FI­NAL SHOT

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Hous­ton is about to join the im­mor­tals – a tragic group of ac­tors whose fi­nal film roles came af­ter their deaths. Hous­ton had com­pleted Sparkle when she died in Fe­bru­ary, drowned in her ho­tel room in Bev­erly Hills. Whether with young ac­tors like James Dean and Heath Ledger or mid­dle-aged ones like Hous­ton, the death of a movie’s star be­tween pro­duc­tion and pre­miere can cre­ate a mys­tique – al­though, given that the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in the cen­tury-plus canon of movies we see on TV, video and else­where are, in fact, dead, that mys­tique doesn’t usu­ally last long.

“It’s a short-term phe­nom­e­non,” says Columbia Univer­sity film scholar David Ster­ritt. “When an el­derly star dies, peo­ple get a lit­tle sen­ti­men­tal, and there may be an uptick in the DVD re­quests. And when some­body young dies, there’s a lot of mourn­ing and grief, and peo­ple make a leg­end out of the per­son in­stantly, whether it’s de­served or not. But,” he notes, “the grief goes away, and new young stars come along, and life goes on.”

Dean – killed in a car ac­ci­dent on Septem­ber 30, 1955, dur­ing pro­duc­tion of Gi­ant and less than a month be­fore the re­lease of Rebel With­out a Cause – is the big­gest ex­cep­tion. His on­go­ing mys­tique is fu­elled by his live­fast, die-young death at 24, his two post­hu­mous Os­car nom­i­na­tions (for Gi­ant and for 1955’s East of Eden, re­leased be­fore he died) and his icono­graphic em­bod­i­ment of 1950s teen re­bel­lion. And Dean’s mys­tique might have con­tin­ued, any­way – look at the sim­i­larly en­dur­ing Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, who died while in pro­duc­tion on an un­com­pleted film but whose fi­nal movie, The Mis­fits, was re­leased a year and a half be­fore her death in 1962.

Bruce Lee, who died be­fore the re­lease of En­ter the Dragon, like­wise seems to have a spe­cial place in pop­u­lar cul­ture, but he was both a film star and a mar­tial-arts star. Ditto rap­per-ac­tor Tu­pac Shakur, who was mur­dered be­fore Grid­lock’d and Gang Re­lated came out.

It’s too soon to tell whether Hous­ton will reach these sanc­ti­fied ranks, but as this list of some of the most well­known post­hu­mous stars demon­strates, we most of­ten just mourn and move on.

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