The World’s Most Beloved Actors in Their Final Film and TV Appearances
When you watch a good movie, you become so entranced by the characters that it’s easy to forget about the actors and actresses portraying them. An actor or an actress may exude a lively glow on screen. Off screen, however, they may wilt under pressure or succumb to certain vices. Or they may simply grow out of their career. In any case, these stars manage their careers gracefully until one day a glittering moment in the spotlight is their last, much to the surprise of their fans.
This list captures the final on-screen moments of some of cinema and television’s most celebrated actors and actresses–read on to find out more about them.
British actress Audrey Hepburn is a legend in her own right. A prominent star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, she has won multiple prestigious awards, including Golden Globes and Emmys. The American Film Institute has even ranked Hepburn third on its list of female screen legends, and her final film role was short yet memorable.
Hepburn appeared only briefly in Spielberg’s 1989 film Always, a remake of the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe. and that was the last time she ever appeared on screen. In 1993, she passed away in Switzerland, at 63.
Actress and beauty icon Elizabeth Taylor’s first film role was in 1942’s There’s One Born Every Minute, when she was just 10-years-old. Since then, she has won and been nominated for several Academy Awards and is frequently hailed as a legend of cinema.
Although she experienced most of her glory days in the 1950s, Elizabeth Taylor starred in many roles well into the early 2000s. She last appeared in a TV movie called These Old Broads, which aired in 2001. In 2011, she died at 79-years-old.
You likely know her from the 1950’s classic sitcom, I Love Lucy, as well as her other successful television endeavors. Unfortunately, Lucille Ball’s last appearance was among her least successful.
In 1986, Life With Lucy, Ball’s last TV project, aired to lukewarm reviews. Though the show was co-produced by TV mastermind Aaron Spelling, it didn’t win over fans and was eventually taken off the air after just eight episodes. Three years later, comedy legend Lucille Ball passed away at the age of 77.
Like the true legend he was, acclaimed actor Paul Newman bowed out of Hollywood with gusto, earning both a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy on his way out for his outstanding work. Though his last film role was in 2002’s Road to Perdition, his ultimate performance was made a few years later.
In 2005, Newman appeared on screen for the last time in Empire Falls, a two-part HBO series. He hoped to continue with his career much longer, anticipating his first stage play Of Mice and Men. Sadly, before that could happen, Paul Newman passed away in 2008 at age 83.
Ginger Rogers is probably best known for her undeniable stage chemistry with fellow screen legend Fred Astaire. Indeed, Rogers was a natural in the spotlight, appearing everywhere from the stage to the big screen and dazzling audiences with her singing, dancing and acting skills.
In 1987, the Hollywood legend made her final screen appearance on an episode of Aaron Spelling’s prime time series Hotel. In 1995, the 83-years-old actress passed away.
Regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time, even the final moments of Bette Davis’s acting career were dramatic. The last movie she was set to star in was Wicked Stepmother in 1989, but Davis ended up leaving the set in the middle of production due to disagreements with director Larry Cohen.
Later that year, the legendary actress died at 81. Before that, her last appearance was in Lindsay Anderson’s film The Whales of August, released in 1987. The film earned good reviews, and Davis’s performance was applauded.
Perhaps most notable for her role as Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, Janet Leigh played her final film role in a direct-to-DVD comedy called Bad Girls from Valley High.
Although the film was created in 2000, it was not released until 2005. As a result, Janet Leigh never got to see herself perform one last time on screen, as she passed away in 2004.
The dual American-German citizen is probably best known for her role as Lola-Lola in the 1930 film The Blue Angel. Beyond her sterling reputation as an actress, Dietrich has also been noted for her humanitarian efforts during World War II.
Her final moment on-screen was a cameo in the 1978 film Just a Gigolo with David Bowie. Dietrich also sang the title song. The film did not sit well with critics, however. Marlene Dietrich died in 1992, at 90-years-old.
Prim and proper, Mae West perhaps reached her prime during the Depression era. Even after her film career ended, she was a welcome radio personality and performed in both the UK and in Las Vegas.
West’s last on-screen appearance was in the 1978 musical comedy Sextette. The film was based on a play by the same name, which the actress herself had originally written. Alongside West, the film’s impressive cast also included Timothy Dalton, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Alice Cooper. Two years later, in 1980, West died at 87.
English actor and director Alan Rickman is probably best known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film franchise. Besides the iconic Snape, Rickman’s other notable films include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Rickman’s final big-screen appearance was in 2015, in the British thriller Eye in the Sky. As a voice actor, Rickman participated in the film adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass, where he voiced the caterpillar. The actor passed away at 69 in January of 2016.
Actress Anne Baxter died unexpectedly in 1985. At the time, she played a major role in the television series Hotel. Although the show had to resume without her presence as character Mrs. Cabot, Anne Baxter still made quite the legacy for herself.
Over the course of her career, she won a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and a Primetime Emmy nomination. She appeared in numerous big-screen classics, like Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, and the 1950 film All About Eve and 1956’s The Ten Commandments.
Legendary actor Oliver Reed is mostly known for films like 1966’s The Trap, 1968’s Oliver!, 1969’s Woman in Love and 1973’s The Three Musketeers. The actor’s final on-screen appearance was not even complete, as he passed away in the middle of its filming.
In his final film role, Reed played Antonius Proximo in the 2000 film Gladiator. Because he died before the film could be completed, his remaining parts had to be filled in with CGI. The film still ended up winning an Oscar for Best Picture.
Anthony Perkins is mostly known for playing the psycopathic Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, Psycho, as well as its multiple sequels. Some other notable appearances include Murder on the Orient Express, Mahogany, and Crimes of Passion.
His last, and perhaps among his most memorable appearance, was in the 1992 TV movie In the Deep Woods alongside Rosanna Arquette and Amy Ryan. Sadly, Anthony Perkins died shortly after the film’s release, at 60.
Perhaps best known for her role in the 1940s film Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck was the highest paid woman in America in 1944. During her career, the legendary actress won three Emmys and one Golden Globe award, as well as an honorary Oscar in 1982.
Barbara Stanwyck made her final on-screen appearance on television show The Colbys. The show premiered in 1985 and ran until 1986. Even after retiring from the big screen, Stanwyck continued to make a difference in people’s lives through charity. In 1990, she succumbed to heart troubles and died at 82.
Rita Hayworth rose to fame during the 1940s, having appeared in films like 1946’s Gilda and 1947’s The Lady from Shanghai. Her last appearance on screen was in The Wrath of God, a 1972 western film alongside Frank Langella.
At the age of 68, Rita Hayworth passed away in 1987 due to complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her death sparked widespread interest in the condition and inspired people to promote research for the illness.
Oliver Burgess Meredith was truly a jack of all trades–he was an actor, director, producer and also wrote for theater, film and television. His performances in Of Mice and Men and The Story of G.I. Joe are considered classics, as well as his roles in the 1960s series Batman and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, for which he recieved an Oscar nomination.
The actor’s final film appearances were in 1993’s Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, 1995’s Grumpier Old Men alongside Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret and Sophia Loren. Two years after the latter’s release, 89-year-old Meredith passed away.
With four Academy Awards nominations and one win under his belt, Burt Lancaster made quite the Hollywood career for himself. The American Film Institute even ranked Lancaster at #19 in its list of greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
As he aged, however, Lancaster’s health began to decline and he suffered from a major stroke in 1990. In 1991, he acted his last role in a TV film movie called Separate but Equal. Three years later, at 80, he died.
In 2010, at the age of 74, Dennis Hopper earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hopper’s most well known projects include Rebel Without a Cause, 1955’s Giant, his directorial debut Easy Rider and Apocalupse Now.
His final acting project was Crash, a television series that ran from 2008 to 2009. Beside being an acclaimed actor, Dennis Hopper also established himself as a skilled photographer.
Having championed his title “The King of Hollywood” for several years, Clark Gable is probably best known for playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. He was the leading man in no less than 60 films. He was nominated for an Academy Award three times, and won the award for Best Actor for his role on It Happened One Night.
His career began winding down with his final role in the 1961 film The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller and starring Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Before the film premiered, Gable died in 1960.
Dorothy Dandridge revolutionized cinema in the 1950s by being the first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in the 1959 musical Porgy and Bess.
A certain sadness surrounds Dorothy Dandridge’s final moments in the spotlight. She was supposed to star in the 1962 film Marco Polo, but the project was ultimately trashed due to a lack of funds. In 1965, Doroth Dandridge passed away, but it still uncertain what the cause of her death was. In any case, she was still young and filled with a desire to act.
British actor Donald Pleasence is probably best known for his role as Dr. Sam Loomis in director John Carpenter’s Halloween films. These films would also mark his final moments on screen.
Specifically, Donald Pleasence died after completing the sixth installment in the series, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which was released in 1995. He died that same year at 95-years-old.
With an unmatchable radiance, Gloria Swanson wowed audiences in 1950 as Norma Desmond in the film Sunset Boulevard. She also claimed the first nomination in the Academy Awards category for Best Actress.
The silent film star was known as both an acclaimed actress and a fashion icon. In 1974, she appeared in her final film, Airport 1975. In 1983, she died at 84 of a heart condition.
With his recognizable voice and undeniable charisma, actor, dancer, singer and choreographer Fred Astaire established a cinematic career that would last well over 70 years. He has starred in multiple musical films and has made many appearances on television.
In 1981, Fred Astaire would make his final big screen appearance in a horror film called Ghost Story. He died in 1987 and has been quoted for thanking Michael Jackson for being his “descendent.”
In the 40s and 50s, Gene Kelly charmed audiences with his voice and dance in films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Anchors Aweigh (1945), and The Three Musketeers (1948). The American Film Institute recognized him as the 15th Greatest Male Star in Classic Hollywood.
In 1986, Gene Kelly appeared on screen one last time, in a series called Sins. At that time, his health had already begun to decline. He died in 1996 at 83-years-old.
In anything, Gregory Peck can be commended for his loyalty to Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. In 1956, he played the formidable Captain Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick.
In 1998, the legendary actor took part in his final acting project, a Moby Dick television series on which he played Father Mapple. Gregory Peck died on pneumonia in 2003. He was 87.
Henry Fonda was a prolific actor whose career spanned five decades. His final screen appearance was definitely not for nothing. In 1981, he scored an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in On the Golden Pond.
Henry Fonda’s acting career was long and illustrious. He even birthed a generation of actors: his daughter Jane Fonda and son Peter Fonda, who in turn raised actors of their own (Bridget Fonda and Troy Garity). In 1982, Henry Fonda died of heart complications. He was 77.
The Swedish actress raked in the accolades over the course of her career. She scored two Emmys, three Academy Awards, and four Golden Globes. Although she is perhaps best known for her roles in American and British films, Ingrid Bergman began her career in her home country.
She appeared on the screen one last time in 1982, in a TV movie called A Woman Called Golda about Golda Meir, the late Israeli prime minister. She died on her birthday that same year, after battling with breast cancer.
Born and raised in New York, actor Humphrey Bogart starred in some of the most iconic films of the 1940s. These films include Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sleep. Bogart appeared in over 75 films throughout his career, recieving three Academy Award nominations and winning one for the film African Queen.
Humphrey Bogart took his Hollywood bow with the 1956 film The Harder They Fall. A year after the film’s release, the Hollywood legend passed away.
Many big names have had great things to say about James Cagney over the years. Orson Welles, for instance, hailed him as “maybe one of the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera.” Stanley Kubrick, too, views him as one cinema’s greats.
James Cagney stayed devoted to cinema up until the final years of his life. During the making of final film he would ever appear in, Terrible Joe Moran, Cagney got around in a wheelchair and faced many health issues. In 1986, he died on a heart attack. He was 86.
With her lilting voice and doe eyes, Judy Garland helped shape 1940s cinema. She is perhaps most famous for her role as Dorothy in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. She started her career as a child actress and quickly became a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
Judy Garland did not go out in silence. Her final film even had a title with a song to it, I Could Go On Singing. It premiered in 1963. Just four years later, Garland died at the young age of 47.
Like Judy Garland, Ann Miller is often credited with shaping 40’s cinema with the power of her voice. The dancing, singing and acting icon participated in many classic musicals throughout her career. Her best known movies include 1948’s Easter Pararde and 1953’s Kiss Me Kate.
Her final screen appearance was the 2001 film Mulholland Drive. At that time, she was in her late 70’s and just about to call it quits, but director David Lynch talked her into the project. Today, critics hail the film as one of this century’s finest. As for Ann Miller, she died in 2004. She was 80 at the time.
Katharine Hepburn’s acting career spanned for an illustrious 60 years. During that time, she won four Academy Awards for Best Actress. She was also highly educated, having earned a degree from Bryn Mawr College. She began her career on Broadway, where she was noticed for the first time.
Her career came to a ceremonious close in 1994 with her final screen appearance Love Affair. Unlikely her most notable roles throughout her career, this one was only a cameo. Even so, critic Roger Ebert noted her grace. In 2003, Katharine Hepburn died at 96.
Lauren Bacall never dreamed of becoming the influential actress she is known as today. In fact, she first ventured into the spotlight as a model. The American Film Institute has praised her as being the 20th greatest female star of Classic Hollywood cinema.
She appeared on film one last time in 2012 in the drama The Forger. Two years later, she guess-starred on Family Guy. That same year, she died of a stroke. She was 89.
Perhaps best known for his role in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole began his acting career as a Shakespearean actor with the English Stage Company. Over the course of his career, he scored eight Academy Awards nominations. He also won four Golden Globe Awards.
His last screen appearance was The World World at Our Feet. He was unable to see its 2015 release, as he died in 2013. He was 81.
Although an actress by trade, Anne Meara is perhaps best known for her comedy. She and her husband Jerry Stiller formed one of the most beloved comedy duos of the 60’s. Anne Meara has won several awards, including four Emmys and a Tony Award.
In 2014, she appeared on the screen for the last time, with her husband to make her bowing out even more poignant. The work was a short entitled Simpler Times. One year later, at 85, Anne Meara died.
With his hard expression and iconic ears in the Star Trek franchise, “Trekkies” probably know him best as Spock. He also starred in the Mission: Impossible series and made several critically acclaimed stage appearances.
Indeed, Leonard Nimoy went out on a high note, bringing his beloved character with him in his final film, Star Trek into Darkness. In 2015, he passed away, leaving behind a glittering legacy.
With her red hair shimmering bright, Irish-born Maureen O’Hara is one of Hollywood’s original golden girls. She was training as an actress at the young age of 10. Interestingly, she and actor John Wayne were very close friends.
O’Hara’s best known films include 1952’s The Quiet Man, 1947’s classic Miracle on 34th Street and 1961’s The Parent Trap. Her final film appearance was on 2000’s The Last Dance. She died in 2015. She was 95.
The ubiquitous pinup girl with a glittering smile and stunning figure, Marilyn Monroe in many ways defined the 1950s and 1960s. Born Norma Jean Mortenson, Monroe is still considered the ultimate beauty icon to this day.
Sadly, Marlyn Monroe also died tragically young at the age of just 36. At the time, she was starring in the 1962 film Something’s Got to Give. After she died, the film was quickly forgotten and never revisited.
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