27 Famous Actors Who Tragically Died While Filming.
This article is based on "Top 20 Actors Who Died On Set" and "10 Actors Who Died During Production". If you're interested in reading more, check out the link at the bottom of the article.
Imaginarium filming was postponed indefinitely as the production team searched for solutions. Director Terry Gilliam wanted to salvaged the film by using CGI to make Ledger's character change his appearance, but in the end it was decided that three actors would assume the role of Tony in various scenes. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law portrayed Tony when travelling through magical realms, while the pre-shot footage of Ledger was used for the character's real world scenes. Due to previous contractual obligations, Depp shot all his films in one take over one day. The three actors donated their wages to Ledger's daughter Matilda who had been accidentally left out of his will.
2/27 Jon-Erik Hexum / Cover Up
26-year-old American model and actor Jon-Erik Hexum was filming the TV series Cover Up when he became bored onset. While the director reorganized the shoot, Hexum impatiently unloaded all the blank rounds from his prop gun. He thought it would be fun to play Russian roulette with the empty gun but didn't realize that the wadding from the blank rounds can cause injury if fired close enough to the body.
The impact shattered a piece of his skull and caused massive hemorrhaging. He was rushed to the hospital but was declared brain dead six days later.
The episode Hexum had been working on aired two weeks after his death and the show continued without his character. A few weeks later it was explained that his character Mac had been killed on assignment. Hexum's mother later sued 20th Century Fox and received an out-of-court settlement.
3/27 John Ritter / 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
The 54-year-old actor complained of chest pains and vomiting one day while on set for 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter where he stared as patriarch Paul Hennessy. He went to the hospital across the street where he was misdiagnosed with a heart attack. By the time he was diagnosed with an aortic dissection it was too late, and he died during surgery, a mere six days before his 55th birthday.
The show was rebranded 8 Simple Rules and the next season explained his absence by saying Paul had died after collapsing in a grocery store. The rest of the show's one-and-a-half seasons addressed the family's reaction to his death and attempts to cope until poor ratings forced ABC to cancel the series in 2006.
4/27 Martha Mansfield / The Warrens of Virginia
While working on location in San Antonio, Texas in 1923 for the drama The Warrens of Virginia, Mansfield was accidentally burned when a match thrown into her car set her costume on fire. Her romantic opposite Wilfred Lytell threw his overcoat on her to put the fire out but she suffered substantial burns. She was rushed to the hospital but died less than 24 hours later of burns, general toxemia, and suppression of urine at the age of 24.
To continue with production the film's producers decided to edit down her role, turning Rosemary Hill's character into the lead, and reshoot her remaining scenes.
5/27 River Phoenix / Dark Blood
American actor and musician River Phoenix suffered a morphine and cocaine overdose while performing at a Hollywood nightclub in October 1993. He collapsed outside the nightclub and though paramedics attempted CPR he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Production halted at the news of Phoenix's death as important scenes with his character still needed to be filmed. Eventually the film was abandoned until it resurfaced to premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival 19 years later. Director George Sluzier had held onto the footage and reedited the completed scenes to create a final product, providing narration for some of the missing scenes.
6/27 Jack Budlong / They Died With Their Boots On
The third of three deaths on set, stuntman Jack Budlong insisted on using a real saber for his big cavalry charge scene. When an explosive spooked his horse, Budlong was thrown off his horse and he tragically landed on his sword, impaling himself. He was taken to the hospital where he later died of peritonitis.
There is no account of how They Died With Their Boots On filming continued in light of Budlong's absence, though it's assumed that another stuntman was hired.
7/27 Bruce Lee / Game of Death
Hong Kong - American actor and martial artist Bruce Lee collapsed during a dub session for Enter the Dragon and was rushed to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a cerebral edema but doctors were able to reduce the swelling. A month later he complained of a similar headache but went for a nap and was never revived.
Over 100 minutes of footage had been completed at the time of Lee's death, but since he was directing, writing, producing, and starring in the film, production came to a halt. Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse completely took over the film, finishing it by using only 11 minutes of original footage and enlisting two stand-ins for Lee's character. The extended original footage was used as part of the documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey.
8/27 Tyrone Power / Solomon and Sheba
The 44-year-old swashbuckler was filming Solomon and Shema in Madrid, Spain when he suffered a heart attack while filming a duelling scene. He was driven back to the hotel but fainted in the lobby and could not be revived. The cause of death was ruled a fulminant Angina pectoris. His wife Deborah gave birth to their son Tyrone Power IV tow months after his death.
Two third of the movie had been shot when Power died which caused many difficulties in choosing an appropriate solution. After considering casting another actor as "Older Solomon", rewriting the script, or just cancelling the film altogether, they opted to recast Yul Brynner in the role. Brynner delayed filming Spartacus and the movie was completed in just over ten weeks.
9/27 David Carradine / Stretch
While in Bangkok, Thailand to shoot Stretch in June, 2009, David was found dead in his hotel room. He was discovered naked and hanging by a rope in the hotel room's closet. The cause of death was later ruled to be accidental asphyxiation, not suicide, as it was revealed he had an interest in self-bondage.
Carradine died three days before the end of the shoot in Bangkok, so director Charles de Meaux rewrote the script to explain Carradine's absence from key scenes. The character was reduce to a mere three minutes of screen time. Carradine's wife sued the production company for wrongful death as they were supposed to assist him in things like going out for dinner, which they failed to do the night he died.
10/27 Gareth Jones / Underground
During a live broadcast of the play Underground as part of Armchair Theatre, Jones suffered a heart attack and died off-camera in his make-up chair between two of his scenes.
The cast was forced to improvise the rest of the play to its conclusion, as producer Sydney Newman insisted that the show must continue. The actors were not have informed that he had died until the play finished. Coincidentally, Jones' character was supposed to have a heart attack later in the play.
11/27 Cory Monteith / Glee
31-year-old Canadian actor and musician Cory Monteith was found dead in his hotel room in Vancouver after failing to check out at the appropriate time. His autopsy report revealed a mix of heroin and alcohol in his system, and his death was ruled an accidental overdose.
Though filming for the fifth season of Glee hadn't begun yet, showrunners met early to discuss how to address Monteith's death. Production was postponed until later in August and the season's third episode explained that Monteith's character Finn had simply died.
12/27 Roy Kinnear / Return of the Musketeers
The 54-year-old British character actor was filming The Return of the Musketeers in Toledo, Spain when he fell from a horse and broke his pelvis. The Spanish crew had misunderstood directions of director Richard Lester and washed the cobblestone street prior to filming, making the stones wet. When Kinnear rode into the shot on their horses, Kinnear's horse slipped and Kinnear fell. He was taken to the hospital but subsequently suffered a heart attack and died.
The film was creatively completed by using a stand-in who was filmed from behind and dubbed lines from a voice artist. Kinnear's family sued the production companies Fildebroc and Cine 5 and director Richard Lester, and received a 650,000 settlement three years later.
13/27 Phil Hartman / The Simpsons
In May 1998, Phil and wife Brynn Hartman returned home after dinner with friends and engaged in a heated argument over Brynn's drug abuse. Shortly afterwards Phil went to bed but Brynn stayed up to drink and take cocaine. Around 3am went to the bedroom and shot him twice in the head. She then drove to a friend's home and confessed to the killing. When the police arrived, Brynn locked herself in the bedroom and committed suicide.
Rehearsals for The Simpsons were cancelled after hearing of his death. The next season premiere revealed that Bill McNeal, Phil's character, had died of a heart attack. He was also set to voice Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, but the role was recast with Billy West who purposefully tweaked his voice to better match Hartman's intended portrayal.
14/27 John Candy / Wagons East!
While filming Wagons East! in Durango, Mexico, John Candy was found dead in his apartment from a heart attack. Ongoing struggles with obesity was thought to be a contributing factor.
Some of Candy's remaining scenes were removed from the script, while others were rewritten to exclude his lines and filmed using a stand-in. His character's second bar scene is simply recycled footage from the first bar scene.
15/27 Chris Farley / Shrek
After years of drug abuse and health problems associated with his obesity, actor and comedian Chris Farley was found dead in his apartment in December 1997 after overdosing on cocaine and morphine.
He was originally cast as Shrek and recorded 80% of the dialogue before the overdose. The role was recast with Mike Myers who insisted on a complete script rewrite to remove anything that had been written with Farley specifically in mind. Myers also didn't want to be influenced by Farley's interpretation so didn't listen to any of the previously recorded dialogue. Shrek's "air quotes" is an homage to Farley who used air quotes for his SNL character Bennett Brauer.
16/27 Harry O'Connor / xXx
Vin Diesel's xXx stunt double Harry O'Connor was killed while filming a parasailing stunt for one of the action scenes. As he filmed the second take of the stunt, he hit the pillar of the Palacky Bridge in Prague and was killed instantly.
As Diesel had performed many of his own stunts there wasn't need to replace O'Connor and the first take of his fatal stunt can be seen in the completed film.
17/27 Brandon Lee / The Crow
American actor and martial artist Brandon Lee was filming scenes for The Crow when he was accidentally shot by fellow actor Michael Massee. Massee's character was supposed to fire a revolver at Lee as he walked into the room using dummy cartridges, but due to a props error a bullet was fired out of the barrel with the same force of a live round and hit Lee in the abdomen. He was rushed to the hospital for surgery but succumbed to his injuries.
At the time of his death only eight days were left in the movie's filming schedule, so with Lee's fiancee's blessing production shortly continued. A stunt double served as a stand-in and special effects were used to give him Lee's face.
18/27 Art Scholl / Top Gun
Aerobatic pilot and flight instructor Art School died while doing in-flight camera work for Top Gun. His camera plane failed to recover from a flat spin and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Though Scholl had radioed having issues with coming out of the stall, the cause of the crash was never determined as the aircraft was never recovered.
There is no account of how Top Gun filming continued in light of Scholl's absence, though it's assumed that another cameraman was hired.
19/27 Steve Irwin / Ocean's Deadliest
While filming an underwater documentary film Ocean's Deadliest, the Australian wildlife expert was pierced in the chest by a stingray barb. While on a break during filming he decided to snorkel in shallow waters to provide footage for his daughter's TV show and approached a stingray. The stingray's barb pierced his heart and despite CPR from crew members, Irwin bled to death.
The production team opted to not use any footage from the day Irwin died and footage of his death was destroyed at the request of Irwin's family. Co-host Philippe Cousteau filmed the rest of the documentary himself and there's no explanation of Irwin's absence in the rest of the film.
20/27 Jean Harlow / Saratoga
26-year-old American film actress Jean Harlow suffered sun poisoning, contracted influenza, and later developed septicemia in the month prior to shooting Saratoga in March 1937. She recovered enough to begin shooting in April but later fell ill with what appeared to be influenza again. Eventually she was diagnosed with kidney failure, fell into a coma, and died of cerebral edema a mere week after falling ill.
MGM wanted to replace Harlow with either Jean Arthur or Virginia Bruce but fans complained so the film was instead finished with three doubles. Paula Winslowe dubbed Harlow's lines and her doubles were purposefully placed in shadows or shot from behind.
21/27 Oliver Reed / Gladiator
British actor Oliver Reed died of a heart attack during a break while filming Gladiator in Valetta, Malta. It was speculated that the heart attack was brought on by excessive drinking during the shoot, as he had not drank in months.
Fortunately none of Reed's scenes had been shot at the time of his death so the production company crated a digital body double for his scenes. At an additional cost of $3.2 million Reed's face was mapped onto the stunt double for two minutes of additional footage.
22/27 Paul Walker / Furious 7
The 40-year-old American actor was driving home from a charity event in Santa Clarita, California with a friend when their car crashed into a lamp post and burst into flames. Both victims were declared dead at the scene as both bodies were burned beyond recognition. Speeding was later revealed to be a contributing factor in the crash.
Director James Wan and Universal Pictures executives held a conference call with Walker's family to determine how to proceed with the Furious 7 production, as Walker was halfway through filming his scenes at the time of his death. The movie eventually resumed filming after rewrites were made to explain Walker's absence and body doubles could be found. Body doubles, stunt doubles, and CGI were used to complete the film. His brothers Caleb and Cody were used as doubles and provided voice over of the character Brian O'Connor.
23/27 John Spencer / The West Wing
58-year-old actor John Spencer died of a heart attack in December 2005, four days before his 59th birthday.
He had only filmed two of five episodes he was set to appear in for the seventh season of West Wing so his character's death, also a heart attack, was written into the season.
24/27 Natalie Wood / Brainstorm
While on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island with her husband, Brainstorm costar Walker, and a captain, Wood drowned. Her body was found the next day with traces of alcohol and painkillers in her system. The coroner hypothesized that Wood may have been drinking and fall off the boat, but the painkillers would have increased the effects of the alcohol, making it harder for her to swim.
Though almost all of Wood's scenes had been completed at the time of her death, MGM used her death as a rationale to shut down production, though it was clearly over financial problems instead. Two years later director Douglas Trumbull convinced the studio to proceed by rewriting the script to explain her character's absence and using her younger sister Svetlana Gurdin as a stand-in.
25/27 Philip Seymour Hoffman / The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
The American actor and director was found dead in his Manhattan apartment of an accidental heroine and cocaine overdose at the age of 46.
As Hoffman had completed the majority of his Mockingjay scenes, the writers rewrote his two remaining scenes to explain his absence. Despite numerous rumours the film was completed without any use of CGI or body doubles.
26/27 Larry Hagman / Dallas
81-year-old actor and director Larry Hagman returned to television to film the reboot of Dallas, despite being diagnosed with stage 2 throat cancer the year before. Despite entering remission after the first season and being given time off to receive treatment, he succumbed to complications from acute myeloid leukemia in 2012.
A similar death was written into Dallas. His character, J.R. Ewing, was said to be dying of cancer and killed himself with the assistance of his family. An entire episode dedication to his funeral aired five months after he died.
27/27 James Dean / Giant
American cultural icon and actor James Dean was enroute to a motor racing event in Salinas, California in September 1955 when his car accidentally collided with another car through an intersection. Dean suffered a broken neck while trapped in the car and was pronounced dead on arrival.
Luckily Dean had finished principal photography for Giant a few days earlier. Actor Nick Adams dubbed over some of Dean's lines, which were apparently inaudible anyways, and the film was edited without any opportunity for reshoots.
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We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."
This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.