Horror Actors Who Passed Away After Filming Movies

Death and the horror genre go hand in hand. Not every scary movie features the death of a character, and horror is certainly not the only type of film in which characters die, but terrifying films deal with the business of death (i.e. the realms both near and beyond the grave). Once the cameras stop rolling and the director yells "cut," most actors walk back into the sunlight and leave the terrifying scenes they're creating behind. Every once in a while, the shadow of death seems to follow actors home, claiming them shortly after they've finished making their films. Sometimes these deaths lead to rumors of curses and jinxed productions, but they are simply one part of life's vicious circle. However, unsettling coincidences and the eerieness of seeing an actor in a role after passing on often lead to the feeling that something darker is afoot.

The following list is a remembrance of actors who passed away after filming horror movies. Some add a final chapter to long and prosperous lives, while others recount a cruel ending to promising careers. They are real examples of the horrors the genre trades in like illness, accidents, addiction, and murder. We honor these lost actors by watching their films, celebrating their careers, and remembering the real lives that were lost once the cameras stopped rolling.

Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros — The Exorcist (1973)

The most famous horror movie in history also has one of the most famous horror movie curses. William Friedkin's blockbuster "The Exorcist" follows a young girl possessed by a demonic entity. Controversial at the time, "The Exorcist" shocked audiences with its horrific effects and profane dialogue. Audience members reported fainting, shortness of breath, vomiting, and spiritual and psychological trauma, making the film a word-of-mouth sensation leading to lines around the block. Aside from the onscreen horrors, "The Exorcist" is associated with nine deaths, including two actors appearing in the film who passed away shortly after. Jack MacGowran, who plays the alcoholic director Burke Dennings, died of complications of the flu on January 31st, 1973, nearly a year before the film's December release. Just ten days later, Vasiliki Maliaros (who plays Father Karras's elderly mother) died of natural causes, an eerie coincidence given her character's cinematic demise.

Both MacGowran and Maliaros were older actors and their deaths, while tragic, are simply a part of life. More horrific is the troubled production itself. A mysterious fire destroyed part of the set, a convicted murderer appears as an extra, and Friedkin's quest for verisimilitude led to stressful and dangerous working conditions. Hoping to depict genuine discomfort onscreen, Friedkin refrigerated the set, arranged for a gun to fire at random intervals, and ordered stunt operators to vigorously jerk the harnesses of his leading ladies, causing significant back injuries for both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn.

Sid Haig — 3 From Hell (2019)

Stephen King's Pennywise is largely credited with recent waves of coulrophobia sweeping the nation, but another cinematic clown may be even more terrifying. Sid Haig's Captain Spaulding is a bloodthirsty harlequin with streaked makeup, a killer fried chicken recipe, and a murder ride that hides an underground lair filled with unspeakable horrors. Haig stars in Rob Zombie's Firefly Trilogy as the patriarch of a murderous family who delights in torturing tourists wandering into their roadside attraction. Haig is mostly known for his later career in horror, but he broke into the industry as a young tap dancer, winning his first paying gigs in Christmas shows. Haig went on to play the disabled Ralph in "Spider Baby" and starred alongside Pam Grier in the blaxploitation films "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown."

Haig was set to star in the third Firefly film "3 From Hell," but ill health forced Zombie to reduce his role dramatically. Rather than replace him entirely, Zombie insisted on including Haig in the film. He rewrote the story to offer Captain Spaulding a satisfying arc, telling Consequence, "But I had already spoken to Sid about how important it was for him to be in this movie and it was important to me. It was important to him. It was important to the fans." Haig died of a lung infection on September 21st, 2019, just five days after "3 From Hell" premiered along with the final appearance of his most famous character.

Aaliyah — Queen of the Damned (2002)

Though death is always tragic, the passing of those just entering adulthood feels cruel. R&B sensation Aaliyah was only 22 when she was killed in a plane crash on August 25, 2001 after returning from a video shoot in the Bahamas. The young dynamo began her music career at just 12 years old when she transitioned from singing in church to performing with the legendary Gladys Knight. Aaliyah released her first hit album "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" in 1994, at the tender age of 15. She followed this with two more platinum albums and five Grammy nominations in just seven years.

A triple threat, Aaliyah had begun acting as well and recently starred opposite martial arts superstar Jet Li in the action love story "Romeo Must Die." She had just wrapped production of her sophomore film "Queen of the Damned ” and had been cast in sequels to "The Matrix" before boarding the doomed flight. "The Queen of the Damned" is an adaptation of Anne Rice's third novel in her wildly popular Vampire Chronicles. Despite a magnetic performance by Aaliyah, the film suffers from a rushed script and fumbled adaptation of the beloved book. It's gone on to achieve camp classic status, but will forever be known as the R&B goddess's final on-screen appearance and a cruel reminder of the star she might have been.

Bela Lugosi — Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957)

Of all the iconic horror characters, few are as recognizable as Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula. Born in 1882, Lugosi began acting in his native Hungary before immigrating to the United States to pursue acting. In 1927, he debuted the role that would make him famous, appearing for the first time as Count Dracula on a Broadway stage and later in Tod Browning's 1931 film adaptation "Dracula." From there he became a mainstay in the burgeoning horror genre, appearing in classics such as "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Wolf Man."

Lugosi's final onscreen appearance in Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is famous for an entirely different reason. Wood was notorious in the industry for his incompetence as a director and the often comical awfulness of his films. "Plan 9" is particularly egregious and known as the worst movie ever made. Having passed away long before the film's conception, Lugosi scenes — likely shot for a project called "The Vampire's Tomb" — were shoehorned into the film by Wood, adding to the nonsensical energy. Additional scenes were filmed with a stand-in much taller than Lugosi who spends the rest of the film hunching over and covering his face. After a legendary but troubled career, Lugosi died in his California home on August 16, 1956, nearly three years before the release of his final film. He will always be remembered for his iconic portrayal of Count Dracula despite the bizarre addendum to his career.

Donald Pleasance — Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

When most fans think of John Carpenter's "Halloween," they picture legendary Final Girl Laurie Strode and the iconic killer Michael Myers. However, Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis is just as crucial to the franchise's legacy. Played by acclaimed British actor Donald Pleasance, Loomis is an unhinged doctor determined to keep his most dangerous patient from killing again. Despite his horror cred, Pleasance got his start in more dramatic roles. After working steadily for years on the British stage and then in film and TV, Pleasance landed his breakthrough role in "The Great Escape," a World War II film chronicling the miraculous escape of Allied prisoners of war. Pleasance drew on his own horrific experiences as a POW in a Nazi camp for his part.

Pleasance appeared in four additional entries in the "Halloween" franchise as the long-suffering doctor continuously warning others of Michael's evil. Considering his character's appeal, Pleasance told Fangoria, "I've tended to play Loomis with a light touch ... not totally comedic, but in a manner that fits with these films' attention to suspense and tension." Pleasance died of complications from heart surgery on February 2, 1995, seven months before the release of "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers." The beloved actor lives on with his iconic voice recreated in both "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" and "Halloween" (2018). A recreation of the character appears in "Halloween Kills," seeing Loomis attempt to kill Michael once and for all.

Brad Renfro — The Informers (2008)

In hindsight, how Brad Renfro was discovered cast an auspicious shadow over his career. The 11-year-old from Knoxville, TN was cast as Mark Sway, a tough kid from a trailer park in Joel Schumacher's "The Client." Renfro was recommended for the role by a retired police officer who remembered him being difficult in a D.A.R.E. class. Renfro's career began to skyrocket and he booked high-profile roles in "The Cure," "Sleepers," and "Apt Pupil." Unfortunately, the young actor suffered from an addiction to hard drugs and alcohol. Run-ins with law enforcement began to torpedo his promising career. Renfro's tragic story is a prime example of how dangerous growing up in the film industry can be. The actor was clearly in need of guidance, but with so much money depending on his performances no one was willing to step in and redirect his path. He died of an accidental overdose on January 15, 2008. He was just 25 years old.

Renfro's final film, "The Informers," is a star-studded adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel exploring the debaucherous climate of 1983 Los Angeles featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, and Amber Heard. Despite an impressive cast, the film received negative reviews. However, Ellis praised Renfro's performance as a doorman named Jack who finds himself roped into a kidnapping-for-hire plot in which he's asked to kill a young boy. Jack takes mercy on the child, faking the murder and secretly letting him go. One only wishes someone had taken similar pity on Renfro himself.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Natalie Wood — Brainstorm (1983)

Natalie Wood is one of the rare examples of a child's Hollywood success story. Breaking into the industry at just four years old, she landed her first major role as a little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th Street." Wood went on to star in the classic films "Rebel Without a Cause," "Splendor in the Grass," and "West Side Story" receiving three Oscar nominations before her 25th birthday. After a less ambitious schedule in the 1970s, Wood was poised to make a comeback with Douglas Trumbull's "Brainstorm." The film had all the makings of a science fiction blockbuster, with the special effects master piloting an innovative new approach to filming and a plot revolving around virtual reality decades before it became a ubiquitous term.

Tragedy struck near the end of production when Wood died on a weekend boating trip with her co-star Christopher Walken and her husband Robert Wagner. Her body was found floating near the couple's yacht on November 29, 1981. Mystery surrounds Wood's untimely death and it's likely we will never know what happened on that cold November night, but her passing irrevocably changed the trajectory of what was to be her return to the screen. After a protracted legal battle and slight restructuring, "Brainstorm" was finally released on September 30, 1983. Overshadowed by "The Big Chill," the sci-fi thriller received middling reviews and has been almost completely forgotten save for the final onscreen appearance of its doomed star.

Brandon Lee — The Crow (1994)

One of Hollywood's most tragic examples of a bright career cut short is the death of Brandon Lee. Son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, the 28-year-old actor had just landed his breakout role in Alex Proyas' "The Crow." Lee would play Eric Draven, a murdered musician who a mysterious crow resurrects to avenge the death of his fiancée. The shoot had been plagued with problems including accidents, injuries, cut corners, and destruction, but nothing could compare with the tragedy to come.

Towards the end of production, Lee was filming a pivotal scene in which his character is shot by intruders upon returning to his apartment. In a cruel twist of fate, the prop gun fired a real bullet into Lee's abdomen. The actor passed away when surgeons were unable to repair the damage. The death was ultimately ruled an accident resulting from a failure to properly clean the gun's barrel. The cast and crew banded together to finish the project as a tribute to Lee. Despite macabre rumors, footage of his death was not used in the final cut and has been locked away for decades. Proyas completed the film using extra footage, stand-ins, and CGI to recreate Lee's image in a few key scenes. "The Crow" premiered to rave reviews and praise for its leading man, a sign of the bright career he would have had and a haunting reminder of what might have been.

Brittany Murphy — Something Wicked (2014)

Despite her iconic performance as Tai in Amy Heckerling's "Clueless," Brittany Murphy was anything but a ditzy actress. After moving to L.A. at the age of 14, Murphy won her breakout role in "Drexell's Class" followed by overnight stardom in the Alicia Silverstone classic. She soon impressed audiences with her scene-stealing performances in "Girl, Interrupted" and "Don't Say a Word." Though Murphy's star was on the rise, her personal life was in turmoil. Rising to fame during the heyday of TMZ, Murphy was a frequent target of gossip bloggers like Perez Hilton, with unfounded rumors circulating about her mental stability, drug addiction, and eating disorders. Following a series of public engagements, Murphy met and quickly married screenwriter Simon Monjack, whom many friends and colleagues worried was controlling and manipulative.

Months after filming wrapped on "Something Wicked," a psychological thriller that would become her final role, Murphy collapsed in her L.A. home and was rushed to the hospital where she succumbed to a combination of pneumonia and iron deficiency. The shock of losing such a young woman to a preventable disease combined with bizarre behavior from her mysterious husband ignited a rash of conspiracy theories and attention from internet sleuths. Though Murphy had completed her work on "Something Wicked," post-production suffered numerous delays including outdoor reshoots continually rescheduled due to unpredictable weather. The low-budget film received a small release on April 4, 2014, more than four years after the death of its most famous star.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Dominique Dunne — Poltergeist (1982)

Of all the losses connected to the so-called "Poltergeist" curse, few are as heartbreaking and senseless as the murder of Dominique Dunne. The youngest child of a prominent Hollywood family, Dunne began acting on stage and in television shows like "Breaking Away" and "Fame." With her star on the rise, Dunne's first major film was "Poltergeist," the story of a family haunted by the spirits lurking within their suburban home. The terrifying film was a hit and Dunne seemed poised for a wildly successful career.

On October 30th, 1982, just months after the film's release, Dunne was studying lines at home when her ex-boyfriend John Sweeney knocked at the door. Dunne had recently ended the relationship due to his violent and controlling behavior and he had apparently come to win her back. The conversation did not go as planned. Sweeney attacked Dunne, leaving her alive but unresponsive. Rushed to the hospital, she remained on life support for five days before finally passing away surrounded by her family. Sweeney was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and served an infuriating two-and-a-half years in jail. Dunne's father, writer Dominick Dunne, penned a heartbreaking essay for Variety chronicling the trial and indicting a judge who seemed to clearly favor the defense. While Dunne's death is often connected to a curse said to shadow the iconic film, the real curse her murder highlights is a legacy of violence against women and a legal system that too often fails to deliver justice.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.