Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Actors who died during filming

While the death of an actor is always heartbreaking, it can also cause logistical problems if their demise takes place mid-way through a movie shoot. We’ve investigated the sad occasions when actors died prematurely during filming - and how studios made sure their last efforts still made it to the big screen.

James Dean
James Dean’s death at the age of 24 guaranteed his name would never be forgotten. His most iconic role was in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, which was released a month after he was killed and is now regarded as a classic. When he died in a car crash he had just finished filming all his scenes for ‘Giant’, but he hadn’t recorded his dialogue yet. A voiceover artist was brought in to dub over the final scenes and it was released the following year. It earned Dean the first posthumous Best Actor nomination in Academy Awards history.
Oliver Reed
Oliver Reed was just as famous for his boozing as he was for his acting – and it was drink that finally killed the actor. In May 1999 Reed died from a heart attack after drinking £538 worth of alcohol while filming ‘Gladiator’ in Malta. However, he was only part way through the shoot, so CGI trickery was used to digitally insert him into several key scenes.
Richard Harris
Though he played one of the world's most powerful wizards in the first two ‘Harry Potter’ movies, there was nothing Richard Harris could do about Hodgkin's disease, which killed him in 2002. ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ was released in the US two and a half weeks after his death, and fellow Irishman Michael Gambon took on the role of Dumbledore for the rest of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies.
Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger died at the age of 28 from an accidental "toxic combination of prescription drugs" on 22 January 2008. He had finished filming his penultimate performance, the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’, but was only mid-way through shooting Terry Gilliam's film ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’. A host of A-listers including Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell stepped in to make sure Ledger’s final film made it to cinemas. They each portrayed transformed versions of Ledger's character as he travelled through magical realms. Seamless…
Brandon Lee
Whilst filming a scene for ‘The Crow’ Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) was shot and killed by a makeshift bullet from a faulty prop gun. He died on March 31st 1993. The film had to be completed using two stunt doubles - Chad Stahelski and Jeff Cadiente – plus computer effects. It became a hit, though whether this was down to the movie’s merits, or morbidly curious audiences, is still up for debate.
Jean Harlow
Blonde bombshell Jean was cut down in her prime, dying of kidney failure at the age of just 26 in 1937. She was filming ‘Saratoga’ at the time and a double was used to finish the film.  Watch it and you’ll notice towards the end her character’s face is never shown and does not speak any lines. She does show up in finale, but this scene was originally intended for earlier in the film and was re-edited. No wonder the movie feels ‘unresolved’.

River Pheonix
Gorgeous River was one of Hollywood’s biggest rising stars. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, he was only 23 when he died of drug related heart failure on Halloween 1993. His final completed movie, ‘Silent Tongue’, was released the following year but ‘Dark Blood’, which Phoenix was also working on, never saw the light of day as several key scenes couldn’t be shot without him.

Aaliyah was finally gaining acceptance in the movie world when she was killed in a plane crash on her way back from a music video shoot. She was only 22. The R&B star had begun filming a supporting role in the second ‘Matrix’ film but the directors decided there wasn’t enough material and her character was cut from the film. Aaliyah’s other film - ‘Queen Of The Damned’ - was originally scheduled to go straight to DVD but her death ensured it got a cinema release nearly six months after her death.

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