Once upon a time, there was a young Australian actor called Heath Ledger – don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him – who was slowly but surely making a name for himself in the big bad movie world. Heath then landed a role which it seemed he would be remembered for the most; a gay cowboy in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (one does consider this to be an achievement, but on the other hand it is the cause of many giggles).
Then, at the peak of his career, and shortly after playing a huge role in a very successful franchise which would have catapulted him to the top ranking Hollywood actors list, earned him millions of dollars, and quite possibly have seen him being nominated, and maybe even receiving, an Academy Award, a cruel twisted irony claimed Heath’s life in the form of an accidental drugs overdose. And at the age of only 28, many could argue that it is one of life’s piss takes than a cruel twisted irony.
As sad as this tale is, Heath Ledger is not the only actor to have succumbed to a similar story ending, and he will not be the last. So who else was dragged away by the hand of death soon after the director yelled ‘Cut! That’s a wrap’? There are Movie Moron’s top ten actors who did not live to see the movie that would have defined there careers, based on a scale of plain old bad luck.
10. Clarke Gable: 1901 - 1960
Even if you have not seen his movies, you would definitely have heard of him. Nicknamed ‘The King of Hollywood’ throughout his movie career, Clarke Gable’s name is synonymous with the word ‘iconic’. He starred in 67 films including Mutiny on the Bounty, and Gone with the Wind, and an Oscar statue for his performance in It Happened One Night probably use to sit next to his toilet. Gable was set to be showered with praise and numerous rave reviews for what is considered to be a memorable performance from the movie The Misfits, co-starring Marilyn Monroe. But it was prayers he was to receive instead. On November 16th, 1960, Clarke Gable died from a heart attack soon after filming of The Misfits was completed. He was 59.
9. Spencer Tracy: 1900 - 1967
74 films + 9 Oscar nominations for Best Actor + 2 Oscars won in that category x a 9th racking in the American Film Institute’s Greatest Male Starts of All Time = Spencer Tracy. With a name resembling that of a 1920’s police detective, Tracy’s name and acting legacy will never die…unlike his body. At the age of 67, Tracy died of a heart attack, seventeen days after filming was completed on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but it seems he was on the way out already; insurance companies would not cover him because he was about to drop, and the filming schedule was fixed in a way to accommodate him as his heath deteriorated. Spencer Tracy’s death may have come as a tragedy, but not as a surprise.
8. John Candy: 1950 - 1994
A brilliant comedic actor with a sensitivity about his weight, John Candy was apparently taking steps to improve his health in his later years. But that did not stop his heart from losing the will to live. At the age of only 43 years old, Candy fell asleep, but never woke up again; he suffered a heart attack whilst on location filming Wagon’s East! on March 4th, 1994. A body double was used to complete the movie, and the film was released that summer. John Candy’s last completed film was Michael Moore’s Canadian Bacon, which was released the following year.
7. Bruce Lee: 1940 - 1973
A perfect example of how you can have the fittest, healthiest and strongest body possible, but there will always be one part of it which will screw you over. What is very sad about Lee’s death at the age of 32 was that the dedicated martial arts action star was apparently given painkillers by a friend to relieve a headache, but it was ingredients in those pills that lead a fatal reaction in Bruce Lee’s brain, resulting in his death. Think of how bad that friend feels.
But apparently, details of Lee’s exact cause of death are shrouded in controversy, and even talks of a curse placed upon him and his family continue to circulate as a plausible factor in his death. Lee’s last completed move, Enter the Dragon, was released six days after his died.
6. Jean Harlow: 1911 - 1937
The Blonde Bombshell starred in many roles that heavily played on her sex symbol image. Sadly, rapid failing health during the filming of Saratoga – which turned out to be her final movie - prevented her from, literately, living the sex symbol life, and kidney failure robbed Jean Harlow of her life on June 6th, 1937, at the age of 26. Saratoga, co starring Clarke Gable was released a moth later.
5. Aaliyah: 1979 - 2001
Poor Aaliyah; the RnB songstress was finally starting to become accepted in the movie world. She was in the middle of playing a supporting role in the second Matrix instalment, which could have cemented her actress status. However, after filming a music video, Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash as a result of carrying too much heavy equipment. She was 22. Easily preventable, a bloody great shame. Queen of the Damned, co-starring Stuart ‘Charlize arm candy’ Townsend was originally scheduled to suffer the ‘straight to video’ fate. But Aaliyah’s passing ensured that the movie was granted a cinema release nearly six months after her death. But that did not prevent the ‘damning’ (see what I did there??) it received from the critics.
4. Natalie Wood: 1938 - 1981
Despite her acting being the subject of much criticism, Natalie Wood still managed to star in many high profile movies – West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause to name a few. Wood also received Oscar, Bafta, and Golden Globe nominations during her movie career. But alas, it was to be cut short when she died of accidental drowning at the age of 43 in 1981 whilst doing location work for Brainstorm. The film was released two years after Wood’s death with a missing scene as it was uncompleted. The film failed to set the box office alight.
3. Brandon Lee: 1965 - 1993
The son of Bruce Lee was only eight years old when his father passed away, and twenty years later, Brandon Lee went to join him. Whilst filming a scene for The Crow – the movie that would have made him a star – he was shot by a bullet that was not meant to be real or cause damage, but was big enough to penetrate his body and fatally injure him. Brandon Lee died on March 31st, 1993. The conscience of Brandon’s death twenty years after Bruce’s passing, and soon after the filming of a career defining movie ensured that the Lee family curse theory continued to surround Brandon’s death for many years. The Crow had to be completed with two stunt doubles and computer trickery, and was released in May, 1994.
2. James Dean: 1931 - 1955
James ‘Rebel without a Cause’ Dean was active on the movie scene for a very brief period, and had only made three films within his short career. Rumoured to have played the field on both sides of the fence (if you catch my meaning), Dean was, and still is, considered to be a sexual icon for both women and men. Not a bad title to obtain when your career only spans four years. James Dean died in a car on car collision in 1955. His death at the young age of 24 guaranteed that his name will never be forgotten, but it also cemented his role in Rebel without a Cause, which was released one month after he was killed, as one of the most celebrated in film history.
1. River Phoenix: 1970 - 1993
The beautiful and mysterious River Phoenix was quoted as being one of Hollywood’s rising stars. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix was only 23 years old when he died on 31st October, 1993 of drug related heart failure – taking a combination of heroin and cocaine is never a good idea, right kids? It had been speculated that Phoenix’s growing depression caused by the years he spent with the Children of God cult as a child could have contributed to his dependence on drugs. Whatever the reasons behind it, drugs clearly robbed this young actor of a long promising career. His final movie, Silent Tongue was released the following year. However, Phoenix was still working on another film, Dark Blood, which was ninety pre cent completed before his death. The film was never released because several key scenes could not be filmed without Phoenix.