Deaths on the Movie Set

The following is reprinted from Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader Sometimes, tragically, in the middle of shooting a movie, an actor dies. It's actually happened many times. So what's a director to do? Turns out they have quite a few options:

Actor: Oliver Reed

Movie: Gladiator (2000)

Story: Reed had a well-earned reputation as an extremely heavy drinker and partygoer, and he died the way he lived. While shooting Gladiator on the island of Malta in 1999, he went to a bar and reportedly drank three bottles of rum, eight bottles of beer, and several shots of whiskey. At the end of the night, Reed, 61, dropped dead from a heart attack. Most of his scenes had been shot, but for the few that weren't, director Ridley Scott used a body double and then, using digital technology, placed Reed's face on the stand-in's body (they were fight scenes). Cost of the re-creation: $3 million. Gladiator was released in 2000 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Photo: The Big Picture, who has more on the CGI trick used in Gladiator Link: Gladiator DVD

Frank Morgan as the Wizard of Oz, one of five roles he played in the movie. Photo: herbynow [Flickr]

Actor: Frank Morgan

Movie: Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Story: Morgan (best known as the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz) was cast as Wild West legend Buffalo Bill Cody in the screen version of this Broadway musical. Just days into filming, Morgan died and was replaced by Louis Calhern. But in the scene where Buffalo Bill first rides into town, when the audience sees Cody from a distance, the actor on horseback is Morgan. The actor in the close-up - and from then on - is Calhern.

Link: Annie Get Your Gun DVD

Actor: Heath Ledger

Movie: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Story: Ledger died at the age of 28 in 2008, under the influence of a range of sleeping pills and antidepressants. At the time, he was on a break from shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a fantasy about a magical theater show. Director Terry Gilliam decided to keep going. The movie's premise, in which Ledger's character travels through different worlds, was adapted so that the character's appearance could change as well. Ledger's friend Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell split the role between them (and donated their salaries to Ledger's three-year-old daughter, Matilda).

Photo: Howie_Berlin [Flickr]

Actor: John Candy

Movie: Wagons East! (1994)

Story: While filming the comic western in March 1994, the 43-year-old actor suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep in a hotel in Mexico. Almost all of Candy's scenes had been completed, so director Peter Markle used a body double for the remaining footage. Wagons East! was released later that year and bombed with critics and audiences.

Photo: cineone [Flickr] Link: Wagons East!

Actor: Bela Lugosi

Movie: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Story: Plan 9 is often called the worst film ever made, but Director Ed Wood was able to hire horror movie icon Bela Lugosi because the actor was 73, past his prime, addicted to morphine, and up for anything that paid. Wood cast Lugosi as "the Ghoul Man." After compiling just a few minutes of footage (with no dialogue because Wood hadn't actually written the script yet), Lugosi died of a heart attack. Not wanting to lose out on the publicity from having a recently departed screen legend in his film, Wood shot the rest of Plan 9 with Tom Mason, a Los Angeles chiropractor, standing in for Lugosi. To account for the two men looking nothing alike, in all of his scenes, Mason held a black cape over his face.

Link: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Actor: River Phoenix

Movie: Dark Blood

Story: In the fall of 1993, Phoenix (Stand By Me, My Own Private Idaho) was shooting Dark Blood, portraying a man who lived alone on a nuclear testing site and spent his time making strange dolls. With 11 days to go on the production, Phoenix, then 23 years old, overdosed on cocaine and heroin, and died on the sidewalk outside The Viper Room, a Los Angeles nightclub. There were too many pivotal scenes left to shoot, so producers completely scrapped the movie.

Photo: One From RM [Flickr]

Actor: Vic Morrow

Movie: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Story: In a horrific morality tale, Morrow played a vicious racist who has the tables turned on him and suddenly finds himself in the jungles of Vietnam, being hunted down by American soldiers. While filming a scene involving gunfire and a helicopter, the pyrotechnics used for the gunfire exploded prematurely, causing the helicopter to crash. The helicopter's blades decapitated Morrow, 53, and also killed two extras, both of whom were children. The movie was released anyway, but it didn't do as well as expected at the box office - probably due to distaste over the accident. Director John Landis was later charged (but acquitted) with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Link: Twilight Zone - The Movie

Actress: Natalie Wood

Movie: Brainstorm (1983)

Story: Wood, a star in her childhood and early adulthood with films like Miracle on 34th Street, Splendor in the Grass, and West Side Story, died in 1981 while filming the virtual reality-themed Brainstorm. While partying on a yacht off Catalina Island with her husband Robert Wagner and Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken, Wood disappeared. It was later discovered that she had tried to leave the yacht on a dinghy but fell into the water and drowned. She had one scene left to shoot in Brainstorm. Paramount Pictures debated for nearly two years about what to do, ultimately completing Wood's final scene with a body double and dubbed dialogue. Brainstorm was quietly released in 1983.

(Photo: IMDb) Link: Brainstorm

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader. The Bathroom Readers' Institute has sailed the seas of science, history, pop culture, humor, and more to bring you Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader. Our all-new 21st edition is overflowing with over 500 pages of material that is sure to keep you fully absorbed. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute has published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute.

Previously on Neatorama: 30 Strangest Deaths in History

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Bruce Lee did not die while dubbing Enter the Dragon.
He actually died in Betty Ting's Apartment from a reaction to a painkiller given to him by Ting. Its rumored that they were having an affair.
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I was disapointed too cuz The Crow wasn't mentioned, it's one of my favorites. If it's going to have a remake, I'd be quite happy to see it, but I hope they don't ruin it...
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"Gladiator" was dedicated "to our friend, Oliver Reed." His death during filming was made even more poignant by the fact that his character, Proximo, dies during the course of the film. The CGI work is truly well-done; unless you know where to look, you wouldn't know it's CGI, and I'm not sure even then. Sad, because "Gladiator" might have launched a return to acting for him.
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