie have managed to hang on for literally decades after the movie, but not all. You could not Cocoon 3 today, but you could have conceivably done it in the early ’90s.

Most Tragic Death:  Two of the male leads in the movie died of exactly the same disease. Both Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche died of prostate cancer. Cancer also claimed a third star, Jack Gilford, but Gilford’s cancer was in the stomach and not the prostate.

7. Time Bandits (1981, 26.1% Death Rate)

time-bandits

Terry Gilliam’s wonderful 1981 movie is filled with two at-risk groups. The first is actors of genetically short stature, many of whom have medical problems which lead to lower a life expectancy. The second group were British comedians (who were already older at the time.) Unfortunately, many of the shorter Time Bandits themselves have passed on. This is the primary reason why Gilliam eventually gave up on the idea of a planned sequel.

Most Tragic Death: In 1990, actor David Rappaport committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Rappaport had previously attempted suicide the same year, by inhaling fumes from car exhaust.

6. Grumpy Old Men (1993, 26.315% Death Rate)

grumpy-old-men

Grumpy Old Men suffers from all of its male lead actors having passed on, as well as having a relatively small cast to begin with. Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and Burgess Meredith are all gone now, but they made a true comedy classic along the way. Matthau and Lemmon would also go on to make Grumpier Old Men, as well as an Odd Couple sequel towards the end. The good news is that many of the younger actors, such as Kevin Pollack and Darryl Hannah are still with us, and so is Ann-Margaret.

Most Tragic Death: Friends, costars, and frequent collaborators Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon died less then a year apart. Matthau passed first on July 1st, 2000 and Lemmon followed on June 27th, 2001. They decided to stay together, and are buried close to each other at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

5.  Ghost Story (1981, 26.315% Death Rate)

ghost-story

Ghost Story is a movie about four elderly successful men who were part of a murder decades earlier. Ghost Story has the same percentage as Grumpy Old Men, but also had exactly twice as many actors. This means that twice as many actors from Ghost Story are gone, as were in Grumpy Old Men. The movie itself is highly recommended. Sadly, most of the actors who have passed were in the flashback scenes of younger people.

Most Tragic Death: Actor Tim Choate was only 49 years old when he died as a result of a motorcycle accident.

4.  Jetsons: The Movie (1990, 27.2% Death Rate)

jetsons-movie

George O’Hanlon (George Jetson) and Mel Blanc (Mr. Spacely) passed away before this movie hit the theaters. Literally, this movie could not have been made any later with the original cast, most of whom have passed on. Interestingly enough, one of the surviving original cast members (Janet Waldo as Judy Jetson) was replaced post-production with the singer Tiffany, to try and up the star power. This was after Waldo had already recorded all of her lines.

Most Tragic Death: Voice actor Dana Hill slipped into a diabetic coma at age 32, and never recovered. Hill had also played the role of Aubrey Griswold in the movie European Vacation.

3.  History of the World Part I (1981, 29.3% Death Rate)

history-of-the-world-part-I

The especially sad part about this movie, is that the older actors such as Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar are still alive, but many younger actors are not. Notably, the losses of Madeline Kahn, Gregory Hines, and Ron Carey weigh heavily. Many were regular performers in Mel Brooks movies, so the percentage of performers lost from many of his classics are abnormally high. Thankfully, every day that Brooks is still with us is the continuation of a truly national treasure. It is bad news, however, if you were holding out hope for a “Jews In Space” movie.

Most Tragic Death: Gregory Hines was only 57 years old when he passed. He had liver cancer for less than a year, and only told close friends.

2. Psycho II (1983, 33.3% Death Rate)

psycho-II

Admittedly, this film tried to use as many actors as possible from the original Psycho, in 1960. Still, watching the movie again, and knowing that one in three of all the actors are dead, is a little disconcerting. Hitchcock had already passed when the movie was made, and the production team attempted to make a worthy sequel, based on availability.

Most Tragic Death:  Anthony Perkins (who starred as Norman Bates) died in 1992 from complications of the AIDS virus. Perkins had a complicated life, marked by a heterosexual marriage and a closeted homosexual lifestyle.

1. Transformers: The Movie (1986, 34.3% Death Rate)

transformers-movie

Michael Bay won’t your childhood; re-watching the original Transformers movie will. Many people know that this was Orson Wells’ last film. What they do not realize, is that most of the voice talent from the original series is now gone as well. Transformers took place in the then far-flung future of 2005. Sadly, many of the actors from the film lasted until then.

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Most Tragic Death:  Christopher Latta (voice of Starscream and Cobra Commander) died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 44. The death was reportedly after a long-standing illness.


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7 Comments

  1. Did you include Tiffany’s career in the Jetsons?

    BTW: one of the saddest death rates for a film I’m aware of comes from the 70’s, not the 80’s – 1974, to be precise: Blazing Saddles. Of the 112 credited and non-credited actors in that movie, there are only 18 people left alive (that I can confirm through IMDB or other sources), giving us an 83.9% death rate. Of the movie’s primary actors, only Gene Wilder (Jim), Mel Brooks (Gov. Lepetomane), and Burton Gilliam (Lyle) are still alive.

    Several of the Johnsons from the town are still kicking (David Huddleston aka Olson Johnson aka The Big Lebowski, John Hillerman aka Howard Johnson aka Higgins from Magnum PI, and Carol Arthur aka Harriet Johnson), as is the governor’s secretary.

    The most interesting bit player still living is Craig Littler who played a guy named Tex, a commercial actor who has also been the Gorton Fisherman and the guy who uttered the famous “Pardon me, but would you have any Grey Poupon” in that commercial.

    • I did include Tiffany as part of the Jetsons. The interesting part of that one is that Janet Waldo (who was the original voice of Judy Jetson) is the only original Jetson that is still alive. Waldo recorded for the movie and then the studio put in Tiffany to try and increase box office. But yes, if you go back to the 1970s, the rates really go up. As a matter of fact, if you look at the classic Mel Brooks movies in general, the results are rather sad on how many are no longer with us. That is one of the reasons why I did the 1980 cut off. Thank you for your comment.

      • While I am on the Jetsons, how sad was it that Dana Hill was in the voice cast for that movie?For those that may not be aware of the name, she was also the young woman who was Audrey in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. She had health problems throughout her life and died of a stroke at the age of 32.

        • Yeah, Tiffany’s still alive, but her career is dead. 😛

          And yeah, Dana Hill was a tragedy.

  2. The Danish series The Kingdom (later remade by Stephen King as “Kingdom Hospital”) could not make it into a third season because three of the ten main actors had died. No wonder, it was pretty morbid.

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