In filmmaking, many unexpected incidents can suddenly alter production, like the death of an actor. From Bruce Lee to Paul Walker, here's how these movies and TV shows dealt with the passing of one of their stars.
Harry Potter - Richard Harris
Richard Harris' death is one that many hardcore Potterheads are still mourning today. In the first two Harry Potter films, he played the wise wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore.
After filming The Chamber of Secrets in 2002, Harris fell ill and sadly passed away. With more movies in the series left to film, the producers had to figure out who they would cast to replace Harris. Although they ultimately decided on Michael Gambon, many fans still view Harris as the true Albus Dumbledore.
Game of Death - Bruce Lee
A pop culture icon and one of the most influential martial artists ever, Bruce Lee was taken from the world too soon. Lee had finished filming his first Hollywood-produced movie, Enter the Dragon, and was working on the film Game of Death when things took a turn for the worse.
When he was only 32 years old, the Chinese actor passed in his sleep after going for a nap and never waking up. Although many theories surround Lee's death, the heartbreaking tragedy inevitably devastated many fans, friends, and family. After his death, the director finished the film utilizing a look-alike and archived footage.
8 Simple Rules - John Ritter
John Ritter rose to fame as Jack Tripper on the ABC sitcom Three's Company, even winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role on the show. He went on to have a robust career, playing middle-class dad Paul Hennessy on the TV series 8 Simple Rules. He was rehearsing with the cast when he suddenly fell ill.
Although he was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with aortic dissection, Ritter tragically did not survive. The show continued without its lead and had to deal with his death off-screen. Kaley Cuoco, who played one of his daughters, recalled that day in a documentary about Ritter, "Everyone was just crying…"
The Hunger Games Saga - Philip Seymour Hoffman
This Hollywood icon was known for his distinctive character roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman was an incredibly accomplished actor who appeared in everything from major blockbusters to indies, and even won an Oscar! Fans were excited to see him take on the role of the Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, in The Hunger Games Saga.
But just seven days before filming was completed, Hoffman tragically passed away. The director was forced to change scenes and use a bit of digital magic to hide Hoffman's absence from the movie. Per The Guardian, a change was also made to the shooting schedule to allow cast members time to mourn.
Gladiator - Oliver Reed
The untimely passing of this next actor forced filmmakers to get creative in search for a solution. Per TCM, Oliver Reed was known as being a bad boy of British cinema. He was in the middle of filming Gladiator when he fell ill and passed away 61 years old.
Reed had the integral role of Proximo, a former gladiator who buys and trains Maximus (portrayed by Russell Crowe). Director Ridley Scott used a stand-in for Reed's remaining scenes. While editing, they used extra footage to digitally graft Reed's face onto the stand-in per Looper.
Riverdale - Luke Perry
Luke Perry's sudden death shocked the nation. The former Beverly Hills, 90210 actor suffered a stroke and passed away in 2019. He was in the middle of filming the TV show Riverdale, where he played Fred Andrews. Four episodes had still been left to air, and ultimately were all dedicated to the late actor.
At the beginning of the fourth season, Riverdale gave Perry an emotional tribute and allowed the characters to mourn the death of Fred Andrews, who was killed off on the show. The episode also featured a guest appearance from his Beverly Hills, 90210 co-star, Shannen Doherty.
Black Panther - Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman graced the screens for two-decades, famous for his role as the superhero T’Challa of the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther. Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, but he kept that under wraps and continued acting until his death in 2020.
In order to address the death of Boseman, the franchise killed off T’Challa and portrays Wakanda mourning his death in the 2022 film Wakanda Forever. T’Challa dies in the first scene of the film from an undisclosed illness. His sister Shuri tries to recreate a heart-shaped herb seen in the first movie to save T’Challa, but to no avail.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life - Edward Herrmann
Some shows have to deal with real-world consequences in this day and age of reboots and revivals. When the people behind Gilmore Girls decided to have a revival series, one significant element to their show was missing - Edward Herrmann. The actor had passed away two years earlier from brain cancer.
Herrmann had portrayed the beloved Richard Gilmore in the original Gilmore Girls series. Now that show was getting a revival, they had to figure out how to handle his absence. The writers also had the character pass away in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Fast & Furious - Paul Walker
Although he began his acting career as a child, Paul Walker became an international star for his role as Brian O'Conner in the Fast & Furious film series. Walker was in the middle of filming Furious 7 when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Understandably, production of the movie immediately came to a halt.
How would they complete the movie? For his remaining scenes, Walker's brothers stepped in as body doubles, and Paul's face was projected onto their bodies. At the end of the movie, Paul's character drives off. Throughout the rest of the series, his character remains alive and is mentioned periodically.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - Heath Ledger
Ledger was only 28 years old when his life was tragically cut short. He had already been making a name for himself as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood at that time. The beloved star had finished filming his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight and was working on his next movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
In the middle of the filming process, the actor was found dead in his apartment from an accidental overdose. However, no special effects were used to finish the movie. Instead, director Terry Gilliam brought on Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to act as "transformations" of Ledger's character.
The Simpsons - Marcia Wallace
While you may not recognize her face, you're probably familiar with this star's voice. Marcia Wallace voiced the Springfield resident, Edna Krabappel, in the long-running animated show The Simpsons, winning an Emmy for her iconic role. A week before her 71st birthday, Wallace passed away.
Executive producer Al Jean said in a statement about Marcia, "She was beloved by all at The Simpsons and we intend to retire her irreplaceable character." Before the show permanently retired Edna, she made a few appearances in episodes using previously recorded material and permission from Wallace's estate.
The Sopranos - Nancy Marchand
Nancy Marchand began her Broadway career in the 1950s, eventually transitioning into television and with a flourishing career. One of her more notable roles was the matriarch Livia Soprano, the mother of Tony, on the HBO hit show The Sopranos. Her portrayal earned her multiple awards and an Emmy nomination.
Marchand lost her battle against lung cancer and other ailments in 2000. She passed between seasons, so upon returning to filming, the production decided to CGI Marchand onto a body double to complete her storyline before having her character pass away in her sleep.
The Big Bang Theory - Carol Ann Susi
While her career was filled with many television appearances, Carol Ann Susi's most notable role was voicing the mother of Howard Wolowitz on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. She became a beloved recurring character. However, her untimely passing in 2014 left the writers with a decision about what to do.
Although she never appeared on-screen, the writers decided to include her passing into the show. Audiences watched as Howard went on an emotional journey of mourning his mother and laughed as he had to eat all the last bits of her cooking when the freezer defrosted.
Trail of the Pink Panther - Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers was a comedic genius, and one of his best roles happened to be one of his last. He played Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series. The comedy franchise followed Clouseau as he solved multiple mysteries. At 54, Sellers passed away due to a heart attack.
His sudden passing shocked and devastated his many friends, family, and fans. After his death, the studio behind Pink Panther tried to find a replacement. However, no one was suitable. The next movie in the franchise, Trail of the Pink Panther, used deleted scenes featuring Sellers from the previous films to complete the film.
Superman Returns - Marlon Brando
One of the finest actors of his time and ever, Marlon Brando had an extraordinarily accomplished and long career. Time magazine even named him one of the 100 Most Important People of the Century. One of his notable roles was playing Superman's father, Jor-El, in the 1978 film Superman: The Movie.
When director Bryan Singer was tasked with making a new movie about the superhero in 2006, he wanted Brando to reprise his role. However, there was a complication because the actor had passed away two years prior. So, by using unused footage, they were able to insert Brando into Superman Returns digitally.
Glee - Cory Monteith
The Canadian actor skyrocketed into fame on the hit TV show Glee. He played Finn Hudson, a football quarterback and Glee club member. Monteith had an on-screen and off-screen romance with his costar Lea Michele. While the show was in production on its fifth season, Monteith tragically died at 31.
The Glee writers wrote his death into the show in an episode called The Quarterback. The tribute episode was filmed only a month after Monteith's death. The show's creator, Ryan Murphy, said on a podcast years later that he would have "stopped for a very long time and probably not come back."
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - Andy Whitfield
Andy Whitfield nabbed the role of the lifetime when he was cast as Spartacus in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Although the Starz show was a success, things took a dark turn when Whitfield was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. They delayed making a season two but had a tough call to make when it became time to film.
Starz executive Chris Albrecht said, "It was important to us to have Andy endorse the idea of recasting this part, which he did in the same heroic manner that he's dealt with his whole ordeal." Liam McIntyre took over the role, and Whitfield lost his battle with cancer in 2011.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Peter Cushing
Peter Cushing starred as Grand Moff Tarkin, the villainous commander of the Death Star, in the 1977 film Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope. Sadly, Cushing passed away in 1994 at the age of 81. Many paid their respects to the famed actor who played iconic roles such as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, and Baron Frankenstein.
While filming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016, they wanted to include Cushing's character. With permission from his estate, they animated photos of Peter onto a body stand-in, and the visual effects team brought Grand Moff Tarkin back to life.
Something's Got To Give - Marilyn Monroe
This Hollywood starlet was one of the most prominent actresses of her time and remains a pop culture icon today. Born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, Marilyn Monroe became a global sensation. However, in her personal life, she struggled with addiction, depression, and anxiety.
Monroe had been fired mid-way through production of the movie Something's Got To Give, but they decided to rehire her shortly after. Unfortunately, she would never get in front of the camera again, as she was found dead in her home. The movie remained incomplete and was eventually abandoned and forgotten by the studio.
Sesame Street - Will Lee
Will Lee had a flourishing career on Broadway and in movies. Yet, it was his role on a children's television program that made people recognize him. Lee landed the role of Mr. Hooper, the candy store owner, on Sesame Street. His bowtie and hornrimmed glasses became a trademark of his character.
Halfway through the 14th season, Lee passed away, but the show waited for a special episode to address his death. They announced his passing on their Thanksgiving episode because, according to Donna Williams of PBC, "It's a family day. Parents would be there with their kids to answer questions." She told The New York Times.
Mad Men - Christopher Allport
The actor had a respectable career filled with many film and television credits, including Jack Frost, ER, and Felicity. Christopher Allport had landed what was meant to be a recurring role on the hit AMC show Mad Men. He was cast as Andrew Campbell, who appeared in the first season.
Unfortunately, Allport tragically passed away in a skiing accident in 2008, only 60 years old at the time. The writers had to figure out what to do with his character since it was meant to be a recurring role. They decided the best decision was to have his character die as well, killing Campbell in a plane crash.
Brainstorm - Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood was an incredible actress with a booming career. She acted in films like Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, and Miracle on 34th Street. After taking a brief hiatus and becoming a mother, Wood was ready for her comeback. She landed a role in the film Brainstorm, but unfortunately, it would end up being her last.
Wood, her husband Robert Wagner, and her costar Christopher Walken were cruising on a boat when Wood went missing. When her body was recovered, her death was attributed to accidental drowning. To finish the film, Wood's sister, Lana, acted as a stand-in for the rest of the scenes. However, Wood's death remains an unsolved mystery...
The Crow - Brandon Lee
If his name sounds familiar, there's a good reason why. Brandon Lee is the son of the famous Bruce Lee. He was only eight years old when his father passed away. Brandon developed a love for acting while visiting his dad on set and later followed in his father's footsteps, becoming an actor himself.
On the set of The Crow, Lee met his tragic end. He sustained injuries from defective blank ammunition from a prop gun, and later died during surgery. Most of his scenes had been completed, and whatever remained, they used stunt doubles and digital tricks to finish the film.
Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadi - Anton Yelchin
This next actor passed away in a tragic accident right when his career began taking off. Anton Yelchin rose to prominence as Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek movie series, and also landed roles in Terminator Salvation, Smurfs, and Like Crazy. He voiced the lead role on the Netflix series Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia.
When he was 27, his life was tragically cut short due to a freak accident involving his car. Another season of Trollhunters needed to be recorded, so they recast the role with Yelchin's friend, Emile Hirsch. He said in a statement, "It was important to them [the producers] to have someone play Jim who was connected to Anton."
Dark Blood, - River Phoenix
Based on his early career, River Phoenix was destined for greatness. He received an Academy Award nomination when he was only 18! While in the middle of filming the movie Dark Blood, Phoenix died suddenly outside a popular nightclub from an overdose in 1993. At the time, the film wasn't finished.
The movie wasn't released until 2012 - nearly 20 years after Phoenix's death. There were also several roles that Phoenix was meant to be involved in at the time of his death, including Interview with the Vampire, Safe Passage, and The Basketball Diaries.
Shrek - Chris Farley
Funny guy Chris Farley was known for his high-energy and hilarious antics. He was a five-season Saturday Night Live cast member and had a successful film career. He was nearly done recording an animated feature called Shrek when he tragically passed away due to an overdose.
Even though Farley had finished around 85-90% of the recordings, the filmmakers decided to recast him. The late actor's role went to his SNL costar Mike Myers. He was also meant to appear in other movies, such as Dinosaur, the third Ghostbusters film, and a film about comedian Fatty Arbuckle.
Revolutions - Aaliyah
Aaliyah, also known as the Princess of R&B, was another artist who left the world too soon. She was one of the hottest artists then and transitioned into acting with her first film role in 2000. She was cast in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions as Link's wife, Zee, in what would have been a pivotal moment in her career.
However, along with eight other passengers, Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash. Per Screen Rant, she had finished all of her films for Reloaded, but they hadn't begun to film anything for Revolutions yet. In the end, the directors decided to recast Nona Gaye as Zee.
Monk - Stanley Kamel
Another actor whose life was unfortunately cut short during filming was Stanley Kamel. Kamel was born and raised in New Jersey and made his way into showbiz through a role on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives. His most-known role also ended up being his last one ever.
He played Dr. Charles Kroger, a psychiatrist to the title character in Monk. Kamel had filmed six seasons of the show when he was tragically found dead in his Los Angeles home due to a heart attack. The show gave his character the same fate and dedicated an episode to his memory.
NCIS: Los Angeles - Miguel Ferrer
Miguel Ferrer had his breakout role as Bob Morton in RoboCop. He continued to have a flourishing career with iconic roles in Mulan, Iron Man 3, Twin Peaks, Crossing Jordan, and more. In 2012, Ferrer began playing Owen Granger on NCIS: Los Angeles - a role that he held until he died in 2017.
Ferrer had been sick with throat cancer. The writers dealt with his illness by writing into the show that he was suffering from an unknown disease. He then disappears from his hospital bed, leaving a note for his on-screen daughter. The episode aired shortly after his death and was dedicated to him.
Wagon's East - John Candy
He was known as one of Hollywood's funniest men at the height of his career. John Candy splashed onto the comedy scene as a member of the improv group the Second City. He became a comedy legend in movies like Uncle Buck, Spaceballs, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
He was filming the comedy Wagon's East when he suffered a heart attack and died at 43. They were able to finish and release the movie using rewrites and stand-ins. There was a role in the animated film Pocahontas that was scrapped due to Candy's death. Losing Candy was a true loss for Hollywood and fans everywhere.
The West Wing - John Spencer
John Spencer had a long and wonderful career. He began acting on The Patty Duke Show and made his way into films afterward. It was his television roles that would cement him in Hollywood history. He was cast as Leo McGarry on Aaron Sorkin's political drama The West Wing.
Spencer received an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Leo McGarry. He suddenly passed away due to a heart attack in 2005, and two episodes of the show he had filmed previously were released. Later the writers wrote in the series' final season that McGarry died of a heart attack on election night.