Sixteen movie stars who died during filming
Life is not always fair, especially considering we only have one shot at it. Yet the deaths of these 16 actors were unexpected and came much too soon, leaving a huge mark on Hollywood. As well as being tragic losses, these actors' untimely passings caused many headaches for producers and directors alike — that's because all died while shooting their films!
1. Heath Ledger
Having just completed the filming for his starring role as The Joker in "The Dark Knight," 28-year-old Heath Ledger was now working on his next movie. However, his promising career was to end in tragic circumstances while shooting "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." On January 22, 2008, Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment. A toxicologic examination showed that the Australian actor had died of an accidental overdose from prescription drugs. Filming for "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" had initially been put on hold, before Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law were cast to replace Ledger in certain scenes. The movie was dedicated to Ledger and the producer William Vince, who also died in 2008.
2. David Carradine
imago/ZUMA Press/GLOBE PHOTOS
Most people know David Carradine for his roll as Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part "Kill Bill" series. On June 3, 2009, an unclothed Carradine was found dead in a closet by a hotel chambermaid in Bangkok; the actor was in Thailand to shoot the French-language movie "Stretch." A rope was wrapped around his neck and his genitals. However, two autopsies were inconclusive and could only determine that Carradine had died of asphyxiation. The way the rope was wrapped around his neck and body suggested that this had been an accidental death caused during autoerotic asphyxiation (choking during a sexual act). "Stretch" was released in January 2011.
3. Marilyn Monroe
On August 5, 1962, Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe was found dead at her Los Angeles home while shooting "Something’s Got to Give." Autopsies revealed that the 36-year-old style icon had died from a sleeping pill overdose. It remains unclear whether Monroe overdosed on purpose, resulting in many conspiracy theories surrounding the movie star's death. A documentary called "Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days" was created using the original material filmed for "Something’s Got to Give." With Doris Day cast in the starring role, "Something’s Got to Give" was completely reshot in 1963 and given a new title: "Move Over, Darling."
4. River Phoenix
After his coming-of-age performance in "Stand by Me," River Phoenix won over the hearts of many moviegoers. With his Hollywood star rising, the young actor could hardly keep up with the roles he was being offered. But his promising career came to a tragic and abrupt end while working on the movie "Dark Blood." On October 31, 1993, River collapsed into the arms of his younger brother Joaquin in front of the "Viper Room" nightclub, which belonged to his good friend Jonny Depp at the time. Having suffered cardiac arrest, the 23-year-old was immediately rushed to the medical center where he was pronounced dead. A toxicologic examination showed that River had heroin, cocaine, valium, and THC in his bloodstream; this cocktail of drugs ultimately cost him his life. His final film, "Dark Blood," was only completed in 2012, 19 years after his death.
5. John Ritter
With an infectious grin, John Ritter was probably best known for his hilarious performances in "Problem Child" and "Problem Child 2." His final role as Paul Hennessey in the TV series "8 Simple Rules" had him starring alongside Katey Sagal (known for playing Peggy Bundy in "Married... with Children") and Kaley Cuoco (Penny in "The Big Bang Theory"). During shooting, Ritter complained of chest pains and was subsequently taken to a nearby hospital. On September 11, 2003, he died at the age of 54 after suffering an aortic dissection (a condition in which the inner layer of the aorta tears). After a hiatus, "8 Simple Rules" incorporated the death of his character into the series as a tribute to Ritter.
6. Philip Seymour Hoffman
After starring roles in "Mission Impossible III" and "The Hunger Games" series, Philip Seymour Hoffman gained renewed popularity among younger audiences that may not have been aware of his earlier work. Indeed, it was during the filming of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2" when he unexpectedly passed away. Plagued by drug problems as a young man, Hoffman changed his life for the better in 1989 and stayed clean for 24 years. However, the actor suffered a severe set-back in 2013 and checked himself into a rehab clinic. Unfortunately, this proved to be unsuccessful. On February 2, 2014, the 46-year-old was found dead in his New York apartment. Autopsy results showed that Hoffman had a cocktail of heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepine (a drug for treating panic disorders) in his system. Ruling out suicide, the district attorney determined that this had been an accidental overdose. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2" was finally completed when missing scenes containing Hoffman were rewritten.
7. Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee was a promising young actor who could look to a bright future in the industry. The son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, his most famous role was that of Eric Draven in "The Crow." His untimely passing sent shockwaves through Hollywood and was one of the most tragic stories of the 90s. While shooting a scene for “The Crow,” actor Michael Massee fired a .44 Magnum loaded with blank rounds at Lee. The film crew were initially surprised to see Lee fall backwards instead of forwards as scripted. When Lee didn't get back up, it was soon clear that something had gone wrong. Once at the hospital, it was determined that an actual bullet had been fired. Despite all efforts to save him, the 28-year-old died of his wounds on the night of March 31, 1993. Though it was an accident, Massee could never forgive himself for firing the gun until his own death in 2016. The movie could only be completed with the help of Lee's stunt double.
8. Bruce Lee
After a tough shoot for his film "Enter the Dragon," martial arts legend Bruce Lee collapsed in front of the film studio. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with a cerebral edema. He received medication to treat the problem and continued his busy schedule. While going over his movie "The Game of Death" with several acting colleagues, Lee complained of a headache and took a painkiller. When later discovered unconscious, Lee was rushed to the hospital, but all efforts to revive him failed. The autopsy showed that the 32-year-old had died of swelling to the brain caused by an allergic reaction to the painkiller. "The Game of Death" had to be rewritten due to Lee's untimely passing; images of Lee were put together for the missing scenes.
9. Cory Monteith
Cory Monteith is probably best known for his role as Finn Hudson in the musical series "Glee." The 31-year-old actor had just finished shooting for the fourth series and was expected on set to start filming the next installment of the show. However, Monteith would sadly never appear on the series again. On July 13, 2013, he was found dead in his hotel room in Vancouver. The autopsy report showed that Monteith had a dangerous mix of alcohol and heroin in his system. Before his passing, the young actor had tried going through rehab. Unfortunately, this didn't work out. His girlfriend and fellow "Glee" actor Lea Michele (playing Rachel Berry) sang Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" in a tribute episode honoring Cory Monteith.
10. Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin achieved international success with his TV series "The Crocodile Hunter" in which he showed viewers how treat Australia's dangerous animals "the correct way." When the series was canceled following criticism from animal rights groups, the adventurer turned his attention to producing wildlife documentaries. Irwin's tragic end came on September 4, 2006, while making one of these films. During underwater filming for his latest documentary film, "Ocean's Deadliest," the 44-year-old was stung in the heart by a stingray, causing him to bleed to death. With footage of Irwin's death of course omitted, "Ocean's Deadliest" was shown on television in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain in 2007.
11. Natalie Wood
The wonderful Natalie Wood achieved worldwide fame for her portrayal of Maria in the 1961 musical "West Side Story." Wood was married to the actor Robert Wagner ("Hart to Hart"). On a break from shooting for the movie "Brainstorm," Wood, her husband, and actor Christopher Walken went out on a yacht trip to Santa Catalina Island near Los Angeles. However, the iconic actor was never to return. On November 29, 1981, the 41-year-old's body was recovered from the sea. The autopsy report revealed that Wood had scratches and bruises all over her body, which prompted much speculation as to the cause of her death. Wagner and Walken stated that she must have gone overboard unnoticed; the circumstances surrounding her death remain unclear today. After a two-year hiatus, filming for "Brainstorm" could finally be finished with the help of Natalie's stunt double and a voice imitator.
12. Paul Walker
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.com
Hollywood glamour boy Paul Walker was one of the most successful actors of the previous decade. The Californian was probably most famous for his role as Brian O’Conner in the "Fast & Furious" series which also starred his good friend Vin Diesel. In 2010, Walker founded the "Reach Out Worldwide" relief agency which helps victims of natural disasters. After a charity event on November 30, 2013, Walker was a passenger in a Porsche Carrera GT driven by his good friend Roger Rodas, a racing driver. Traveling at high speeds (100 mph according to the accident report), Rodas lost control of his vehicle, first hitting a streetlamp before crashing into a tree. The car was soon engulfed in flames with both men trapped inside. Though Rodas was driving over the speed limit, there's speculation as to whether a vehicle defect caused the accident. "Fast & Furious 7" could only be finished with the help of Paul's brothers who stepped in for him when shooting the final scenes.
13. Heather O'Rourke
Heather O’Rourke started acting at the tender age of four after being cast as Carol Ann in Steven Spielberg's "Poltergeist." Despite being so young, O'Rourke managed to persuade Spielberg to take her on during an interview with the director, beating Drew Barrymore to the role. Audiences across the world were also swept up by the young actor's performance; her legendary line "They’re here!" has become an allegory for horror movies from the '80s. However, O'Rourke was plagued by many health issues. From a very young age, she had been suffering from intestinal stenosis (narrowing of the intestines). After O'Rourke complained of severe pains, doctors misdiagnosed her with Crohn's disease and started treating her with cortisone. While shooting "Poltergeist III," her condition worsened and she was rushed to the hospital. On February 1, 1988, the 12-year-old died during surgery on a previously undetected bowel obstruction that had resulted in septic shock. Released four months after O'Rourke's death, "Poltergeist III" was dedicated to the young girl. The final scenes had to be rewritten and a double was used.
Following her on-screen debut in "Romeo Must Die" and having played Akasha in "Queen of the Damned," legendary R&B singer Aaliyah was offered the role of Zee in "Matrix Reloaded." Though she was dedicating more time to movies, Aaliyah remained focused on her music career. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and seven other crew members boarded a private jet bound for Miami after completing filming for her latest music video "Rock The Boat" in the Bahamas. Yet a few moments after taking off, the plane crashed several hundred feet away from the runway. The 22-year-old, her seven crew members, and the pilot died instantly. Investigations at the crash site later determined that the plane was around 700 lbs overloaded. An autopsy on the pilot Luis Morales also showed that he had been flying under the influence of cocaine and alcohol. The scenes featuring Aaliyah in “Matrix Reloaded” were reshot with Nona Gaye (daughter of Marvin Gaye) taking on the role of Zee. The few scenes Aaliyah appeared in can be seen on a special edition DVD of the movie.
15. James Dean
imago/Hollywood Photo Archive
The 24-year-old Hollywood actor and biker James Dean was at his peak when fate cruelly struck. As filming for his film "Giant" was being wrapped up, the 50s icon died in a tragic accident. Dean was driving on the highway in his new Porsche 550 Spyder with good friend and auto mechanic Rolf Wütherich at his side. Though it was already getting dark, Dean didn't have his headlights on. When they reached an intersection, a Ford Tudor was turning left in front of them. Dean, unable to stop in time, slammed into the side of the Ford. During the impact, Wütherich was thrown from the vehicle while Dean remained in the wrecked Porsche. Both men were rushed to hospital, but it was already too late for Dean. Though "Giant" was almost finished, Nick Adams had to be brought in to imitate Dean's voice for the last few scenes.
16. John Candy
Most people know John Candy from the Hollywood comedies he starred in during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Whether it's "Blues Brothers," "Spaceballs" or "Cool Runnings," the burly actor was very much a favorite for moviegoers at this time. Though his doctors frequently told him to lose weight, Candy refused to do so since his imposing presence was what had helped him receive offers for new roles. However, Candy wasn't alive to see the premiere of his final movie "Wagons East!" — a 1994 satire on the Western genre. In the last few days of shooting, the 43-year-old suffered a heart attack and died on site. The movie's end credits feature a tribute to Candy.
Unfortunately, these actors' untimely deaths mean that we've missed out on so many wonderful movies they could've featured in! Reading through this list is also a stark reminder of our own mortality. Though these stars are no longer with us, it's at least comforting to know that their memory will continue to live on through their on-screen work.