12 Actors Who Knew They Were Dying During the Production of a Movie

Brittany Murphy at the World premiere of 'Happy Feet' held at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, USA on November 12, 2006.
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In filmmaking, many challenges can arise during production. However, one of the most difficult challenges for actors is having to deal with serious illnesses or injuries while on set.

Here are 12 actors who knew they were dying during the production of a movie but still gave their all into their roles.

1. Heath Ledger

VENICE - SEPT 4:Heath Ledger attends the I'm Not There photocall in Venice during the 64th Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2007 in Venice, Italy
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Heath Ledger passed away while playing the iconic villain, Joker, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The role had significantly affected Ledger’s mental and physical health. He secluded himself in a hotel room for a month to prepare for the character.

He reportedly had trouble sleeping and became increasingly isolated during filming. Sadly, he never got the chance to see the finished art.

2. John Candy

Los Angeles, California - exact date unknown - circa 1991: late actor and comedian John Candy arriving at a formal celebrity event
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John Candy was a beloved comedian and actor known for his roles in movies like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Uncle Buck.

However, Candy’s life was cut short when he suffered a heart attack while filming Wagons East! in Mexico. Fans have described his death as a massive loss to the comedy industry.

3. Bruce Lee

SAN FRANCISCO, USA - OCT 5, 2015: Bruce Lee at the Madame Tussauds museum in SF. It was open on June 26, 2014
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Bruce Lee, a martial arts legend, revolutionized the genre with his innovative techniques and incredible athleticism.

Unfortunately, Lee tragically died upon filming Enter the Dragon. Shortly before his death, he’d been diagnosed with cerebral edema. Despite his illness, Lee continued to film the movie until he collapsed on set.

4. John Ritter

John Ritter at ABC Upfront, NY 5/14/2002
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While on the 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter set, John Ritter, who played Paul Hennessy in the movie, ultimately died of aortic dissection.

Before his death, John Ritter was a beloved actor known for his roles in movies like Problem Child and TV shows like Three’s Company. Despite John Ritter’s death, the show still carries on his legacy.

5. Bela Lugosi

NEW YORK, USA - SEP 16, 2017: Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Madame Tussauds NY wax museum.
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Bela Lugosi had advanced-stage spinal cancer while filming Plan 9 from Outer Space. Combining the state of her health and the job she had to do was quite unsettling, but she was driven by passion.

Unfortunately, Lugosi passed on before they completed filming, and the director used footage from previous movies to complete the film.

6. Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed in Women in Love (1969)
Image Credit: United Artists.

Oliver Reed was a legendary British actor known for his intense performances and hard-partying lifestyle. During the production of Gladiator, Reed suffered a heart attack while drinking with friends in a pub.

He did not recover from this heart attack and subsequently passed on. The filmmakers could use special effects, and body doubles to complete Reed’s scenes in the movie.

7. River Phoenix

River Phoenix in Running on Empty (1988)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

River Phoenix was a rising star in Hollywood, known for his roles in movies like Stand by Me, and My Own Private Idaho. Sadly, Phoenix’s life ended when he died of a substance overdose outside of a nightclub in Los Angeles.

At the time of his death, Phoenix was in the middle of filming the movie Dark Blood, which was later shelved.

8. Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy
Image Credit: Dimension Video/Buena Vista Pictures.

Before her death, Brittany Murphy was known for her roles in movies like Clueless and 8 Mile. However, Murphy’s life was tragically cut short when she died of pneumonia and anemia in 2009.

At the time of her death, Murphy was in the middle of filming the movie Something Wicked, which was later released posthumously.

9. Philip Seymour Hoffman

TORONTO, ON/CANADA - SEPTEMBER 9, 2011: Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival for the screening of "Moneyball" on September 9th 2011 in Torobnto
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Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away in 2014 while filming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 2). He died of substance overdose at 46. His scenes in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 2) were completed using a mixture of CGI and previously filmed footage.

10. Andrew Whitfield

LOS ANGELES - Jan 28: Andy Whitfield arriving at the Celebration of L.A. ARTS MONTH at Calvin Klein Store on January 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, CA
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Andrew Whitfield was playing Spartacus in Spartacus: Sand and Blood and was diagnosed in 2010 with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The second season was on hold while he was receiving treatment. Although he passed away 18 months after diagnosis, he was only in remission for a brief period.

11. Chadwick Boseman

SANTA MONICA, CA - June 16, 2018: Chadwick Boseman at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards at the Barker Hanger, Santa Monica Airport
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Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer in 2020 after filming his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. His failing health at some point became very obvious when he lost so much weight. Before his death, however, Chadwick impacted the world, and with his tremendous role in Black Panther, the world was left to mourn a true hero.

The movie he was on set for before his passing, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was released posthumously and earned Boseman an Academy Award nomination.

12. Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood in This Property Is Condemned (1966)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Natalie Wood drowned in 1981 while filming Brainstorm. When the incident occurred, she had been on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island on board her husband Robert Wagner’s 58-foot (18 m) motor yacht Splendour.

They brought in her sister, Lana Wood, to complete some of Natalie’s remaining scenes.

Acting is a very demanding job that requires dedication. Still, these actors pushed through despite knowing that their days were numbered. Fans will never forget their contributions to the movie industry, and their legacies will continue in the movies they helped create.


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Written by Boloere Seibidor

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