Gone Too Soon: Actors Who Died While Filming A Movie Or TV Show
The unfortunate and untimely death of a celebrity can be a shock to the world, but when a celebrity passes away while working, it also affects their film or television project and everyone on set. Check out this list of actors who died before they could finish their last work.
On a Sunday, July 13, fans of the hit television show “Glee” woke up to the shocking news that one of its stars unexpectedly died. Thirty-one-year-old Cory Manteith was found dead in his hotel room in Vancouver from a heroin overdose. The Canadian actor had been open about his battle with drugs, having had his first rehab stint when he was just 19 and returning for treatment this past April. Monteith’s death has postponed the taping of “Glee’s” upcoming season. He was dating his co-star Lea Michelle at the time of his death.
Heath Ledger’s turn as the famed Joker in “The Dark Knight” earned him Oscar buzz well before the film hit the theaters. But things turned tragic when he was found dead in his Manhattan apartment in January 2008. He died from a prescription overdose a third of the way into the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Ledger’s death cast a somber cloud over the release of the blockbuster film “The Dark Knight.” Ledger was dating girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Michelle Williams at the time of his death.
Funnyman Phil Hartman saw his star rise while on the show “Saturday Night Live.” Following that stint, the Ontario native began his role of Bill McNeil as part of the ensemble cast of the hit sitcom “News Radio.” Right before taping for the fifth season started, Hartman was shot and killed by his wife in their California home before she turned the gun on herself. Their two children were home at the time of the murder-suicide. The new season of “News Radio” opened with the characters returning from McNeil’s funeral, who died from a heart attack.
Lynne Thigpen may not be a household name but her face is easily recognizable as The Chief on the PBS children’s geography show “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” Thigpen was also the cantankerous mother who was a thorn in principal Joe Clark’s side in the 1989 movie Lean On Me. The 54-year-old actress passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage in March 2003 while she was in the middle of taping the third season of CBS’ “The District” as police chief aide Ella Farmer. The show’s third season finale contained a tribute to her character.
John Ritter’s career includes work in television, film, and on Broadway but nothing was more popular than his character on “Three’s Company.” Playing the affable, skirt-chasing chef Jack Tripper, Ritter gained millions of fans with his hilarious slapstick comedy on the show. Ritter starred in the comedy “8 Simple Rules To Dating My Teenage Daughter” in 2002. However, the show was short-lived after Ritter complained of chest pains during rehearsal on September 11, 2003. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital before dying a short time later. Ritter died six days shy of his 55th birthday.
River Phoenix got his start in showbiz at a young age. By the time he was 16, he was starring in the coming of age 1986 film Stand By Me. Phoenix made the transition to more adult-oriented films but his career was tragically cut short. Phoenix died from a drug-induced heart attack on the sidewalk in front of popular hang out spot The Viper Room. The autopsy report confirmed a lethal dose of heroin and coke in his system. He was just 23-years-old and was in the middle of shooting the film Dark Blood.
R&B starlet Aaliyah started her career in the music industry as a young teenager linking up with hit-maker R. Kelly. As she got older, the Brooklyn native branched out into the field of acting. With just a few films under her belt, the “Try Again” singer was on her way back from shooting a video in the Bahamas when her single-engine plane crashed shortly after take off. At the time of her death, the 22-year-old had been shooting the film Queen of the Damned. Aaliyah was also scheduled to play the character Zee in the Matrix sequels but her part went to Nona Gaye.
Steve Irwin’s love for wild animals showed in everything he did. The fearless Australian adventurer was filming the underwater documentary Ocean’s Deadliest in September 2006 when he met an untimely death. Snorkeling near a part of the Great Barrier Reef, the Crocodile Hunter was struck in the chest by the tail of a stingray. He went into cardiac arrest in the water. Although his crew pulled him out and administered CPR, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Brandon Lee was trying to follow in the footsteps of his martial arts father Bruce Lee by entering the film industry. Unfortunately, Brandon was like his father in another way: he, too, died young. While on the set of the 1993 film The Crow, the 28-year-old was killed in a stunt accident gone wrong. His character was supposed to be shot in one scene but the gun used during taping contained a fragment of a real bullet. Brandon was hit in the abdomen and died later at the hospital.
Redd Foxx became famous for clutching his chest and calling out to his dead television wife Elizabeth as he pretended to have a heart attack on the hit 70’s show “Sanford and Son.” In a tragic and ironic twist, the legendary comedian suffered a massive and fatal heart attack in 1991 while on the set of television show “The Royal Family,” co-starring Della Reese. He was rushed to the hospital and died later that evening. Foxx was 68 years old.
For more than a decade, television actor Jerry Orbach played Detective Lennie Briscoe on NBC’s long-running show “Law & Order.” In 2004, he left the show to join spin-off “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” but only taped two episodes before he passed away from prostate cancer. The 69-year-old native New Yorker had 20/20 vision up until his death and wanted to give the gift of vision. His eyes were donated to two different patients and Orbach appeared in an ad campaign for the Eye Bank for Sight Restoration in Manhattan after his death.
John Candy rose to fame starring in comedy television in his home country of Canada before making the switch to the big screen. He went on to star in numerous comedy films in the 80’s. While on location in Mexico shooting the Western parody Wagons East!, Candy died of a heart attack in his sleep. The film was dedicated in his memory. The Uncle Buck star was just 43 years old.
Larry Hagman’s claim to fame was his portrayal of the ruthless oil baron J.R. Ewing on the widely popular 80’s television series “Dallas.” More than 30 years later he would reprise his role as the villain in TNT’s continuation of “Dallas.” Hagman passed away from complications of leukemia in November of last year during the filming of the second season of the show.
Actor David Carradine’s long career in the film industry was overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding his 2009 death. The Kill Bill actor was on location in Bangkok, Thailand, to shoot the film “Stretch” when he was found dead in his hotel room. Speculation swirled that the 72-year-old committed suicide because he was found hanging in a closet allegedly wearing woman’s lingerie but his death was officially ruled accidental asphyxiation.
Stanley Kamel started his acting career in 1970 on the silver screen. Since then, he’s starred in well over 100 films and television shows. He’s best known for his role as Dr. Charles Kroger on USA Network’s “Monk.” In 2008, Kamel was found dead in his Hollywood Hills, CA, home. The official cause of death was a heart attack. His character Dr. Kroger, who was Monk’s shrink, suffered the same fate in the seventh season of the show.