I don’t know how I got the idea for putting this list together. Every now and then, I’ll think about actors or filmmakers who died too young, and I can’t help but wonder what they’d be doing now were they still alive. Where would their careers have taken them? Who would they have worked with? I guess I just figured it would be cool to put down the names I think about most often and talk about why I miss them. Although I’m sure one exists somewhere out there, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do a list like this. This particular one is comprised of people who died from 1990 thru 2012, so basically, during the time in which I’ve been an active moviegoer. To qualify, the person must have been younger than 75 at the time of their death, indicating that had they lived, they’d likely still have had years left to contribute, decades in some cases.
Resurrectees listed in A-B-C order
age at death: 43 (died 1994)
Talk about being cut down in your prime. We should’ve gotten at least 10 more years of John Candy as a leading man. When I think about my favorite comedies of all time, the first thing that always comes to mind is that John Candy stars in four of them (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors). And all of those were released within 2 years of each other! Has any comedic actor ever had a better run than Candy from 1987-1989? I seriously doubt it. Imagine John Candy working with popular comedic talents like Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Jim Carrey, Jason Bateman, Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, or Todd Phillips. It’s maddening thinking about it. He had also started to show his dramatic range in movies like JFK, even though you could already tell from his comedies that he had the talent to do just about anything. You’re telling me that in the 18 years he’s been gone, we wouldn’t have gotten at least 5 more classics? I HATE that this man is gone. If Candy had lived, maybe John Hughes doesn’t disappear from making movies in 1991. We’ll never know.
age at death: 55 (died 2003)
Michael Kamen was one of my favorite composers at the time of his death, and he likely had decades of music still in him. He did the score to one of my all-time favorite movies, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and his opening theme to that film remains a classic. I saw that movie multiple times in theaters at age 11, and I remember loving the music just as much as the visuals even then. He worked on many projects over the years, including all 4 Lethal Weapon movies, the first 3 Die Hard movies, Last Action Hero, Mr. Holland’s Opus, the first X-Men, and two major HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, and 10 of the best hours of television ever produced, Band of Brothers. For one of his final projects, he wrote a beautiful western score for Kevin Costner‘s Open Range. But perhaps my favorite thing he ever did was his collaboration with Metallica (my favorite band) on the mindnumbingly awesome S&M album in 1999 (one of my favorite Metallica albums). The combination of two of my favorite things (sweeping orchestral music and Metallica) was almost too much for me to handle as a 19-year old. Kamen had few peers while he lived, and he’d have even fewer now.
If I could have attended any concert that’s occurred during my lifetime, this would probably have been it.
age at death: 70 (died 1999)
Yes, he was 70, and at his rate of productivity, we may still have only gotten one new movie before he died in his 80’s or 90’s. I don’t care. That’s still one more new Stanley Kubrick movie. And let’s face it, while Eyes Wide Shut is an interesting movie (Kubrick fanboys need to stop calling it a masterpiece- it isn’t), it’s not how he should’ve gone out. To me, the biggest tragedy of the timing of his death is that we never found out what Kubrick could do with CGI or digital cinema or IMAX or 3D or any of the modern technologies that have changed the way films are made. Would he have embraced these innovations? Would he have done a friggin interview or some kind of in-depth profile? Regardless, Kubrick is a hero to almost every major filmmaker today, and still a major influence to anyone seeking to make filmmaking a career going forward (myself included). Only a handful of people in the past, present or future of Hollywood will get to leave behind a legacy as strong as that of Stanley Kubrick. We miss him terribly.
Also, is there any doubt Kubrick would be an active Twitter user?
age at death: 28 (died 2008)
The true definition of the “beautiful corpse”, like James Dean and Kurt Cobain and Chris Farley and John Belushi (and countless other examples), Ledger lived fast, left his mark, and died far too young. A drug overdose is as clichéd as it is sudden and heartbreaking, and the fact that Heath Ledger died 7 months before seeing the reaction to what would be his defining performance is even more tragic. And yet, perhaps it’s partly because he had died that his brilliant performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight is as worshiped as it is. Of course, there were other great performances in his brief career (Brokeback Mountain most notably, and I’m actually a big fan of A Knight’s Tale), but it’s what could have been that will drive us mad for years to come.
For the rest of time, when anyone watches The Dark Knight Rises, there will always be that giant elephant in the room…where was The Joker during Bane‘s takeover of Gotham? Where had he been imprisoned for those 8 years? Did they let him out? Or would Bane try to make sure he stayed locked up, knowing he would likely have been disruptive? Christopher Nolan has frustratingly refused to definitively answer any of these questions. Perhaps he hasn’t answered them in his own mind. What would Ledger have said while accepting the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year?
I feel awful for Ledger’s family and friends, but I think most of us as movie lovers can’t help but selfishly be pissed that he did this to himself. Damn you, Heath Ledger. You had so much more to give.
age at death: 73 (died 2008)
I admit I still haven’t seen several of the films Sydney Pollack is noted for as a director (Tootsie, Three Days of the Condor, Jeremiah Johnson, Out of Africa), but I love The Firm and very much enjoyed The Interpreter, his final directorial effort from 2006. But yeah, I really need to catch up on his older films. Oddly enough, Pollack came to my attention through his wonderful acting before I realized he was a noted director and producer as well. I’m not sure anyone did the wise older man, the partner of the law firm (A Civil Action), or the “father figure to the protagonist” (Changing Lanes, Michael Clayton) better than Pollack. When you saw him, you knew you were in good hands. Not once did he ever hit a false note in a performance. And of course, he was among the last group of people to work with Stanley Kubrick (on Eyes Wide Shut). Even if I never got the chance to work with him, I just wanted to meet the guy one day, shake his hand and thank him for being so friggin good.
I’ve always loved this clip of Pollack explaining the difference between widescreen and pan & scan, at the height of the DVD boom. Even though fullscreen movies are basically dead because of the widescreen aspect ratio of HDTVs, you can still admire his passion in explaining this stuff:
age at death: 64 (died 2011)
Here’s another actor most of us didn’t discover until he was older. You probably first noticed him as Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects. Or perhaps as safari master Roland Tembo in The Lost World (my favorite character in that film). The man was prolific, yet always great. When they first announced there was going to be an X-Men movie, I was rooting for Postlethwaite to get the role of Professor X. I thought that would be absolutely perfect casting. In hindsight, there may have only been one actor alive more qualified for the role, and that man (Patrick Stewart) got it. Pete Postlethwaite is one of those actors who I wouldn’t have minded seeing in every single movie ever released, and you always wanted to see more of him in films where he only had a bit part. At least he went out with a bang, in one of his best and most memorable performances as small-time Boston gangster Fergie in The Town.
How he got this little speech out in one shot is beyond me.
age at death: 61 (died 1999)
I’m ashamed to say that to this day, the only thing I’ve seen him in is Gladiator, but since that’s one of my top 10 favorite movies, and Reed was so goddamn amazing in it, I’m enraged that all the people (like me) who first saw him in that film were also witnessing the end of his career. He’d previously been in dozens upon dozens of other films and TV shows over a long and storied career, and I obviously have a lot of catching up to do on that account. He actually died during a break from filming Gladiator, and they had to use several interesting techniques to work around the few scenes he had left to shoot. From what I understand, if there were a Mount Rushmore of alcoholics, Reed would’ve been on it, as he was known as much for his drinking as he was for his acting talent. It’s a damn shame, because prior to Gladiator, he had sort of fallen off the map, and I think his performance as Proximo would have opened the door for him to have a wonderful comeback of sorts to begin the final act of his career in popular films and TV shows through today and continuing on for years to come. I suppose if you must bow out early, Gladiator was about as good an exit as there is.
There are no usable clips on the Tube that I could find, but this track from the second Gladiator soundtrack album features one of Reed’s best scenes with Russell Crowe:
“The Slave Who Became a Gladiator”
age at death: 68 (died 2012)
I’m still in shock over this, and the fact that it was a suicide makes it all the more painful. Instead of writing something new in tribute for this post, I’ll share the ‘Note’ I wrote and posted on Facebook the day after his death:
“Everyone says they’re “shocked and saddened” when someone dies, especially when it comes to celebrity deaths. Well, for once at least, in my case, that’s the God’s honest truth. I was truly shocked and deeply saddened to learn last night about the suicide of director/producer TONY SCOTT, dead at 68. I’ve never really gotten emotional over the death of someone famous, even famous people I admired. That changed last night.
Tony Scott is more than someone I admire, or someone whose work I respect. He is a personal hero of mine. I currently list him as my 6th all-time favorite director (after Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis, Hitchcock, and his own brother, Ridley Scott). Tony Scott is one of the biggest reasons I love movies the way I do. I don’t know anyone who was a bigger fan of his than me. That’s not meant as a boast, but as a simple fact. He has been a huge influence on the kind of movies I want to make. For the uninformed, he directed CRIMSON TIDE (#21 on my all-time favorite movies list), MAN ON FIRE, TRUE ROMANCE, SPY GAME, TOP GUN, ENEMY OF THE STATE, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, DAYS OF THUNDER, BEVERLY HILLS COP II and what is now his last film, UNSTOPPABLE. Many of those films are hugely underappreciated. I’m even a longtime fan of his less-respected efforts like THE FAN, DOMINO (aka Tony Scott on crack), and DEJA VU. I’ve never seen a Tony Scott movie that I thought was bad. He was one of the first directors whose name I learned and recognized, which happened when I was a teenager.
His work and visual style has influenced many of today’s biggest directors, and his films also helped launch the careers of many of today’s most celebrated talents, both in front of and behind the camera. Scott was Denzel Washington‘s best collaborator (they worked together on 5 films), and is no doubt part of the reason Denzel has been my second-favorite actor since I was a kid (behind only Morgan Freeman). He is one of the directors who gave Hans Zimmer some of his big early projects, and I say Crimson Tide is some of Zimmer’s best work to this day as well as being his “breakout” score and one of the first soundtrack CDs I ever bought. I’m sure the military can tell you how big an influence Top Gun was on Air Force recruiting in the mid-80’s. That film was also one of the first major summer blockbusters, becoming a cultural phenomenon and cementing Tom Cruise‘s status as a movie star. It also helped make Jerry Bruckheimer one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, which he remains to this day. He helped two major writers early in their careers (Shane Black on The Last Boy Scout, Quentin Tarantino on True Romance). And we could go on and on about his influence in the industry. It’s also worth noting that Deja Vu was the first major production to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
He was (and is) seen mostly as an “action director”, whatever that means. But that’s ignorant, to say the least. The man understood comedy, and he damn well understood drama. Crimson Tide, to me, is a masterpiece because of the palpable dramatic tension it creates, which I say has been unmatched since it came out 1995. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman should’ve both been nominated for Best Actor that year, and you could turn many scenes from that film into a fantastic Broadway play. Great actors wanted to work with him, and he got some of their best performances out of them. It seems he was drawn to scripts that would pit two amazing actors against each other. What a joy it was to see Brad Pitt and Robert Redford together in Spy Game. Or Will Smith and Hackman in Enemy of the State. But of course, his action was spectacular, too, and that goes without saying. He was known for shooting even dialogue scenes with 6 cameras or more, and action scenes with as many as a dozen cameras rolling at once. There’s a scene in Spy Game with just Redford and Pitt talking on a roof that was shot with a friggin helicopter. It’s that kind of unconventional technique that separated him from the pack.
T-Scott also loved him some fine cigars, and the Scott brothers are probably 50% responsible for me wanting to try cigars in the first place and one day smoke them regularly on my film sets. I never thought actors smoking cigarettes was cool, but directors smoking cigars? I wanna do that! I guess Tony favored a Montecristo No. 2, which I’d love to try, but it’s a Cuban, which will make acquiring one a little difficult. [Update for blog: I actually was able to acquire a legit Cuban Montecristo No. 2 about a week after his death through a friend by random chance. And oh, was it excellent. I’m gonna be self-centered and believe that Tony divined that for me from movie heaven.]
In the coming days and weeks, critics will retroactively say how much they appreciated his work. Fuck that. The only opinions I care about are from people who adored his work all along. If you’ve ever talked to me at length about movies, you know I’ve always considered him a master filmmaker. Scott was never nominated for an Oscar, and none of his films were ever awards season contenders, which is a disgrace.
He was one of most successful, in-demand directors and producers in all of Hollywood, and from behind-the-scenes footage always seemed to be in great physical shape for a guy his age. It’s reported he left a suicide note in his car and office, but I doubt we’ll ever find out what it said. I can’t even imagine what drives a man that successful and beloved to jump off a bridge to his death.
My thoughts and condolences go out to his wife and children, who lost a husband and father, and to Ridley Scott, another hero of mine, who lost a brother and filmmaking partner. For me, I say thank you, sir. Thank you for your talents, for your visionary body of work, and for your inspiration. You’ve given us everything. Be at peace now, and my next cigar is for you.
I can’t believe I’m writing these words. I will never meet Tony Scott. I will never work with Tony Scott. This absolutely sucks. To paraphrase from True Romance, Tony, you were so cool.”
age at death: 54 (died 1998)
J.T. Walsh was one of the first character actors I came to recognize and respect. He was one of the first “That Guy” actors whose name I decided to learn, because I was so impressed with what he could do without much screen time. He was always great, and even in small supporting roles, he always made an impact. I’m especially fond of his role as the villain in the underappreciated Kurt Russell thriller Breakdown (where Walsh kidnaps and ransoms Russell’s wife after their SUV breaks down on the side of the desert road). You’ll remember him as Lt. Col. Markinson in A Few Good Men. Or as the wealthy college booster driving Nick Nolte crazy in Blue Chips. I also loved him in one of his final roles as a corrupt police bureaucrat in The Negotiator. I was upset when he died because I had just come to truly appreciate his work, only to have him suddenly taken away. There are few supporting actors today who can match J.T. Walsh’s range and consistency, and he should still be with us, playing the crusty old grandfather, or a politician, or maybe he’d have Sam Waterston‘s part in The Newsroom. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do, and he has been sorely missed these past 14 years.
age at death: 62 (died 2008)
Genius. Innovator. Visionary. Master craftsman. Creature effects designer du jour. Practical effects god. These are but a few of the superlatives that can accurately be bestowed upon Stan Winston. He designed and built the full-size Terminators in all four Terminator films. He designed the Predator. He designed and created the alien queen (Aliens). He created the animatronic dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies (his crowning achievement, in my book). He created the animatronic gorillas and gorilla suits in Congo. He created the giant croc in Lake Placid. He did the animatronic robots in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. He helped craft the look of Edward Scissorhands, Danny DeVito‘s Penguin (Batman Returns), and Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man suits. He created the monsters in Monster Squad. He worked on the animatronic lions in The Ghost and the Darkness. He designed Satan in End of Days. He co-founded Digital Domain, which is still one of the top 5 visual effects companies in the world. He won 4 Oscars. Before I knew I wanted to be a director, I wanted to get into special effects, and Stan Winston was one of the first behind-the-camera names I ever learned as a kid. If I were to list the 5 filmmakers most responsible for my desire to get into movies, this man would be on the list. Stan Winston is one of the most important names in the history of filmmaking. End of story. James Cameron and Steven Spielberg owe a lot of their success to his creations, and all of us as filmgoers owe him our thanks for making real the impossible time and time again.
Michael Clarke Duncan (who died the day I finished this post), Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, John Hughes (I’d have put him on the main list without hesitation, but even before his death in 2009, he had long ago gone into semi-retirement, having not directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991), Michael Jeter, Bernie Mac, River Phoenix, Gene Roddenberry, Ron Silver
Rest in peace, gentle giant.