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10 Actors Who Died Before Their Final Film Was Released

For many actors, their work in film and television makes them immortal.  Long after they’ve passed away, they enter our lives as entertainment when we pop in a Blu Ray or turn on Netflix.  Not only is it hard to sometimes remember that these stars are gone, but that several of them died before their last film even hit theaters.


Phil Hartman in "Small Soldiers"

 
 
 
(Image via Dreamworks)
(Image via Dreamworks)

On the evening of May 27, 1998, Phil Hartman reportedly got into a heated argument with his wife Brynn over her drug use, threatening to leave her if she started doing drugs again.  At 3 a.m., Brynn, intoxicated and having recently consumed cocaine, entered their bedroom where Phil was sleeping and shot him three times, twice in the head and once in the side.  Brynn went to a friend’s house and admitted to the murder, but wasn’t believed.  Her friend Ron Douglas accompanied her home and found Phil’s body just after 6 a.m. and called 911.  The police arrived and escorted the two Hartman children and Douglas from the house, by which time Brynn had already locked herself in another bedroom and shot herself in the head.  Phil’s last film Small Solders was released two months later and dedicated to his memory.

Brandon Lee in "The Crow"

 
 
 
(Image Credit: Miramax & Dimension Films)
(Image Credit: Miramax & Dimension Films)

Nearly 30 years after the death of his father, Brandon Lee was working on the comic book adaptation of The Crow, playing the lead character Eric Draven who seeks revenge for his murder and the rape and murder of his fiancé.  Earlier in the production, a real bullet was used to create a dummy bullet, having the slug removed, the gun powder emptied, and the slug replaced.  However, the firing cap was not properly discharged.  While the dummy round was being used in a second unit close up shot, the firing cap was triggered, causing enough of a blast to dislodge the slug, leaving it in the barrel of the prop gun.  The same gun was not properly inspected before it was loaded with a full blank, usually packed with two to three times the normal amount of gun powder and no slug to create a loud noise on set.  The gun was then used to film a flashback scene where Lee’s character returns home to find his fiancé being raped, and is shot by Fun Boy, played by Michael Massee.  The gun powder in the blank shot the slug out of the barrel of the prop gun, striking Lee in the chest.  Lee passed away after six hours of surgery attempting to repair the damage.  The film was later completed with stand-ins and CGI effects inserting Lee into unfinished scenes, most noticeably in the scene where Lee returns home after his resurrection and applies the Crow make-up.  Contrary to popular belief, the footage of Lee’s shooting is not in the final cut of the film.  The footage was used in the wrongful death lawsuit brought on by Lee’s mother, but per the terms of the lawsuit, the footage was immediately destroyed.  Michael Massee expressed a deep regret for his role in Lee’s death, taking a year off and reporting nightmares about the incident more than 10 years later.

Bruce Lee in "Enter The Dragon" and "Game of Death"

 
 
 
(Images via Golden Harvest)
(Images via Golden Harvest)

In May of 1973, Bruce Lee collapsed while working on dubbing audio for his film Enter the Dragon, suffering from seizures and headaches as a result of a cerebral edema.  Two months later on July 27, the symptoms returned and Lee passed away in his sleep as a result of a swollen brain and an allergic reaction to a painkiller Equagesic.  Enter the Dragon was released shortly after Lee’s death to wide acclaim, being considered Lee’s best film.  But Lee’s passion project, Game of Death, was left largely unfinished because Lee put the project on hold to work on Enter the Dragon.  Game of Death, designed to be an exhibition of Lee’s martial art style of Jeet Kune Do, was later pieced together with existing footage and stand-ins to finish the scenes Lee was unable to.  Footage of Lee’s actual funeral was used in the 1978 edition of the film, being a plot point and reason for the change in the lead character’s appearance.

Aaliyah in "Queen of the Damned"

 
 
 
(Image via Warner Bros)
(Image via Warner Bros)

After completing her scenes for Queen of the Damned, Aaliyah traveled to the Bahamas to shoot a video for the single “Rock the Boat”.  After completion, Aaliyah and her crew decided to return to Florida immediately and chartered a plane to Florida.  After loading the passengers (one passenger over the plane’s limits) and 700 lbs over the maximum weight, the plane crashed shortly after takeoff, 200 feet from the runway.  Coroner’s reports Aaliyah died of head trauma and burns, noting that she was in such a state of shock that recovery would have been unlikely if she had survived the crash itself.  The pilot’s autopsy showed alcohol and cocaine in his system.  Aaliyah died before finishing all additional dialogue recording for the film, so her brother was brought in to mimic her voice in the necessary recording.  Queen of the Damned was released in February of the following year to bad reviews, but praise for her performance.

Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus"

 
 
 
(Images via Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures)
(Images via Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures)

On January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger passed away from acute intoxication from oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.  At the time of his death, Ledger had just completed filming of The Dark Knight, but left The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus incomplete.  Director Terry Gilliam considering scrapping the project since Ledger’s involvement was crucial for financing, but later came up with the idea of using CGI to alter Ledger’s appearance into other actors for various scenes.  Gilliam kept Ledger’s filmed scenes and used Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to replace Ledger as transformed versions of his character in other magical realms, with Ledger being the “real world” version of his character.  Depp, Farrell, and Law all donated their paychecks from the film to Ledger’s daughter.  Ledger went on to become the second actor to be awarded an Oscar posthumously, the Best Supporting Actor award for The Dark Knight, which was accepted by his father and sisters and given to his daughter.

Bernie Mac in "Soul Men"

 
 
 
(Image via MGM)
(Image via MGM)

In 2005, comedic actor Bernie Mac admitted that he had been suffering from sarcoidosis, a disease that causes inflammation of tissue, attacking the lungs in Mac’s case.  In August 2008, Mac’s condition was reportedly in remission when he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia complicated by his sarcoidosis.  After a week of unsuccessful treatments, Mac passed away on August 9th from cardiac arrest, a day before his Soul Men co-star Isaac Hayes died.  Soul Men was released the following November and was a box office failure, making just over $12 million with a budget of $40 million.

Chris Farley in "Almost Heroes" and "Shrek"

 
 
 
(Images via Warner Bros. and Dreamworks)
(Images via Warner Bros. and Dreamworks)

After years of struggling with drug abuse, Chris Farley was found dead in his apartment on December 18, 1997.  An autopsy report indicated Farley died as a result of a cocaine and heroin overdose, the same drugs that killed his idol John Belushi at the same age, 33.  Farley’s drug abuse resulted in one of his final completed films Almost Heroes to be held up a few times so Farley could attend rehab.  The film was finally released in May of the following year to poor reviews.

Farley had another film that was released after his death, but with another actor in the role.  Farley was the original voice for the title character in the film Shrek, but died with reportedly 80 to 90% of the necessary dialogue recorded.  Farley was replaced by SNL co-star Mike Myers.

Raul Julia in "Street Fighter"

 
 
 
(Image via Universal Pictures)
(Image via Universal Pictures)

Possibly best known for his role of Gomez Addams, Raul Julia dealt with a number of illnesses a year after “Addams Family Values”, including food poisoning and rumored stomach cancer.  On October 16, 1994 Julia suffered a stroke and fell into a coma four days later and was put on life support.  Four days after that, Julia succumbed due to complications from the brain hemorrhage, leaving behind a notorious final performance.  Released two months after his death, Street Fighter was dedicated to Julia’s memory with the line “For Raul.  Vaya con Dios.” in the credits.  Though Street Fighter was panned by fans and critics, it has since gained a cult following, and is spoken of favorably when compared to the latest Street Fighter film starring Kristen Kreuk.  At the time of Julia’s death, he was set to appear in two films with Antonio Bandares; Desperado as the main villain, El Mariachi’s brother Bucho, and The Mask of Zorro as original Zorro, Diego de la Vega, a role Sean Connery was attached to as one point.

John Candy in "Wagons East" and "Canadian Bacon"

 
 
 
(Images via Tristar Pictures and Gramercy Pictures)
(Images via Tristar Pictures and Gramercy Pictures)

Famous for his role on SCTV and films like Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors, John Candy was in an unfortunate career slump in 1994 while working in Mexico on the film Wagons East, about Western settlers fed up with frontier life and moving back to the east.  Candy, who had just announced he was placing his Canadian Football Team up for sale, passed away in his sleep of a heart attack on March 4.  Enough of Candy’s role in the film had been completed that his part did not need to be recast, and Wagons East was released in August to terrible reviews.  A month later, Candy’s final film Canadian Bacon was released, having been filmed two years prior.  Like Wagons East, Canadian Bacon was released to poor reviews.

Whitney Houston in "Sparkle"

 
 
 
(Image via Tristar)
(Image via Tristar)

The night before the 2012 Grammy Awards, Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, apparently drowned in the bathtub.  Houston was honored and featured prominently in the awards show the next night.  The following month, a coroner’s report ruled Houston’s death as an accidental drowning caused by atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use, which Houston apparently used just prior to her death.  Her final film Sparkle was released in August of that year, a week later than intended due to Houston’s death.  Houston, though only appearing in six feature films in her lifetime, was one of the heavily featured actors in the “In Memoriam” montage at the Oscars for that year.

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