This weekend sees the UK release of Furious 7, the latest in the ongoing saga of Fast and Furious car chase mayhem. The excitement (from the predominately teenage fan-base) towards this film is undoubtedly tinged with sadness as it comes almost a year and a half after the tragic passing of Paul Walker, one of the original actors of the franchise.
On the 30th of November 2013, Walker and his friend Roger Rodas were killed when the Porsche Carrera GT Rodas was driving crashed into a lamppost in Santa Clarita, California. Halfway through filming at the time, the production had to be halted and, after various re-writes, Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, were eventually used as stand-ins to complete his remaining scenes.
This, of course, is not the first time such measures have been used to finish a film after an actor has died. Here are some more examples from cinematic history of attempts to salvage something from the tragedy of an actor passed away during production…
Bela Lugosi – Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
For the first, and arguably strangest, entry on this list we have Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi. Despite being forever immortalised as the original Dracula, Lugosi’s career struggled in later years as he fell into relative obscurity. However, he became a subject of interest for the infamously low-budget filmmaker Edward D Wood, who gave him small parts in his films. After shooting some silent footage for a project that would three years later be released as Wood’s horror ‘masterpiece’ Plan 9 From Outer Space, Lugosi died of a heart attack in 1956 at the age of 73. Wood rewrote the script and hired his wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason, as a stand-in for Lugosi, despite him being significantly taller, thinner and bearing no resemblance to him whatsoever, forcing him to cover half his face with Lugosi’s trademark Dracula cape. Tim Burton subsequently depicted these events in Ed Wood, a biopic of Wood, affectionately remembered as one of the worst directors in Hollywood history.
Roy Kinnear – The Return of the Musketeers (1989)
British character actor Roy Kinnear, best known perhaps for his role as Mr Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, died in 1989 while filming the third of Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers trilogy. Kinnear, who played the musketeers’ comical manservant Plancet, fell off his horse and broke his pelvis, only to suffer a heart attack later in hospital. His role was completed by using a stand-in filmed from the rear, with the voice being dubbed by a voice artist. Richard Lester, who had also previously directed two Superman films, was so upset by the death of his friend that he retired from films for good.
Brandon Lee – The Crow (1994)
Perhaps one of the most famous of the incidents here, Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, fell victim to an early death the same as his father before him. Lee Sr should get an honourable mention on this list as he died during the filming of Game of Death, in 1973, which was eventually knocked together with footage of him found by the studio and released in 1978.
As for Lee Jr, his promising career came to an end when he was shot and killed by the projectile of a stunt gun firing blanks. Footage of Lee’s death was used in the subsequent investigation into his death, but was later destroyed. To complete filming, producers again had to enlist body doubles, while also using the computer technology of the time to digitally composite Lee’s face onto the double in a few few scenes. Michael Massee, the actor who fired the stunt gun, has admitted that he has never seen the film and is still haunted by nightmares of the event to this day.
John Candy – Wagon’s East (1994)
The lovable, larger than life Canadian comic actor didn’t want to make this lacklustre comedy western from 1994 but was contractually obliged to so. One night after filming, Candy made a dish of lasagna for his assistants. After dinner, he went to bed and died of a heart attack overnight. He was just 44 years old. His role as a grizzled cowboy leading a bunch of soft hearted prospectors back east was finished off with body doubles and re-writes. The film received poor reviews and went on to become a critical and commercial failure. Hardly a fitting swan song for Candy.
Oliver Reed – Gladiator (2000)
British actor Oliver Reed, famed for his alcoholism and womanising made a comeback in 1999 when cast as Proximo, Russell Crowe’s slave driver with a heart in Gladiator. It was a role that was to bring him his only Bafta nomination, but which also ultimately led to his death. While filming scenes in Malta, Reed made a prolonged stopover at a bar and forced his way through multiple bottles of rum and beer. His body eventually gave in to the years of alcohol abuse and he fell off his chair, dying of a heart attack. CGI was used to finished his scenes, but at a cost of around $3 million. The final result, despite the advanced technology of the day, created an eerie ghostly effect to his face in some of his final scenes.
Heath Ledger – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Many people confuse the timeline of Heath Ledger’s death, believing him to have died during the filming of The Dark Knight. However, he had in fact completed his scenes as The Joker for that one and it was while shooting Terry Gilliam’s enchanting fantasy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus that Ledger died of an overdose in his Manhattan apartment.
Gilliam originally believed the project to be doomed. Production was shut down for several months and possible CGI options were considered. Eventually, it was resumed when Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell agreed to complete Ledger’s role. The film’s fantasy premise, and some clever rewrites, let the actors play a man whose appearance changes as he travels between imaginary worlds. Depp, Farrell, and Law reportedly donated their salaries for the film to Ledger’s family.
Furious 7 is in UK cinemas from Good Friday 3rd April