An actor or actress dying suddenly during the filming of a movie can either make it a huge success of cause enormous problems (like Oliver Reed dying during the filming of Gladiator). Here are 9 classic Hollywood movies which either the star died suddenly on-set or was murdered/committed suicide during production.
Marilyn Monroe: “Something’s Got to Give” (1962)
Marilyn was part-way through filming “Something’s Got to Give” with Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse when she died unexpectedly in August 1962. The movie was never finished or released but was remade a few years later as Move Over, Darling starring Doris Day, James Garner and Polly Bergen.
Jean Harlow: “Saratoga” (1937)
The iconic peroxide blonde died from kidney failure (which may or may not have been caused by her excessive use of hair dye) on June 7, 1937 aged just 26. Most of the movie had been shot by the time she died, and the rest of her scenes were filmed using a stand-in.
Her co-star Clark Gable said it was like being “in the arms of a ghost” filming the remaining scenes with another woman. Read more about Jean Harlow’s death here.
Natalie Wood: “Brainstorm” (1983)
Natalie Wood died in suspicious circumstances when she disappeared from on-board a yacht she was sharing with co-star Christopher Walken and husband Robert Wagner.
Most of her scenes had been filmed by the time of her death, but MGM decided to shut-down production of the already troubled movie. The film was eventually completed using a body double and released two years after her death without much commercial success. Read more about Natalie Wood’s mysterious death here.
Oliver Reed: “Gladiator” (1999)
Oliver Reed died of a heart-attack in May 1999 whilst filming Ridley Scott’s epic “Gladiator.” Most of his scenes had already been filmed at the time of his death, but the remaining CGI work involved in digitally finishing his scenes was rumoured to have cost around $3 million.
Bela Lugosi: “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1956)
Bela Lugosi, famous for his role as Count Dracula in the 1930s died from a heart attack in 1956 while filming “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” His movie career was very much on the skids at this time and he had resorted to appearing in B movies.
The Director instructed his chiropractor (who looked nothing like Lugosi) to complete the actor’s scenes. The movie was not a success.
James Dean: “Giant” (1955)
James Dean was killed in a car accident on September 30, 1955, aged just 24. He had already filmed all of his scenes in “Giant”. He was the first actor to be nominated posthumously for an Oscar both for “Giant” and “East of Eden.”
Clark Gable: “The Misfits” (1960)
Hollywood legend Clark Gable died of a heart attack after filming a strenuous action sequence. It has been suggested that his insistence of doing his own stunts may have contributed to his death.
Most of his scenes had been filmed by the time of his death, and a body-double was used to finish a few remaining scenes in the movie. Read more about Clark Gable here.
Bruce Lee: “Game of Death” (1973)
Bruce Lee died far too young on July 20, 1973. He had paused filming the movie “Game of Death” to make his first Hollywood movie “Enter the Dragon” but died due to an allergic reaction to painkillers before he could finish “Game of Death”. The movie was finished using body doubles and even a cardboard cut-out of Lee.
Tyrone Power: “Solomon and Sheba” (1958)
Hollywood heart-throb Tyrone Power died from a heart-attack during the filming of 1950s ‘sword and sandal’ epic Solomon and Sheba. Power fell ill during a strenuous sword-fighting scene and died en route to the hospital.
Even though Power had filmed almost two thirds of the movie the studio eventually decided to replace him with Yul Brynner.
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In 1982 actor Vic Morrow along with 2 children were killed while filming a scene from Twilight Zone – The Movie … The scene involved a helicopter hovering above them in Vietnam (was filmed in California) Pyrotechnics hit the tail of the craft and it spun out of control, crashing into the 3 actors below … That incident brought about new safety regulations and lawsuits, as the children weren’t supposed to be so near the stunt originally …
Oh my goodness, how horrific!
I think movie enthusiasts still love ‘Plan 9 from outer space’ and it is still very popular as one of the “worst movies ever made” – which is a kind of honorary title and means it was kind of successful in its own way 😉 Lugosi was, if you see pictures of him as a young man, astonishingly good looking …
I didn’t know that! Lugos was good looking through, even as Dracula he had to be kind of attractive didn’t he? There’s always something a bit sexy about Dracula 😉
Another actor in this category is Eric Fleming. From everything I have read, he was doing an action movie in Peru in 1966 and they were down to the last scene for the day and everyone wanted to get back to the studio to do the interiors. He and a co star were to paddle a canoe through rapids. The stunt actors refused to do it because they saw it as too dangerous. He and his co star made a dry run with no problem and it was also clouding up. He and his fiance’, who was present, were getting married when they got back to the studio. He said to his co star, “C’mon Nico, it’s now or never.” As they were paddling the canoe, the canoe started filling up with water and instead of riding it out like he and his co star had agreed to do, he jumped and they could not get to him in time. The movie, “High Jungle” was unreleasable and the footage has never been aired. I think this was one of the incidents that caused SAG to insist on producers to not jeopardize actors’ lives by cutting corners to do risky scenes and not having qualified stunt actors to do these scenes. Eric Fleming may have lived a lot longer, he was only 41 and had left Rawhide under stormy circumstances due to what we would call burnout. This was supposed to be a comeback and it looked like it might be picked up as as series and he was excited about it. Maybe after many years of paying his due, his career may have finally taken off.