The motto of the entertainment business is “the show must go on.” Watch our video for an overview of 10 actors who died while filming their last project. TV shows and movies tend to push through all obstacles to reach completion, even the death of a key actor.
Modern technology allows them to recreate unfinished scenes and reinsert completed footage. Rewrites ensure the story still makes sense. They may audition replacement actors to take on the role. As a last-ditch effort, they may have to scrap the project entirely.
Whatever strategy a studio takes to deal with actors who died while filming, they need to remember that these stars were real humans with families and friends. They need to make sure they respect their life and legacy in the finished product.
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James Dean earned several bit parts in movies and TV shows before getting his big break in 1955. That year brought him parts in East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant.
James Dean loved acting, but his other passion was race cars. His dream was to compete in the Indianapolis 500, and professional drivers noted his skill.
James used the money from his breakout roles to purchase a Triumph Tiger motorcycle and Porsche 550 Spyder.
While finishing filming on Rebel Without a Cause, he decided to take his new vehicles on a joyride. He received a speeding ticket on September 30, 1955 and died from a broken neck in a crash 2 hours later.
Dracula is one of the most well-known monsters in the world. Bela Lugosi became famous for his portrayal of the creature in the 1931 film adaptation.
Bela Lugosi met and struck up a friendship with Ed Wood in the 1950s. They began working together despite the director’s terrible reputation.
In 1956, Bela Lugosi’s career was faltering. He also struggled with an addiction to pain pills. They prescribe to heal the back pain he suffered from as a result of WWII army service injuries.
Ed Wood attempted to provide the actor with a comeback project with the film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Bela Lugosi completed a few test scenes but lost his life after a heart attack in August of that same year.
Ed decided to release the film anyway, inserting about 5 minutes of the test footage. It is a massive flop and is regarded as one of the worst films of all time.
Brainstorm had a powerful pedigree backing it up. The cast included Oscar-winning actors like Christopher Walken, Cliff Roberston, and Lousie Fletcher. The director, Douglas Trumbull, had also won Oscars for his visual effects skills. The film also promised to use revolutionary new technology.
Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner took Christopher Walken on their yacht for a weekend vacation while the film was still in production. Her body was later found in the water. Despite mysterious circumstances and unanswered questions, the case rules an accidental death.
Brainstorm was already struggling with budget and production problems at the time of Natalie Wood’s death. They tried to use the tragedy as an excuse to shut the film down and filed an insurance claim to make back some of the money they’d lost on the project.
Most of Natalie’s scenes were already completed, so the director insisted on releasing the film. It faced a poor reception that soured his reputation.
Like and subscribe for more shocking details on the last moments of your favorite celebrities. Keep watching for more sordid tales of celebrities who died during filming, including the son of a kung-fu film legend.
Brandon Lee was the son of action superstar Bruce Lee. His unexpected death came 23 years after his father’s in 1973.
Brandon sets to star in a film adaptation of the comic book series The Crow. It was a low-budget production, but public fondness for the source material combined with his own physical talent gave it promise.
Blank rounds are a common sight on any action movie set where guns are there. The lead tip replaces with harmless cardboard to prevent the risk of injury.
Somehow, one of the prop guns had a bullet with a real lead tip on it. Actor Michael Masse fired it at Lee and accidentally killed him.
Producers had to raise a large sum of money to finish The Crow. They used stunt doubles and special effects to replicate Brandon Lee in the remaining scenes.
Heath Ledger was working on two films at once at the time of his death. He began filming one of his most famous roles, The Joker in The Dark Night. He also signed on to play Tony Shepard in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Heath Ledger died of a drug overdose while filming the latter film.
Director Terry Gilliam wanted to scrap The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he first heard the news. Heath’s friends and family convinced him to finish the film to keep both their legacies alive.
The film was an odd tale of multiple realities, and Terry GIlliam used this to his advantage. He hired Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel, and Jude Law to act in each version of reality that Tony Shepard encounters. He dedicated the film to Heath, naming him as a “co-director.”
Phillip Seymoure Hoffman
The Hunger Games was once a franchise that could do no wrong, and its name alone attracted several talented actors. They included Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who took on the role of Plutarch Heavensbee in 4 of the franchise’s many films.
Phillip died of a drug overdose at the age of 46. He was halfway through filming all his scenes in the adaptation of the final book in the series.
The final film contained a crucial moment between Phillip’s character and the saga’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. He’d expressed his opinions on how the scene should be filmed and staged before his death but hadn’t been able to film it.
The producers didn’t want to use CGI to replace the prolific actor and opted to rewrite the script instead. Plutrach Heavensbee wrote Katniss a letter expressing his thoughts, and another character read it out loud. This was their attempt to retain the emotional impact of the scene while respecting Philip Seymour Hoffman’s legacy. Join facts Verse to learn more the details about the 12 actors who died while filming.
The Fast and the Furious franchise began in 2001, and the 7th entry was released in 2015. It was the highest-grossing film franchise in the world at the time.
Paul Walker died suddenly during filming. What began as an ordinary drive in his Porsche with a friend became a tragedy when he lost control and crashed, costing them both their lives.
The news put the release of Furious 7 into question, but studios didn’t want to lose the latest entry in such a profitable franchise. They used body doubles, Paul’s brothers, and CGI effects to finish the film.
Furious 7 also includes a scene that pays tribute to Paul’s life and impact on the franchise. It shows his and Vin Diesel’s character competing in one final race. Join facts Verse to learn more the details about the 12 actors who died while filming.
John Ritter was a beloved actor known for his knack for physical comedy and warm onscreen presence. His breakout role was on the sitcom Three’s Company.
In 2002, he earned a spot in the ABC comedy 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. It starred other comedy stars such as Katey Sagal and Kaley Cuoco.
The show was well-received and renewed for a second season. John Ritter wrapped filming on several episodes before dying suddenly of an aortic dissection.
The showrunners decided not to replace or write off John’s character. Instead, they changed the entire tone of the show. They aired his 3 completed episodes but then focused on how his sitcom family would react to his death.
The show was renewed for a 3rd season but began to drop in ratings and was eventually cancelled in 2005.
John Candy never wanted to make Wagons East, but his contract required him to complete at least one more movie with the studio. He also had debts to pay thanks to an unprofitable stake in a Canadian football team. These factors lead him to agree to take the part, unaware that it would be his last film appearance.
John’s weight and daily smoking habit contributed to his health issues. He finished about ⅓ of his scenes before dying of a heart attack at the age of 43.
The producers of Wagons East received an insurance payout of $15 million after John Candy’s death. They used it to hire a stand-in and implement digital effects to insert completed footage into the fim. They felt that their efforts worked seamlessly, but critics and fans disagreed.
Watching the film made it obvious that they’d used the same scenes repeatedly. This, combined with other factors, made Wagons East a massive bomb with a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Join facts Verse to learn more the details about the 12 actors who died while filming.
Vic Morrow appeared in The Blackboard Jungle, Roots, The Bad News Bears, and other famous movies and TV shows. His work lives on in the memories of fans, but his death also remains one of the most notorious examples of actors who died while filming.
In 1982, plans began for a big-budget film remake of The Twilight Zone, a famous 1950s TV show. It included 3 parts made by 3 different directors; Steven Spielberg, George Miller, and John Landlis.
A semi-original sequence required Morrow to fly in a helicopter to save 2 Vietnamese children from an attack. It crashed during filming, taking both his lives and those of the child actors.
The film was eventually finished, but John Landlis, who came up with the dangerous scene, faced a legal battle after Vic Morrow’s death. He was accused of ignoring safety rules and charged with manslaughter. He was acquitted but had to settle several civil suits out of court.
Reworking a project with actors who died while filming is like walking on a tightrope. Studios have to balance finishing the story with the need to maintain the fallen star’s legacy (as well as their own).
Do you think TV shows and films should continue production after the loss of a vital actor? Let us know in the comments below.