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Top 10 Actors Who Died Too Soon

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Matthew Thomas. Their roles left an indelible mark on cinema, but they could’ve given us even more. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 actors who died too soon. For this list, we’ve chosen actors who died abruptly and that were either on the verge of reaching their full potential or in the prime of their careers. Special thanks to our users drose5435, Matthew Coury, Francis Clancy, Mattyhull1, Nicholas Zarach, arimazzie, Opst3r, Dan Belcher, drose5435, asdfman9001, jocky221, wolfludwigmusic and Rockcroc2000 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Actors Who Died Too Soon

Their roles left an indelible mark on cinema, but they could’ve given us even more. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 actors who died too soon.

For this list, we’ve chosen actors who died abruptly and that were either on the verge of reaching their full potential or in the prime of their careers.

#10: John Candy
1950 - 1994

This Canadian comedy legend brought heart to every role he played, no matter how crazy it might’ve been. John Candy first caught the notice of audiences as a writer and cast member on “Second City Television,” before he made the transition to film roles. Collaborating with John Hughes several times, Candy became a mainstay of the ‘80s comedy scene and soon after, a huge box office draw. An underrated dramatic actor, John’s passing from a heart attack during filming of “Wagons East!” left the world in mourning.

#9: Chris Farley
1964 - 1997

Another actor who first came to prominence because of “Second City” training, Chris Farley’s willingness to make a fool of himself to gain a laugh endeared him to millions. He’s probably remembered best for his time on the late-night sketch TV show “Saturday Night Live” and his comedy partnership with friend and fellow actor David Spade, which produced movies like “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep.” But it was Farley’s rare moments of sincere self-awareness that endeared him most to those who grew to love him. Following years of health problems, Farley died of a drug overdose at age 33.

#8: John Cazale
1935 - 1978

The only actor in history to have every feature film he appeared in be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, John Cazale was an actor unlike any other. A passionate artist who stole scenes from several legendary actors, Cazale continued acting despite being diagnosed with lung cancer. By his final film, he was uninsurable and his part in “The Deer Hunter” was nearly recast until his girlfriend Meryl Streep threatened to leave the project and Robert De Niro put up his own money to keep him. His health eventually gave out when he was 42, but his legacy remains. Cazale even posthumously appeared in “The Godfather Part III” via archival footage.

#7: Marilyn Monroe
1926 - 1962

As one of America’s most notable on-screen sex symbols, Marilyn Monroe’s acting chops sometimes got lost in the shuffle. Though her big screen career was a short one due to her untimely demise from a drug overdose, Marilyn made her mark in film with beauty, playing up her dumb blonder persona and using her dramatic skills when necessary. Winning a Golden Globe for “Some Like It Hot,” she was named one of the top 10 greatest female stars of all time by the American Film Institute. It’s a shame that her career ended before she could flex her acting muscles further.

#6: Philip Seymour Hoffman
1967 - 2014

A true artist, Philip Seymour Hoffman was poised to have a long and acclaimed career before drug addiction tragically claimed his life. As it is, Hoffman will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time acting greats. With a filmography that includes acclaimed movies like “Almost Famous” and “The Master,” amazing films that flew under the radar like “Owning Mahowny,” and an Oscar-winning role in “Capote,” the American actor’s on-screen presence will be sorely missed.

#5: John Belushi
1949 - 1982

Another SNL alum, John Belushi helped paved the path Chris Farley walked after him. A comedic presence that felt completely in the moment; every Belushi performance seemed to be entirely improvised, even when it was tightly scripted. So many of the characters he portrayed felt authentic and this was largely due to the fact that the actor knew just how to disappear into the roles he took on. Crude but energetic, Belushi passed on following a drug overdose when he was just 33, just like Farley.

#4: Heath Ledger
1979 - 2008

A heartthrob since he first rose to mainstream fame in “10 Things I Hate About You,” Heath Ledger went on to prove himself as far more than just a good looking dude with his later work. A series of pitch-perfect and couldn’t-be-more-different performances in films like “Monster’s Ball,” “Lords of Dogtown” and “Brokeback Mountain” prepared the Aussie to take on the role that would define his legacy. Though he was working on “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” when an accidental overdose took his life, Ledger will always be remembered for his Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

#3: River Phoenix
1970 - 1993

One of the youngest actors on our list, River Phoenix had already amassed a short but impressive résumé of performances by the time he was 23. Following an Oscar-nominated turn in “Running on Empty,” Phoenix gained enough respect from his peers that he was cast to play a younger version of Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade.” Critics’ praise continued to follow for his touching and sensitive performance in “My Own Private Idaho” in the early ’90s. The night he collapsed in front of an LA club after overindulging on drugs, film history suffered a huge loss.

#2: James Dean
1931 - 1955

The first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination, James Dean originally shot to stardom with his role in “East of Eden.” His next film, however, was the one that spoke to the disillusioned and continues to do so to this day: “Rebel Without a Cause” is one of the most influential films of all time due entirely to Dean’s performance, and his untimely death in a car accident solidified the actor’s rebellious status. Dean was sexy, intriguing, good looking and he could act. He earned his second posthumous Oscar nod with his third and last film, “Giant.”

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- James Gandolfini
1961 - 2013
- Paul Walker
1973 - 2013
- Cory Monteith
1982 - 2013
- Brittany Murphy
1977 - 2009

#1: Bruce Lee
1940 - 1973

Bruce Lee was actually just a baby when he had his first role in Hong Kong film. Though he initially pursued martial arts while he was in the United States, the acting bug soon came calling - and his work in the medium continued until the day he died. Known for his martial arts skills and for helping to pave the way for Asian actors in America, Lee is now a pop-culture icon. Unfortunately, he collapsed while working on dubbing for the film that ultimately cemented his stardom in North America: “Enter the Dragon.” Health problems and negative reaction to medication have been cited as probable causes for his death. Twenty years later, another tragedy struck the Lee family when his son Brandon was accidentally shot and killed while working on the film that would make him a star in North America: “The Crow.”

Do you agree with our list? Which actor do you think died too soon? For more movie Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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