The recent tragic death of Australian actor Heath Ledger now calls into question the movie projects he had yet to fully complete filming. The Tree of Life is listed as “never complete” and also a Terry Gilliam directed movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is listed as the movie he was working on before his untimely death.
When an actor dies before finishing a film, there are options to consider, though recasting may be the only thing feasible. Depending on the amount of footage completed, or if producers and director decide to rewrite the script, other options such as cutting down character screen time or now with digital technology using another actor or even animation to fill in for the deceased is possible.
Over the years there have been high profile films affected by the death of their star. Here’s just a few.
Something’s Got To Give – Marilyn Monroe (1962)
This may be the most unusual example of a star dying while filming a movie. Marilyn Monroe starred opposite Dean Martin, but was so frequently late to work and otherwise troubled during filming, she was fired from the movie.
Film studio 20th Century Fox wanted to recast, however Dean Martin had casting approval and said “No Marilyn, no movie.” The executives hired Monroe back, but when Marilyn died on August 5, 1962, the movie had to be shelved. In 1999 however, footage from the aborted movie was released to the public and debuted on American Movie Classics on June 1, 2001.
Game of Death – Bruce Lee (1978)
International martial arts master Bruce Lee just finished his epic movie Enter The Dragon, when he died of a brain edema in Hong Kong.
He had previously filmed footage for a movie called Game Of Death, which was subsequently released by hiring several Bruce Lee look alikes and using what real footage of Lee that was salvageable. In 2004, even more authentic Lee footage was released in the documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.
Twilight Zone: The Movie – Vic Morrow (1983)
When Vic Morrow died with two child actors during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, it caused controversy and labor law reform that’s still felt to this day.
Morrow and two children were filming a segment of the movie when a helicopter crashed into them. Enough footage was filmed, so the film was released without recasting Morrow. Subsequently, safety regulations on movie sets were overhauled, as were child labor laws governing kids working on movie sets.
The Crow – Brandon Lee (1994)
Much like his father before him, Brandon Lee was a dynamic actor and accomplished martial artist. Also like his father, he died before completing a film.
The Crow is based on a graphic novel by James O’Barr. Lee plays Eric Draven, a rock guitarist brutally murdered who comes back from beyond for vengeance. Lee himself was killed when a dummy bullet became lodged in the gun used for his death scene. It was propelled by a charge and hit him in the abdomen. Later, a digital technique was used to layer on Lee’s face to another actor’s body to finish what was needed in the movie.