The Angel of Death has been hovering close to the rich and famous lately, taking from us (naturally and unnaturally) some beloved entertainers. The film industry has had its share of tragedies. People were shocked when they realized Superman actor Christopher Reeves had been paralyzed, horrified by fate’s evil sense of ironic humor. James Dean was one of Hollywood’s first Bad Boys, and was killed in a plane crash. I couldn’t leave my room for days after Anna Nicole Smith died. Not because I was particularly upset, but because her face was omnipresent on the news stations, as if all people gave a shit about was this dead porn star (never mind that whole “war” thing). But here’s a list of people tied to the film industry who really need to come back and continue right where they left off.
1. Don LaFontaine, 1940-2008
In a world where Don LaFontaine is no longer around to lend us his deep, rumbling voice to use in movie trailers and TV spots, some other poor substitute has to step in, and disaster strikes at every turn.
Morgan Freeman might be known to have a pretty spectacular voice, but even he can’t hold a candle to this guy. This was the voice you heard in almost every movie trailer since 1976. He became notorious for setting up the movie’s premise with the phrase, “In a world where,” a cliche which became attached to his name. He earned himself the nickname “The Voice of God,” as well as the less flattering, slightly homoerotic, “Thunder Throat.”
LaFontaine went to the hospital on August 22, 2008 in critical condition. He died on September 1, due to a blood clot in his lung. In the years to come, we’ll no doubt hear countless people attempt to replicate his talents, but I think we’re going to have to face the music: there’s only one Thunder Throat.
2. Heath Ledger, 1979-2008
You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? In January of last year, our world was rocked when we learned Heath Ledger, the Australian actor with rugged good looks, had died. He had earned much acclaim in his career, particularly for his performance in the groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain. When he was cast as The Joker in The Dark Knight, people were wary of a gay cowboy taking on such an iconic role. But at the time of his death, there was already buzz about how outstanding his performance really was.
And indeed, it won him a posthumous Oscar at the 2009 Academy Awards, and bolstered The Dark Knight past the one billion dollar mark. We can debate all we want, whether his death affected the award’s outcome and people’s reaction to the character, or if the movie would have made that much money had he not died. But what is clear is he showed some real acting chops and gave us a villain on par with the greatest in cinema history. No doubt he would have made a return in some form, instead he is immortalized as The Joker people will be required to, but terrified of, imitating.
3. Chris Farley, 1964-1997
Chris Farley was one of the leading comedians of the 80s and 90s, starting with a successful career as a regular on Saturday Night Live. After that, he went on to have starring roles in some hit comedies, as well as some fantastic scene stealing cameos (Billy Madison, anybody?) Tommy Boy holds a special place in my heart, a movie that is deeper and more moving than it first seems, and is one of my favorite comedies. He and costar David Spade reunited a year later to do Black Sheep, which was not quite up to scratch, but still had its moments. It also has the honor of being the only film movie critic Gene Siskell ever walked out on.
Farley had one shtick: being a fat buffoon. Generally he played the overweight nobody who has to do something extraordinary, while David Spade made sarcastic remarks at his expense. But it was a funny gag, for sure, despite film critic’s immense distaste for his comedy (the best reviewed was Tommy Boy, sitting at 44% on Rotten Tomatoes).
His last film, Almost Heroes, was interrupted due to his stint in rehab. He completed the film, but died of a drug overdose before its release. I actually enjoy this completely underrated movie, as ludicrous as it is, and think he and costar Matthew Perry worked well together. Though he was scheduled to star in a historical biopic of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and had already started work recording his voice for the lead role in Shrek, this and a funny cameo in the film Dirty Work would be his last hurrahs.
4. Richard Harris, 1930-2002
Few careers are as accomplished as Richard Harris’s. For a look at his complete filmography check wikipedia and set aside a few hours to read the list. But I am most familiar with Harris in his later roles, Priest in The Count of Monte Cristo, Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator, and of course Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Much like the late Alec Guiness, who will be remembered most for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi (a fact he resented) it will likely be Harris’s forray into a pop culture icon that he will be remembered as, for better or worse.
But I’ll be damned if he didn’t play that character perfectly. He was such a kind, warm, grandfather of a figure, it suited him perfectly to play the wise old wizard (and it was, in fact, his granddaughter that convinced him to). It was tragic news, when he died two weeks before the second film’s premier. Who could possibly replace him? Nobody would ever be as good.
Now, Michael Gambon has done a fine job, especially after he made me think Dumbledore was a pedophile in Prisoner of Azkaban. He definitely highlights the quirkiness and oddities of the character more than Harris did, and he’s gotten better with each passing movie (and it would have been difficult to make Harris do the action scenes needed in these last few movies, then again, that’s why we have CGI). I’m looking to this Dumbledore-heavy sixth film to see Gambon fully embrace the role, and I bet he does it very well, but I will always wonder what it would have been like if Harris hadn’t passed two-sevenths of the way through the series. He acted the role so perfectly, gave wisdom so strongly, emanated the love Dumbledore embodied so forcefully, I can’t help but get chills at the thought of what these last two movies would have been like with his presence.