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Making Movies: Stars Who Died Undone

So much depends on a star being able to finish filming movies in which they appear in leading roles. The untimely deaths of these actors and actresses not only saddened the world but left movies unreleased, and in some cases, even unfinished. Although these stars have prematurely faded from our view, they will be gone but certainly not forgotten.

When the unexpected happens in Hollywood, the results can be disastrous if the star holding the lead role in a movie dies before it can be finished or released. Some of these deaths are natural occurrences due to medical conditions. Others were obviously the result of the toll their celebrity status took upon their health and their personal lives. But all of them were shocking tragedies.

River Phoenix

River died on October 30, 1993 as a result of an accidental narcotic overdose before the release of the movie Silent Tongue, and while still filming Dark Blood. There is still a lot of controversy concerning the exact circumstances of his death due to his father’s prior involvement with a cult called the Children of God. In a 1991 interview with Details magazine, River recalled his childhood in the cult and disclosed that he had been a victim of sexual abuse. Rumors circulated that his death was an act of retaliation for revealing the cult’s secrets. However, no evidence could be found to substantiate the suspicion.

Tupac Shakur

Rapper Tupac Shakur was murdered on September 7, 1996 before the release of his two movies, Gang Related and Gridlock’d. He was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting while in Las Vegas for a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon. His remarkable performances in Gang Related and Gridlock’d indicated the depth of his talent. The tragic and violent death of Tupac Shakur left the world stunned in disbelief. Not only will his multitude of fans continue to mourn his death deeply, but it will also serve as a stark reminder of how vulnerable all of us are to such random violence. It has been suggested on numerous occasions that his death was a result of the escalating feud between himself and rapper Notorious B.I.G. that also involved their respective production companies. No evidence has ever surfaced that could help find his killer. Click here to read more about the similarities and connections between the two deaths.



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Aaliyah Dana Haughton was an R&B and pop singer who successfully crossed over into acting. She was awaiting the release of her second motion picture, Queen of the Damned when she died on August 25, 2001. The twin engine Cessna 402B in which she was a passenger crashed after wrapping up filming on a music video in the Bahamas. When the accident was investigated, it was discovered that the plane was overloaded and exceeded the standard weight tolerance specifications outlined by Cessna.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was an unbelievably talented martial artist and iconic star in China who had returned to Hong Kong after being disappointed in Hollywood. He died on July 20, 1973 before his movie Enter the Dragon could be released. It was rumored that all the males of the Lee family were cursed when Bruces father offended a merchant in China. Bruces autopsy revealed that his death was due to a cerebral edema. Years later after his son Brandon Lee also died while filming a movie, these rumors were resurrected.

Brandon Lee

You have to admit that the coincidence here is uncanny to say the least. Not only did Brandon’s father Bruce die before his movie could be released, but Brandon did as well. The production set for the movie The Crow, which was released after Brandon’s death, was plagued with accidents and injuries from the very beginning. On March 31, 1993, Brandon was shot and killed by a faulty prop pistol that was being used to film a scene in which Brandon character is shot. It is not by the way, the scene that is now in the movie. Rumors resurfaced maintaining that the same curse suspected to have killed Bruce Lee was also responsible for the death of his son Brandon. The flames of this rumor were fanned partly because of a live round of ammunition that was previously discovered in the very same pistol on another occasion.

Vic Morrow

Vic Morrow died while shooting a scene in the movie The Twilight Zone. As he ran with two children in his arms, a helicopter crashed and decapitated all three after being hit with a pyrotechnic special effects explosion that went wrong in the early morning hours on July 23, 1982. An investigation after the accident revealed violations in safety procedures and child labor laws as well as union violations.

Heath Ledger


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His role as the Joker in the Dark Knight was the last (and probably the best) this actor would ever perform. Heath died in the early morning hours of January 22, 2008 from a drug overdose before the film was released. He was awarded a posthumous Golden Globe Award for his performance in the Dark Knight. He was actually working on another film called The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus when he died. The film was not completed so Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp were called in to portray Heaths character for the rest of the film. The story line goes that Heaths character goes through physical transformations, ending up looking like someone else.

Chris Farley

Chris died before the release of his movie, Almost Heroes. The beloved comedian, who got his start on Saturday Night Live from New York, was found dead by his brother on December 18, 1997. Autopsy results revealed that Chris had a lethal combination of cocaine and morphine in his system. It is ironic that both he and John Belushi both got their start on the late night comedy series and both died of drug overdoses at the age of thirty three.

John Candy


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John Candy was a fabulously funny actor who started out on the Canadian Network, SCTV (Second City TV). He died in his sleep on March 4, 1994. It was revealed that he died as a result of the end stages of heart disease and advanced atherosclerosis which caused a coronary embolism, which in turn caused a heart attack. He had just finished filming the movie Wagons East, which was released after his death.

Phil Hartman

Here is another SNL alumni who died before his last movie could be released. On May 27, 1998 he and his wife Byron had an argument in which Phil threatened to leave her if she didn’t seek help for her drug addiction. So she waited until he fell asleep and shot him in the head before ending her own life. He had recently completed filming of the movie Small Soldiers, which was released after his death.

Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood drowned after falling off her boat while partying on board with co-star Christopher Walkin and her husband, actor Robert Wagner in the early morning hours on November 29, 1981. She died before her last movie, Brainstorm, was finished. The film was completed using takes that were filmed earlier along with a rewrite of the end of the movie and then finally released.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe led a tragic and painful life that began with a childhood as an orphan. Her mother was insane and she never knew the identity of her father. Her depression and mental problems drove the 1960’s icon to drink and take an alarming number of pills on a daily basis. Everything came to a head when, in the early morning hours of August 5, 1962, she was found dead from an overdose of prescription drugs while her last movie, Something’s Got to Give was still in production. The movie was never finished and the entire movie had to be canned permanently. To this day, there remains an ongoing suspicion that her involvement with President Kennedy may have led to her death.

Steve Irwin

I decided to include Steve Irwin in this list although he was filming a television special instead of a movie when he died on April 9, 2006. A killer stingray pierced through his heart while filming an underwater scene in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Steve will always be remembered for his Crocodile Hunter series and his untiring animal conservation work and his dedication to the Australia Zoo.

I tried to include everyone in this article, however, if I overlooked someone, please feel free to make suggestions for inclusion and I will add them.

Other articles by Bren Parks include:

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  1. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Great article, Bren. I knew about all of the early and unexpected deaths; however some facts were surrounding these deaths were news to me. Well, worth the read.

    God bless.

  2. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:11 am

    awesome article man!

    good job.



  3. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:14 am

    This was a great read Bren. Wasn’t the whole Crow movie cursed as I recall hearing about a number of strange things happening on that set though I can’t recall what exactly? Good work. RJ

  4. Posted January 22, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Wonderful, interesting read. Come to think of it, they will never look old since they will forever be remembered looking young and vibrant.

  5. katien
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Interesting article. Film companies must take out huge insurance on their stars.

  6. Posted January 22, 2009 at 4:31 am

    Wow! Really makes you think. Really interesting article x

  7. Posted January 22, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Great article, it’s such a shame so many talented performers died with so much unrealised potential. :(

  8. hazvie
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 5:16 am

    interesting work, it just shows we don’t have power over death…

  9. Posted January 22, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Good article. I guess they grasped life by the throat when they were alive, to reach fame. A lesson for us all: we never know when our time will come, so we’d better get busy making every second count!

  10. Posted January 22, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Good article. My morbid curiosity loves this type of stuff.

    Thanks or sharing!

  11. Posted January 22, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Very interesting, as usual.

  12. Posted January 22, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Brilliant article! Sad Topic but one I enjoyed reading.

  13. Posted January 22, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Great stuff as always, Bren.

  14. Posted January 22, 2009 at 10:26 am

    R.I.P Brandon Lee,

    The one and only Crow, no matter what Hollywood does.

  15. Posted January 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

    such a great article, bren! you’re really brilliant!

  16. Posted January 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    great article

  17. Posted January 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Another interesting read Bren. I found your piece on Aaliyah interesting in that I’ve just mentioned her in an article (unrelated)! :)

  18. cardy
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    fab work again!

  19. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    These are all so sad,I had already forgotten about poor Steve Irwin,poor Mindy.

  20. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm


  21. Posted January 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I remember when Vic morrow and the children where killed also most of the rest. It’s the world’s lost with go much talent gone. Excellent article Bren

  22. Posted January 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Heath Ledger rocks!

  23. Autumn
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Good article! It’s really sad about these actors/actresses though. :(

  24. Posted January 22, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I remember each and every one when they were alive. Although Bruce was a little far back to remember it well. Interesting stuff Bren

  25. Posted January 22, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Lots of new information to me. Great job!


  26. Posted January 22, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Wonderful article. You should write one about the oldest actors…or rising actors.

  27. Posted January 22, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    This is a really great article! Thanks for the share! I only knew about the Bruce Lee and his son’s deaths…very sad indeed.

  28. Posted January 22, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Heath Ledger was my favorite actor… He was GREAT… and becoming such a good actor. I was heart broken to hear that he had died. He did an amazing job in his last movie, The Dark Knight. I was amazed!!!! I dont think they could have found a better joker… it is just so sad to hear about the way he had to go!!!!!!!!!
    This was a great article Bren… you are becoming quite the hit I must say… keep up the good work, maybe give me a few tips on how you got here…. I could use it…


  29. Posted January 22, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    btw… I loved chris farley in tommy boy… A GREAT MOVIE!!!

    thank again

  30. Posted January 22, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Great job and interesting topic. Very nicely put together.

  31. Posted January 22, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Interesting and well written. Thank you!

  32. workaholic
    Posted January 23, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Good info. Never knew there was a curse for Lee’s family.

  33. Posted January 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Well done. I know you don’t know this, but last year I did one of these. I had many of the same ones you have here.

  34. Posted January 23, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Very good article.

  35. Posted January 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Well done and quite entertaining Bren. I love Brandon and Bruce Lee

  36. Posted January 28, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Amazing article, Bren.

  37. Mr Ghaz
    Posted February 9, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Bravo! Excellent! very interesting and well-presentation article. ..include; my idol – Bruce Lee. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Posted February 10, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Thanks for that, fascinating article, The Crow is one of my all time favourite films.

  39. Posted March 14, 2009 at 3:20 am

    Very cool and entertaining:)

  40. Kimberly Moore
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Masterful Leaders!..Their art touched many lives, and I adore them!:) Another hit Bren!

  41. Posted March 15, 2009 at 4:52 am

    I actually have it on pretty good authority that all these guys really faked their deaths to create publicity for the movies and are actually alive and well living on an island off the coast of Mexico. It’s the same island that they used to film the moon “landings” back in the 70’s.

    Good write-up nonetheless.

  42. Posted March 15, 2009 at 5:58 am

    I only knew Ledger, Alliayah and Bruce Lee! Nice article! Thanks for sharing! Deserves a thumbs up!

  43. Mr Ghaz
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 6:07 am

    awesome! that was interesting piece…my favorite..Mr Bruce included. Thanx

  44. Posted March 15, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Life is a fragile thing. Very interesting read, and love the imbedded videos for each.

  45. Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Aaliyah was the biggest shock for me- so sad. Interesting read.

  46. Angelfire
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I really enjoyed reading your article and watching the videos, Thanks for sharing! J~

  47. Posted March 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    awesome article and moving…I feel so sorry for all of them but mostly for heath ledger as it is the most recent..So talented ! Such a waste

  48. Posted March 17, 2009 at 12:49 am

    We really lost some brilliance, taken from us far too soon. Thank you for compiling this work.

  49. Shame What a Shame
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 6:35 am

    This will shed light on to these mysteries – watch till the end.

  50. Posted August 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Stars who died undone, huh… And what about Christopher Marlowe? Think about that, Bren! Was he done, you think? Am I done? – We both are stars, that’s for sure. (Christopher and me, I mean – or is that the same?)

    Do you believe in reincarnation, Bren?

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