Celebrities are unique in their ability to inspire the whole spectrum of human emotions in total strangers. They feel so familiar to people who grow up seeing them on screens big and small, that when a star passes away, public grief is a very real thing.
Given the fascination with celebrity, it’s no wonder that many people become interested in the final movies of legendary actors. Some of the last films of famous stars just may surprise you, though.
Paul Walker was only 40 years old when he tragically died in the middle of shooting Furious 7. Production of the film was put on hold as Walker’s friends and co-workers grieved. The makers of the film tried to figure out how to sensitively move forward without one of their main stars.
Walker was best known for his role as Brian O’Conner in The Fast and the Furious series of films. After Walker died in late November 2013, his brothers Caleb Walker and Cody Walker stepped in to help finish scenes that Walker never got a chance to shoot. Furious 7 was released on April 1, 2015.
Audrey Hepburn was a graceful and gracious movie star unlike any before her. She rose to fame during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and she is most loved for her whimsical role of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She turned in many other memorable performances throughout her career, including her last performance as Hap in 1989’s Always.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Always is a romantic dramedy that’s a remake of A Guy Named Joe. Hepburn played a spiritual character Hap who guides the protagonist Pete (Richard Dreyfuss). Hepburn was 63 years old when she passed away in 1993 from appendiceal cancer.
Best known for her roles in formative 90 teen films like Clueless and Girl, Interrupted, Brittany Murphy had a vibrant career that was tragically cut short when she passed away at her Los Angeles home on December 20, 2009, at the young age of 32. Her death was ruled to have been caused by a toxic drug interaction with her anemia.
Though she’ll always be known as Tai from Clueless, Murphy reinvented herself as a leading lady in the drama 8 Mile. Something Wicked, Murphy’s last movie, was released a few years after she died. She filmed her scenes of the indie horror film in 2009 in Eugene, Oregon.
Heath Ledger did a lot of living in his short 28 years on earth. The serious actor worked hard to prove his talents in Australian television and movies before moving the US as a young man. His breakout hit came in Ten Things I Hate About You, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
Ledger was in the middle of shooting Terry Gilliam’s fantasy film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he unexpectedly died from a drug overdose. Although Gilliam was originally going to abandon the film after Ledger’s death, other actors stepped in and portrayed the character. The movie was released in December 2009 and dedicated to the actor.
Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable
Though she taught the world that blondes have more fun, Marilyn Monroe’s life was marked by tragedy. Born Norma Jean, her childhood was spent in orphanages and foster homes. However, when she got in front of the camera, magic happened, and Monroe became one of the biggest stars in the world.
Although she received commercial success, Marilyn longed to be taken seriously as an actress, and fittingly enough, it was her final film, The Misfits, that won her a Golden Globe. She died at 36, five months after receiving the award. In a sad twist of fate, The Misfits was also Clark Gable’s final film; production ended only twelve days before his death.
Judy Garland will be forever beloved for her portrayal as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, but the performer’s resume extended much further, including films like Meet Me in St. Louis and her highly praised final film, I Could Go on Singing.
Garland’s swan song included such numbers as “I Am the Monarch of the Sea” and “It Was Never You.” And although it was her last movie, I Could Go on Singing was released around six years before Garland’s overdose at 47-year-old.
Spencer Tracy was a dynamic movie star who was also known for his long relationship with Katherine Hepburn. Audiences loved their on-screen chemistry, despite the slight complication of Tracy being married for the entirety of the couple’s affair. The two did share a bittersweet final performance together in Tracy’s last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Hepburn never watched the final film, despite the film garnering Oscar nominations for both her and Tracy. (She won Best Actress). Hepburn nursed Tracy as his health deteriorated, 17 days after production ended. He was 67 when he died on June 10, 1967.
James Dean had a career that was both extremely short and memorable. He starred as the rebellious hero Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, and he also had memorable roles in East of Eden. Many people don’t realize he had also worked extensively as a television actor before he broke into feature film acting.
Dean’s last movie, the Western classic Giant, showcased his preternatural gifts as an actor opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Late in the shoot, Dean took an ill-fated car ride and crashed. Production halted; his final lines eventually dubbed over in post. He was only 24-years-old.
The talented, lovable comedian John Candy enjoyed a prolific career in Hollywood after starting out on the Canadian sketch show SCTV. He appeared in movies such as Splash, Spaceballs, Only The Lonely, and Uncle Buck. Canadian Bacon, directed by Michael Moore, was perhaps a fitting tribute to the comic’s humble origins up north.
Canadian Bacon remains Moore’s sole non-documentary, with Candy co-starring alongside Alan Alda and Rhea Perlman. Shot in 1993 and released in 1995, Bacon was Candy’s final movie to hit theaters…however, the actor had actually passed away in 1994 during filming of Wagon’s East, which premiered later that same year.
Whitney Houston became a star when she was a young woman, and her fame seemed to only increase over time. Her best-known role was opposite Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, a huge box office hit that highlighted both her impressive acting and vocal performance.
For her final film, Houston took a supporting role, playing the mother of three talented Harlem sisters in the 2012 remake of the 70s hit Sparkle. Both films were based on the real-life story of the Supremes. Houston died three months after the movie wrapped, and it’s dedicated to the star’s memory.
Unlike many actors who make feature films right up until the very end, legendary triple threat Gene Kelly bowed out of his career 16 years before he passed away. His last movie was the 1980 movie musical Xanadu. Although it was largely panned by critics and mocked by audiences, it found a very devoted, loving, and loyal audience.
Today Xanadu is considered a cult classic, and a successful Broadway musical was based on the film. His co-star Olivia Newton-John openly declared her admiration and love for Kelly, whom she felt extremely privileged to have shared both screen and dance. Kelly, however, was disappointed in the resulting picture and retired from movies immediately thereafter.
Jonathan Brandis and Janet Leigh
Jonathan Brandis was a child star who burned bright at a very early age. A young teen heartthrob, he started his career on the soap One Life to Live and went on to star in Stephen King’s miniseries It, The Neverending Story Part 2, and the early 90s TV series seaQuest.
In adulthood, however, Brandis had difficulty finding roles; in 2000 he starred in the direct-to-video comedy Bad Girls at Valley High, a shlock film that still managed to attract the likes of Christopher Lloyd.
After a small role in 2003’s Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, the 27-year-old Brandis his own life. But due to distribution issues, Bad Girls wasn’t released until 2005, making it the final curtain call of a once-bright talent. In another case of sad serendipity, Bad Girls also marked the final film of Psycho actress Janet Leigh.
Adrienne Shelly strived to act and make movies for decades. In fact, she worked hard all her life for the major success that was about to come her way with her feature film masterpiece Waitress. Tragically, she didn’t live to see the movie’s premiere and ongoing success, including its recent adaptation into a successful Broadway musical.
Waitress was Shelly’s passion project. She wrote it, directed it, and starred in it alongside Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Cheryl Hines. The movie about a waitress who defies all stereotypes about what an expecting mother should be. In a shocking tragedy, Shelly was murdered in her home in New York just a few months before Waitress premiered at Sundance.
Natalie Wood was a beautiful, successful actress who was plagued all her life by dark misfortunes. The star of West Side Story had a notoriously cruel and sadistic mother, whom she escaped through a career in showbiz. Wood’s last film was the unusual science-fiction film Brainstorm.
Wood never survived to see Brainstorm to completion, but died at sea under suspicious circumstances in November of 1981. The set was frozen after her death, and production ended up being completed after the director chose to use Wood’s sister Lana Wood for her remaining scenes. Brainstorm was dedicated to Wood and released nearly two years after her death.
Martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s final film Enter the Dragon is considered one of the most successful martial arts movies in all of film history. Lee both produced and starred in the film, and its legacy lives on. Enter the Dragon was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Enter the Dragon was shot on location in Hong Kong, and Lee died on location at the young age of 32 from cerebral edema. Enter the Dragon was released around a month after his death on August 19, 1973.
Brandon Lee was only eight years old when his legendary dad, Bruce Lee, died. This major early loss would shape his life in many ways, but he went on to be a successful actor and martial artist just like his dad. His star was on the rise when he had major roles in Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire.
Lee saw potential in The Crow – a dark, noir-fantasy film based on a comic series – as a way to distinguish himself from his father’s legacy. Tragically, while shooting a scene in the film where his character is shot by gangsters, a gun filled with blanks malfunctioned and a bullet hit Lee, killing him. Released in 1994, The Crow was dedicated to both Lee and his fiancee.
Gregory Peck is best remembered for his iconic role Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, which won him an Academy Award for playing a noble lawyer defending a black man in a racist community. But Peck received four other Oscar nominations and many other accolades in his long and varied career.
His last film was playing a lawyer, once again, in the 1991 remake of the psychological thriller Cape Fear. Peck had originally starred in the original as a man whose family is terrorized by a recently paroled rapist. In the 1991 remake, Peck played a lawyer for the convict (Robert De Niro). Peck died in 2003, but Cape Fear marked his final role on the big screen.
Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney
Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney were both one-of-a-kind comedians. The stars of Hook and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World both rose to fame with their kinetic energy and physical comedy, they didn’t appear in a movie together until 2014. It would be the final film for both legends.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was the last feature film of both Williams and Rooney, who both reprised their roles from the original; Williams as a wax sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt come to life and Rooney as a veteran security guard. The movie was dedicated to both men.
Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams had been the best of friends since they were roommates at drama school in New York City. Sadly, they would both meet tragic ends. On May 27, 1995, Christopher was riding a horse in an equestrian event when he had an accident that caused him to become paralyzed from the neck down.
Reeve summoned the strength to continue living under these remarkable challenges and found outlets for artistic expression. He starred in the 1998 made-for-TV movie Rear Window while paralyzed. It’s an updated remake of the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie. Reeve lived as a quadriplegic for years before passing away at the age of 52 on October 10, 2004.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a brilliant character actor who first gained attention for his roles in Paul Thomas Anderson movies like Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Though he later won an Academy Award for his brilliant channeling of an American icon in Capote, his final role was as supporting cast in the YA franchise The Hunger Games.
Francis Lawrence, the director of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 told the press that he regrets not having more of Hoffman in the film, which premiered in November 2015. The versatile actor’s posthumous performance in the dystopian saga hit theaters barely a year after Hoffman passed away from a drug overdose at 46.
Before Elizabeth Moss received universal praise for her role in The Handmaid’s Tale, a made-for-TV film adaptation of the beloved book starred a young Natasha Richardson. Richardson is beloved by a generation for her portrayal of the mom, Liz, in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. The beautiful film star would never have dreamed that her movie Wild Child would be her last one.
Wild Child was released on August 15, 2008. Richardson died from a freak skiing accident in March of 2009. The accomplished actress was only 45 years old, and she left behind her long-time husband Liam Neeson and two young sons.
Mae West is still best remembered today for her outrageous comedy and sex appeal. So perhaps it is fitting that her last feature film was the 1978 musical farce, Sextette, that’s now considered a cult classic. In the movie, West portrays Marlo Manners, a movie star who has just married her sixth husband.
The gag around Sextette is that the very sexual Manners is eager to consummate her new marriage to Sir Michael Barrington who was portrayed by Timothy Dalton. There was more than a 50-year age difference between Dalton and West. Sextette was released on March 2, 1978, and two years later West died of a stroke at age 89.
John Wayne is a legendary star who made his career playing the lawmen during Hollywood’s romance with Westerns. Wayne started acting in feature films in the late 1920s as a stunt-man; his first role was in 1930’s The Big Trail. Fittingly, his final movie was also a Western.
In 1976’s The Shootist, Wayne portrayed a dying gunfighter named J.B. Books. Although he had battled lung cancer in 1964, he was not known to be terminally ill while making The Shootist. The film was released on August 11, 1976, and Wayne survived three more years, passing away at age 72 at UCLA Medical Center.
Michael Landon was known as a man’s man, playing tough but lovable characters with ease. He also inspired women to fall in love with him in his roles as Little Joe on Bonanza, Charles “Pa” Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, and an angel named Jonathan in Highway to Heaven. However, it was his last feature film Sam’s Son that may have been dearest to Landon’s heart.
Sam’s Son was a 1984 movie that was partly based on Landon’s own troubled childhood. Like his character in the movie, his given name was Eugene Orowtiz. The star only has a cameo at the beginning and end of the film, as the movie is revealed mostly in flashbacks. Landon died in 1991 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 54.
Cory Monteith became a star at a young age when he was cast in the runaway hit show Glee. It was on this show that he met his self-proclaimed soulmate and future fiancee Lea Michele. Monteith’s last role was in the 2013 crime thriller McCanick. The star played a drug-addicted criminal in the film.
Sadly, after allegedly being sober for quite some time, Monteith passed away from a drug overdose later that year at the age of 31. While preparing to film McCanick, People reports that Monteith told the director that he knew the character and had lived elements of the character’s life as a troubled youth.
Patrick Swayze will perhaps forever be beloved for, and identified with, the memorable dance scenes and infamous lift in Dirty Dancing. But in his later years, Swayze opted for darker roles like his turn in Donnie Darko and in A&E’s The Beast.
Swayze’s final movie was Powder Blue, where he played Velvet Larry, the leader of a corporate crime organization. Although he was active until near the very end of his life, Patrick passed away after a nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer on September 14, 2009. Powder Blue was released before the star’s death on May 8, 2009.
Jayne Mansfield is best remembered today as the mother of gorgeous Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay. However, she was a superstar actress and sex symbol in the 1950s and early 1960s. Her last movie was a bedroom farce comedy called A Guide for the Married Man.
In A Guide for the Married Man, Mansfield has a cameo as the Girl with Harold. Other famous stars who had cameos in the movie include Lucille Ball and Jack Benny. Tragically, Mansfield died in a tragic late-night car accident one month after the film’s release.
Phil Hartman was a powerhouse actor and comedian, as well as an accomplished screenwriter and graphic artist. He rose to fame as a cast member of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s and starred a number of comedies such as Houseguest and Sgt. Bilko.
Hartman’s last role was in the action comedy Small Soldiers, directed by well-known horror filmmaker Joe Dante. Hartman was killed in a murder-suicide by his troubled wife just a few months before the film’s release, in what remains one of the most shocking Hollywood tragedies in history.
John Ritter won millions of people’s hearts by making them laugh every week with his portrayal of Jack Tripper on Three’s Company. He went on to star in movies such as Problem Child, Stay Tuned, and Noises Off!, and was the star of the sitcom 10 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
The last character Ritter would portray in a film was bumbling mall manager Bob Chipeska in the black comedy Bad Santa. Bad Santa was released on November 26, 2003, just a few months after Ritter’s sudden death of an aortic dissection.
Brad Renfro gained national attention and acclaim as a child actor, starring in the hit John Grisham adaptation The Client. He appeared in several other high-profile films, including the chilling psychological thriller Apt Pupil, which was based on a short story by Stephen King.
Sadly, Renfro’s career waned over the years, in part due to his struggles with addiction. His final role was in The Informers, a 2008 dramatic ensemble film that was based on a collection of short stories by Bret Easton Ellis. In the film, Renfro plays Jack, a hotel doorman who winds up in a messy situation that spirals out of control.
The Informers was released after Renfro’s death of an accidental heroin overdose, and the film is dedicated to his memory.
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