Nine Biopic Subjects Who Outlived the Actors Who Portrayed Them

Art Howe has outlived Philip Seymour Hoffman

In the old days, a biographical motion picture – biopic, for short – would cover its subject's life from cradle to grave, emphasis on grave. Yet there have also been countless biopics made while their subjects were very much alive: W., The Queen, What's Love Got to Do with It, I, Tonya, and so forth. In rare, awkward instances, the real-life celebrity would figuratively bury the actor who portrayed him or her. Here are nine examples I was able to chase down.

  1. OLIVER SACKS (1933-2015) outlived Robin Williams (1951-2014). Williams played the eminent neurologist in 1990's Awakenings. If you're going to nitpick that the film fictionalized Sacks as "Dr. Malcolm Sayer", then Williams also played Hunter Adams in Patch Adams and Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam – both by their real names. Those two men outlived him as well.
  2. BOB DYLAN (1941-) outlived Heath Ledger (1979-2008). "Heath Ledger is Bob Dylan", went one of I'm Not There's many taglines. In the film, Ledger's "variation" on Dylan was named Robbie Clark, so if you're about to nitpick again, I give you skateboard guru Skip Engbloom (1948-), whom Ledger embodied in Lords of Dogtown.
  3. ALAN DERSHOWITZ (1938-) outlived Ron Silver (1946-2009). Celebrity lawyer and cable news pundit Dershowitz was played by Silver in Reversal of Fortune, concerning the bizarre case of Claus and Sunny von Bülow. On the small screen, Silver played two other famous men who would outlive him: Henry Kissinger and Robert Shapiro.
  4. ART HOWE (1946-) outlived Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014). Hoffman played Oakland Athletics manager Howe in Moneyball. Howe claimed the film depicted him too negatively.
  5. CHUCK YEAGER (1923-) outlived Sam Shepard (1943-2017). Actor/playwright Shepard scored his sole Academy Award nomination for his supporting role as test pilot Yeager in 1983's The Right Stuff.
  6. ALVIN YORK (1887-1964) outlived Gary Cooper (1901-1961). Alvin York may not be a familiar name, but fans of classic movies will recognize the title of his 1941 biopic: Sergeant York. Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of the WWI hero.
  7. BEN BRADLEE (1921-2014) outlived Jason Robards (1922-2000). The Washington Post's Watergate-era editor and the prolific character actor – who won an Oscar for playing him in All the President's Men – were less than a year apart in age. Tom Hanks later played Bradlee in The Post.
  8. FIDEL CASTRO (1926-2016) outlived Jack Palance (1919-2006). Here's an unusual case in which an actor was actually born before the notable he was impersonating. Palance, himself an Oscar winner for City Slickers, had a role as the unkillable Cuban leader in the long-forgotten 1969 film Che!, with Omar Sharif(!) as Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
  9. RACHEL ROBINSON (1922-) outlived Ruby Dee (1922-2014). Baseball legend Jackie Robinson starred as himself in 1950's The Jackie Robinson Story, but his wife Rachel didn't care to join him in front of the camera. So veteran actress Ruby Dee, then at the beginning of her long career, was cast as "Rae" Robinson.