13 Actors Who Died While Filming a Movie

October 7, 2014

Some famous actors seem almost monolithic and indestructible in their fame, until they shed their mortal coil and become what we all are: human. They become real, infallible, and remind us that we are all resigned to the common fate of death.  Sometimes, actors die while filming a movie or TV show leaving their directors in emotional and logistical binds, their deaths forever attaching a dark footnote to their final projects history. In some cases the movies have to be shelved, and in others the roles were recast or the production moved forward with creative script revisions, body doubles, or footage of the actor digitally inserted into the film.  As a tribute to these stars, many whom still shine brightly (as celestial stars to do after they die,) here is a list of 13 stars who died while making a film.


13. Heath Ledger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus



During filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in January, 2008, Heath Ledger died from a drug overdose in his New York City home. With only two-thirds of Ledger’s scenes completed, director Terry Gilliam initially thought that the project would be shelved. However, the genius imagination that Gilliam is known for led him to cast Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Ferrell to each take on filming scenes as dream-like versions of Ledger’s character. The film was released in the U.S. on Dec. 25, 2009, and received generally positive reviews. It’s success however, was eclipsed by Ledger’s second-to-last performance as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, for which the actor was awarded an Oscar posthumously. He was 28.


12. John Candy, Wagons East



This gifted and affable comedic actor died in his sleep of a heart attack in Mexico on the set of Wagons East in March of 1994. It is rumored that he told actress Catherine O’Hara that he had reservations about going to Mexico because he felt something bad was going to happen there. He had been away from his family all but three weeks that year and John vowed this would be his last film. Little did he know the prophetic nature of his words.  He was 43 years old.

11. River Phoenix, Dark Blood



River Pheonix, had started work on Dark Blood when he died. During a break in filming, Phoenix went out to the Viper Room, a popular Hollywood night club, with his brother Joaquin, his sister Rain, and his girlfriend Samantha Mathis. At some point, Phoenix snorted heroin, and became violently ill. He was helped outside and started to have seizures. Someone (some articles say it was a photographer, others say it was his brother Joaquin)  called 911 while his sister Rain tried to help Phoenix who was lying on the sidewalk. When the ambulance arrived, paramedics worked on resuscitating the young actor at the scene. Their efforts failed, and they transported him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he was declared dead in the early hours of October 31st. An autopsy found cocaine, heroine, marijuana, Valium and cold medication in his system. Dark Blood remained unfinished for 19 years and was finally released in 2012.  He was 23 years old.

10. Heather O’Rourke, Poltergeist III



Heather O’ Rourke was an American child actress. Discovered at the age of five by director Steven Spielberg, he cast her as Carol Anne Freeling in the 1982 horror film Poltergeist. She would go on to reprise the role in the second and third installments.  In addition to her roles in the Poltergeist series, O’Rourke also had a recurring role on Happy Days from 1982 to 1983. O’ Rourke died on February 1, 1988, before post-production was completed on Poltergeist III, of a cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by a misdiagnosis of intestinal stenosis. She was 12 years old.

9. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay



Philip Seymour Hoffman had filmed most of his scenes in the upcoming two-part final installment of the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, when he was found dead of a drug overdose in his New York City apartment on February 2, 2014.  But Hoffman had one major scene left to film in Mockingjay — Part 2, which may need to be revised due to the actors death . Still, Lionsgate  has said his death will have no impact on production or the release date of the of the two films, the first of which is set to hit theaters on Nov. 21 of this year. The second film is slated to be released in Nov. 2015.  He was 46 years old.

8. Bela Lugosi, Plan 9 From Outer Space

Annex - Lugosi, Bela_02


The actor best know for his portrayal of Count Dracula,  suffered a heart attack and died on Aug. 16, 1956, while filming Plan 9 from Outer Space. Instead of re-shooting Lugosi’s scenes or finding a double, director Edward D. Wood asked his family’s chiropractor to take over the scenes — even though the man didn’t look or sound like Lugosi. Although Lugosi’s last film was arguably one of his worst performances, his burial outfit included an homage to his best: a Count Dracula cape. He was 73 years old.

7. Oliver Reed, Gladiator



Oliver Reed died in a pub on May 2, 1999, before he could finish filming Ridley Scott’s battle epic, Gladiator.  Reed, who was 61, collapsed on the floor of a bar in Malta and died of a heart attack after reportedly besting several Royal Navy sailors at arm wrestling and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Most of his scenes in Gladiator had already been shot when he died, but Scott had to recreate Reed’s face digitally for a few remaining segments. He was 61 years old.

6. Aaliya, Queen Of The Damned/ The Matrix sequels



At the time of her death, the R&B singer had been shooting the film Queen of the Damned when the airplane she was traveling on crashed shortly after take off.  Aaliyah was also shooting the character Zee in the Matrix sequels but her part went to Nona Gaye as there wasn’t enough footage of Aaliyah to preserve her performances. She was 22 years old.

5. David Carradine, Stretch



The way he died, unfortunately, has overshadowed a remarkable career. The actor best know for his work in Kung Fu and Kill Bill I and Kill Bill II, was found dead on June 4, 2010 in Bangkok in his hotel room closet with ropes tied around his neck and genitals, a victim of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong. He was in Bangkok to shoot his latest film, Stretch. He was 72 years old.

4. Paul Walker



On November 30th 2013, Fast & Furious star Paul Walker died in a car accident after leaving a charity event with former racing friend Roger Rodas. The two were killed almost instantly when the Porsche that Rodas was driving lost control and slammed into a tree. Fast & Furious 7 was still in the middle of filming, resulting in Universal Pictures making the decision to indefinitely put the movie on hold. He was 40 years old.

3. Natalie Wood, Brainstorm



Natalie Wood drowned while boating with her then-husband Robert Wagner and fellow actor Christopher Walken. In the wee hours of a November morning in 1981, Woods and Wagner argued after he allegedly caught Woods engaging in a sexual act with Walken. She went overboard and unable to swim, she drowned.  After her death, producers struggled to secure funding for Brainstorm, which sadly flopped at the box office. The case of her death was reopened in 2011, when the man who had captained the yacht that night came forward to reveal that Wagner and Walken had attempted to cover up Wood’s death which at the time had been ruled an accident. Investigators now suspect murder.  She was 43 years old.

2. Marliyn Monroe, Somethings Got To Give



Marilyn Monroe had been rehired as the female lead of the comedy Something’s Got To Give starring Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse.  The movie’s shoot was rocky with Monroe frequently missing work and delaying filming. She was fired from the project, which brought shooting to a halt, only to be rehired after Martin refused to work with any other actress. However, before the shoot could resume, Monroe was found dead in her L.A. home on Aug. 5, 1962, from an apparent overdose.  The film was never finished. She was 36 years old.

1. Brandon Lee, The Crow



Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts star Bruce Lee, was killed in a stunt accident on the set of The Crow on March 31, 1993.  Lee was playing a character who gets shot by thugs upon entering his apartment. Tragically, the handgun used in the scene contained a fragment of a real bullet that was propelled out by the force of the blank being shot. Lee was hit in the abdomen and died later that day. The movie was nearly complete at the time of the shooting, but a stunt double was needed to finish some remaining scenes, and Lee’s face was digitally superimposed onto the stunt double’s body for a few shots.  It’s rumored that Lees actual death was in the film, yet according to Snopes.com, any film of his shooting was removed during editing. He was 28 years old.


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