Hollywood has bid adieu to many beloved actors far too soon. The sudden passing of actors like Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams have left a deep void in the movie industry that can never be filled. Post-production work and scheduling have resulted in films that were finished before an actor’s death to be released afterward. In some cases, as with Paul Walker’s sudden death and Furious 7, there are times when shooting is still underway and decisions have to be made about how to complete the film without one of its stars.
When Oliver Reed died in 1999, Gladiator was still in production. Thanks to a body double, and with the power of CGI, images of his face from earlier scenes were used to complete later scenes in a seamless effect. When Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001, production on The Queen of the Damned was nearly complete, but some of her lines needed to be redone. Her brother, Rashad, overdubbed her final bits of dialogue to help complete the film. And when Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose in 2008, director Terry Gilliam nearly shelved his film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus until friends and family convinced him to complete the film, and three actors – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – stepped in to finish filming Ledger’s role.
Sadly, there are many more posthumous films and they are bittersweet. They give us one last chance to see the faces and to hear the voices of the dearly departed. They’re like a swan song, an encore or a final bow. We watch them with a special awareness that the star is no longer with us and that makes an actor’s final performance immensely profound.
In some cases, critics and audiences rush to praise a final role as a special achievement. Sometimes debates ensue about whether or not a role will be nominated for an Academy Award. For Heath Ledger, being awarded a posthumous best supporting actor Oscar for playing The Joker in The Dark Knight was richly deserved.
Whether or not an actor’s final performance is award worthy shouldn’t matter anyway. Debating the merits of an actor’s final film isn’t focusing on what matters most – the entire body of work left behind and revisiting whatever film(s) of the late actor we cherish most, whether it be their first or their last.
What are your most beloved posthumous films?