Nine Movie Stars Who Died During Production

Natalie Wood (with Christopher Walken) in Brainstorm

It's never too early to start celebrating Halloween, and this list is a spooky tribute to those famous Hollywood actors who, while plying their craft, kicked the bucket – sometimes even while the cameras were rolling.

  1. John Candy. The lovable fat funnyman leaves behind an anemic number of good films: perhaps when all is considered, only Stripes, Splash, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles will be remembered as fondly as Candy is. He died while making the execrable Wagons East! Not the best legacy.
  2. Brandon Lee. More poignant – and horrifying – is the accidental shooting death of Lee during filming of a scene in The Crow, which was about a murdered man coming back from the dead to seek vengeance.
  3. Bela Lugosi. Much mirth has been made out of Ed Wood's ridiculous attempts to "replace" his old friend Lugosi with a stand-in during production of Plan 9 from Outer Space, after the pathetic Hungarian drug addict died after filming just one scene. It took Martin Landau's fine performance as Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood to give an air of dignity to this once-great star's final days.
  4. Natalie Wood. Wood died after her scenes for the 1983 sci fi drama Brainstorm were filmed, in a drowning accident that still carries a whiff of mystery and suspicion. Ironically, the climax of Brainstorm was of a dying woman (not played by Wood but by Louise Fletcher) recording her own transition to the afterlife for others to experience. Side note: I have visited the graves of the first four names on this list.
  5. Oliver Reed. The hard-partying actor succumbed to a weakened heart while filming Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Reportedly, it cost the production $3 million to digitally recreate Reed's face in scenes he hadn't shot yet; his own salary had been a third of that.
  6. Vic Morrow. Sadly, Morrow is probably best known today for his gruesome death – decapitation by helicopter – during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. While the bulk of his work was on TV, however, his best performance remains his first: as the sadistic teenage thug in the 1955 feature Blackboard Jungle. Morrow's daughter Jennifer Jason Leigh inherited his acting chops.
  7. Gloria Foster. As the charismatic "Oracle" in The Matrix, Foster had almost completed all her scenes in The Matrix Reloaded when diabetes took her. She was replaced by actress Mary Alice in the The Matrix Revolutions. Coincidentally, another Matrix-related death was that of rising star Aaliyah, who was set to appear in The Matrix Reloaded before she was killed in a plane crash, just a month before Foster died.
  8. Jean Harlow. One of the silver screen's most luminous stars, Harlow died well before her time (at the age of 26) while filming Saratoga. Her death, at the height of her fame, made Saratoga the biggest hit of 1937.
  9. Tyrone Power. Another legend from Hollywood's golden age, Power was appearing in Solomon and Sheba opposite Gina Lollobrigida when he collapsed during a dueling scene with future suicide George Sanders. He was replaced by Yul Brynner – who had to wear a wig in order to match Power's already-filmed scenes – and it is Brynner who is credited in the film, not Power.