One of the sad truths about celebrity and the artistic soul is that they often make a destructive combination. Many great actors died tragically young after struggling with addiction and mental illness, but their work lives on and immortalizes their talent. On the other end of the scale, some of the great actors of the 20th century lived long lives and continued to work right up until their deaths.
In many cases, this sadly meant that they didn’t all get the chance to see their final films released to the world. Click on this gallery to see which actors didn’t live to see their last works of art.
Others want to know
- 1 Chadwick Boseman
- 2 Robin Williams
- 3 Carrie Fisher
- 4 Philip Seymour Hoffman
- 5 Whitney Houston
- 6 Brittany Murphy
- 7 Heath Ledger
- 8 Stan Lee
- 9 Tupac Shakur
- 10 Burt Reynolds
- 11 Bruce Lee
- 12 Brandon Lee
- 13 Alan Rickman
- 14 Orson Welles
- 15 John Hurt
- 16 Luke Perry
- 17 Paul Walker
- 18 Anton Yelchin
- 19 James Gandolfini
- 20 Bernie Mac
- 21 Richard Harris
- 22 John Candy
- 23 Clark Gable
Chadwick Boseman passed away suddenly from colon cancer in 2020, shocking his fans and the entertainment community alike. He had hidden his illness and continued to perform like a true artist until shortly before his death. The movie ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (2020) was released a few months later, and he received many posthumous awards and nominations.
The late great Robin Williams appeared in one final movie before his death; ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’ (2014). Williams had a rare condition called diffuse Lewy body dementia, which contributed to him killing himself in 2014, prior to the film’s release.
Carrie Fisher had wrapped several movies that hadn’t been released before her death in 2016. Fisher had always been open about her struggles with mental health and addiction, and she died of cardiac arrest with several drugs in her system. After her death, three movies were released: ’Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017), ‘Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics’ (2020), and ‘Wonderwell’ (2021).
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most talented and well-respected actors of his time, but sadly he also struggled with drug addiction. He passed away after an overdose in 2014. The movie ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’ (2014) was released more than a year after his death.
Whitney Houston was one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, but it’s no secret that she had a difficult personal life. Although she was primarily a singer, she also appeared in several movies. She had finished production of the movie ‘Sparkle’ (2012) shortly before she died of an overdose.
Brittany Murphy tragically passed away under mysterious circumstances in her home in 2009. It was later discovered that she had pneumonia and a mixture of prescription drugs in her system. Her husband died of similar causes a few months later. Murphy had appeared in the movie ‘Something Wicked’ prior to her death, but it wasn’t released until 2014.
Heath Ledger had an exceptional career for such a short life. His performance as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight‘ (2008) earned him a posthumous Oscar. The film ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus‘ (2009) was also released after his death. Ledger sadly died of an overdose of prescription drugs at the age of 30.
Stan Lee wasn’t really an actor, but as the creator of the Marvel universe, he loved making cameos in his own TV shows and movies. He passed away at the respectable age of 95, and appeared in the following movies that were released after his death: ‘Captain Marvel’ (2019) and ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019).
Tupac Shakur was one of the most famous rappers of all time, but he also appeared in several movies. Both ‘Gang Related’ (1997) and ‘Resurrection’ (2003) were released after he was shot and killed in 1996. It’s alleged that the shooting was related to a gang dispute.
The legendary Burt Reynolds was acting well into his golden years. He died at the age of 82 in 2018, while still actively working in the film industry. He appeared in the movies ‘An Innocent Kiss’ (2019) and ‘Defining Moments’ (2020), which were released after his death.
Bruce Lee had already achieved iconic status by the time he tragically died at the age of 32. The movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973) was released a month after his death. The young actor and martial artist dropped dead quite suddenly of a brain edema, possibly caused by a prescription pain killer.
The Lee family was plagued with misfortune, two generations in a row. Bruce Lee’s son Brandon was also an actor, and he also died in a shocking and unexpected manner, when he was only 28. He was shot and killed on set by a prop gun that malfunctioned. He died while filming ‘The Crow’ (1994), which was released after his death.
Alan Rickman was another beloved actor who kept a long-term illness quiet up until his death in 2016. He died as a result of pancreatic cancer after completing production on ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ (2016) and ‘Eye in the Sky’ (2016).
Orson Welles was a man who wore almost every hat that Hollywood had to offer. Although perhaps better known for his work as a director, he was also a prolific actor. He did a voiceover for the movie ‘Transformers: The Movie’ (1986) before his death, a project which he openly discredited. Sadly it was his last performance. The movie was released the year after his death.
John Hurt had a career that spanned decades, and he worked right up until his death. Hurt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and died two months later. He appeared in ‘Damascus Cover,’ ‘My Name Is Lenny’ and ‘That Good Night,’ which were all released in 2017.
Luke Perry became a TV star through ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ as a young man. He later took on a sizable role in the show ‘Riverdale,’ but his character had to be killed off when Perry suddenly died of a stroke in 2019 at the age of 52. He also appeared in the Oscar-winning movie ‘‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019), which was released after his death.
Paul Walker was best known for his leading role in the ‘Fast & Furious’ film series. He died quite suddenly during the filming of ‘Furious 7’ (2015). He was in the passenger seat of a car that ended up in a fatal accident. Production of the movie was finished using CGI, and a few scenes where Walker’s brothers were used as stand-ins.
Anton Yelchin was a rising young star who scored the role of Pavel Chekov in the ‘Star Trek’ movie reboot. Sadly, he died at the age of 27 in a freak car accident when his brakes malfunctioned. The movie ‘Star Trek Beyond’ (2016) was released after his death.
James Gandolfini was best known for his role as Tony Soprano in the hit HBO series ‘The Sopranos,’ but he was also a respected film actor. He died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 51. He had filmed the movies ‘Enough Said’ (2013) and ‘The Drop’ (2014), which were released after his death.
Comedian and actor Bernie Mac brought a lot of energy and a unique humor to every role he played. Sadly, he suffered from sarcoidosis and died of pneumonia in 2008. All of the movies he filmed shortly before his death were dedicated to his memory: ‘Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’ (2008), ‘Soul Men’ (2008), and ‘Old Dogs’ (2009).
Richard Harris was a respected Irish actor who is best known to modern audiences as the original Dumbledore in the ‘Harry Potter’ film series. He died after a brief battle with Hodgkin’s disease in 2002. ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ was released a month later. Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore afterwards.
John Candy was a greatly loved comedic actor who appeared in heart-warming classics like ‘Home Alone’ (1990) and ‘Spaceballs’ (1987). He died of cardiac failure while filming ‘Wagons East’ (1994). The film ‘Canadian Bacon’ (1995) was also released after his death.
Clark Gable was called the “King of Hollywood,” which was a fitting title for such a behemoth of the film industry. He played an aging cowboy opposite Marilyn Monroe in the film ‘The Misfits’ (1961) before suddenly dying of heart attack. The movie was released the following year.