There's something eerily gripping about watching a late movie star in his or her final role. Whether it's a comedy or a drama, a flop or a smash, that last glimpse is always worth savoring. In this article are the last movies of nine notable stars.
Rising star James Dean was just 24 years old, with a mere three starring roles under his belt, when he was killed in a car accident in 1955. The astonishingly talented actor became an enduring cult icon with his roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. But Giant, released in 1956, was Dean's farewell picture. In the movie, Dean plays Jett Rink, a nonconforming ranch hand who becomes a rich oil tycoon. Dean's character ages about 30 years in the film, so his hair was dyed gray. When Dean was killed on September 30, 1955, while driving his Porsche Spyder to an auto race in Salinas, California, he eerily appeared much older, due to his hairstyle. Dean received Oscar nominations for Best Actor for his roles in Giant and East of Eden, the first person ever to receive a post-humous nod from the Academy.
On the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 U.S. Love Stories, six of the movies star Katharine Hepburn, more than any other actress on the list. So it's fitting that her final movie, 1994's Love Affair, tells the tale of a budding romance, and stars famous lovebirds Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. It's also fitting that in addition to her immense talent, Hepburn was known for a razor-sharp wit, a willingness to speak her mind freely, and a decades-long love affair with costar Spencer Tracy. The actress, who earned four Oscars (a record for any actress), starred on the big screen for more than 60 years before retiring in the mid-1990s. Love Affair, in fact, was the only big-screen project she embarked on in the '90s. Hepburn died at home in 2003, at age 96.
Jayne Mansfield's career had taken a nosedive by the time she died at age 34. Her notoriety reached its peak in 1963 when she starred in Promises! Promises!, in which she appeared nude. The film was banned in some areas, but enjoyed box office success where it was shown. Once a highly sought-after actor, by the early 1960s the blonde bombshell had resorted to tacky roles that traded heavily on her sex appeal. But she gave an honest, clear-eyed performance in what would prove to be her last movie, Single Room Furnished, released in 1968 after her death. In the film, she portrays a woman who turns to prostitution after her husband and later her fiancé both desert her. Mansfield was killed on June 29, 1967, when the car she and three of her children were riding in crashed into a tractor-trailer. The children survived with minor injuries.
Christopher Reeve is best remembered as Superman, both on screen and off, after portraying Clark Kent in the 1978 box-office smash Superman. After he was paralyzed during a horse-riding accident in 1995, his grace, courage, and devotion to furthering the cause of paralysis victims earned him worldwide respect and adoration. Reeve devoted the majority of his time after the accident to advocacy work, but he continued to focus on his acting career and dabbled in directing, as well. He appeared on several TV shows, including The Practice and Smallville, and directed a number of made-for-TV movies, including 1997's In the Gloaming, which was nominated for five Emmys. His final role was in Rear Window (1998), a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, in which he portrayed a paralyzed architect who thinks he witnessed a murder from his apartment window. Reeve won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance. The courageous actor died in 2004 from cardiac arrest brought on by a reaction to antibiotics he had taken for an infection. He was 52 years old.
You'd think John Belushi's last role would be as some wild-eyed, ranting lunatic who scared the neighbors, or at least sent them on a frenetic car chase. Instead Belushi played the victim of a crazy neighbor in 1981's Neighbors, his third film with Saturday Night Live partner Dan Aykroyd. Belushi portrayed straight-laced Earl to Aykroyd's wacky Vic in the dark comedy about suburban life. Belushi's fame came on SNL and with Animal House in 1978. And when he left SNL in 1979, he quickly churned out 1941 and The Blues Brothers. Three months after Neighbors was released, he died of a cocaine and heroin overdose on March 5, 1982, at age 33.
As a child, Chris Farley idolized comedian John Belushi. In his own career, Farley was known for playing portly misfits who'd stop at nothing for a laugh, and his last role was no exception. In 1998's Almost Heroes, Farley and Matthew Perry starred as two early American explorers who set out to beat Lewis and Clark. Offscreen, Farley, who got his start at Chicago's Second City and broke into Hollywood via Saturday Night Live, had battled drug and alcohol addiction and chronic obesity for years. Still, he completed a string of successful comedies, including Tommy Boy in 1995. But by the time he began work on Almost Heroes, his addictions were out of control, and filming reportedly had to be stopped several times while he was in rehab. Shortly after completing the movie, Farley died on December 18, 1997, ironically, of a cocaine and heroin overdose at age 33, just as his idol John Belushi had.
You know you've had a stellar acting career when your greatest film is a toss-up between The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men. Or was it The Ox-Bow Incident or Mister Roberts? Some critics pass over those classics altogether and declare Henry Fonda's best film to be his last, On Golden Pond. The actor received numerous Oscar nods during a career that spanned five decades, but by the 1980s, he had limited most of his work to television, with the exception of 1981's On Golden Pond. The film, which also starred his daughter Jane and Katharine Hepburn, tells the story of an aging couple who spend a life-changing summer at their vacation home. It earned 11 Academy Award nominations and a Best Actor win for Fonda, his first and only Oscar. He died of heart disease at age 77, just eight months after the film was released.
As a child, Audrey Hepburn grew up in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and carried secret messages to the Resistance. After World War II ended, Audrey trained as a ballerina and worked as a model before embarking on an award-winning acting career. The graceful and elegant brunette was an instant success, winning a Best Actress Oscar for her first major film role as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953). But she is best remembered for her roles in Breakfast at Tiffany's and My Fair Lady, two roles that garnered her nods from the Academy, but no Oscars. One of only a handful of performers to win a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Grammy Award, Hepburn portrayed an angel in her final film role in Steven Spielberg's Always (1989). She died of cancer in January 1993 at age 63.
Marilyn Monroe packed a number of memorable roles into her tragically short career, but her final completed film, The Misfits, is remembered for its offscreen turmoil as much as its big-screen success. Written by Monroe's third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, the 1961 movie was filmed in the Nevada desert and was plagued by Monroe's chronic tardiness. Ironically, costar Clark Gable suffered a massive heart attack the day after filming wrapped and died 11 days later. Meanwhile, Monroe's marriage to Miller was about to end in divorce, and she was battling substance abuse. She died at age 36 from acute barbiturate poisoning on August 5, 1962.
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