In comic books, death is never the end. Superheroes and villains alike have died only to come back from the great beyond for any number of reasons. Unfortunately for the actors who play these roles in film and on television don’t benefit in the same way. In real life, we only get one shot with no resurrections or rebirths available to use (that we know of, anyway). We have lost many of the best actors we have ever had the pleasure to watch, and it’s important to remember them every once in awhile in order to honor the entertainment value they have given to use over the years.
We all remember the untimely death of Heath Ledger following his turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He continues to be the pinnacle of performance when it comes to playing The Joker in live action (sorry Jared Leto). It’s also impossible to forget the loss of Brandon Lee, who lost his life in a freak accident on the set of The Crow back in 1994. Both actors gave us some of the best performances we have ever seen, comic book movie or otherwise. Here are 15 other comic book movie actors you may not have known had passed on.
15. JEEP SWENSON AKA BANE
A wrestler, boxer, stuntman and actor, Robert “Jeep” Swenson is best remembered for the size of his biceps, and for his role as Bane in the 1997 Batman and Robin film. While his turn as Bane didn’t require him to speak, people seem to remember him for the role nonetheless, likely due to the over-the-top campiness of the character (and maybe because of the sheer size of Swenson’s biceps).
Unfortunately, what people often fail to remember, is that Swenson passed away just months after Batman and Robin premiered in 1997. He died due to heart failure in August of that year at the age of 40, which many believe to have been caused by steroid abuse. The film The Bad Pack proved to be his final role, and it saw release in the months following his death.
14. ROY SCHEIDER AKA FRANK CASTLE SR.
The 2004 film The Punisher took some liberties with the comic book character’s source material and decided to introduce the entire Castle family to audiences. At a family reunion, we meet Frank Castle, Sr., the father of the man who would soon become the Punisher. The actor who played Frank’s dad was none other than Roy Scheider, best known for his role as Martin Brody in Jaws.
This film proved to be one of his last roles because he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, the same year The Punisher saw release in theaters. He underwent treatment for the disease in 2005, but ultimately succumbed in 2008. Because of the nature of Hollywood, Scheider’s final movie, Iron Cross, didn’t see release until 2011.
13. BILL NUNN AKA ROBBIE ROBERTSON
Sometimes you can work in the film industry for over 30 years and still not be recognized while walking down the street. Bill Nunn was one of those actors, even though he is still remembered today as one of Spike Lee’s frequent collaborators, especially as Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing. Comic book fans will remember him as Joseph “Robbie” Robertson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy.
It proved to be a small part in each film, but many will remember him as a voice of reason at The Daily Bugle, opposite the insanity of J. Jonah Jameson. Nunn’s final role came as a series regular on USA Network’s Sirens, which finished its run in 2015. He died of leukemia in late 2016 at the age of 62.
12. DICK DUROCK AKA SWAMP THING
Comic book fans of the 1980s likely remember Dick Durock, even if they don’t know what he looks like. As an actor and stuntman, he had a way of combining the two in order to bring monsters to life. In The Incredible Hulk television show, he appeared in the 1981 episode “The First,” where it is discovered that David Banner was not the first man to be transformed into a Hulk-like monster by gamma radiation.
Durock is most remembered for playing the Len Wein creation known as Swamp Thing in the 1982 film Swamp Thing, the 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing, and the subsequent television series that ran from 1990 to 1993. Durock then stepped away from acting in 1998 and passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2009.
11. NICOL WILLIAMSON AKA COGLIOSTRO
Comic book fans will remember Nicol Williamson for his role in the 1997 Spawn film, where he plays Al Simmons’ mentor Cogliostro. While the character became the subject of a longstanding legal battle between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane, Williamson’s portrayal of Cogliostro lives on, even if the character has disappeared from Spawn comics.
This was Williamson’s final role before he retired, but in his own time, he was praised as one of the best actors around in the 1960s and ‘70s. He was considered to be a master of the theater and appeared in several adaptations of William Shakespeare’s work, winning an award for his turn as Hamlet in 1969. Williamson passed away in 2011 at the age of 75 after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer.
10. MICHAEL GOUGH AKA ALFRED PENNYWORTH
To the many comic book fans who had fond memories of Batman in the 1990s, Michael Gough was Alfred Pennyworth long before Michael Cain or Jeremy Irons ever took up the role. What many never knew about Gough was that he was a highly regarded character actor with credits in over 150 roles dating back to the 1940s.
Later in his career, he became a frequent collaborator with Tim Burton, though he remained in the role of Alfred even after Joel Schumacher came on board. He appeared in Burton’s Sleepy Hollow in 1999 and even came out of retirement to voice roles in 2005’s Corpse Bride and 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Sadly, he passed away in 2011 at the age of 94 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
9. JOHN HURT AKA TREVOR BRUTTENHOLM
Everyone knows John Hurt for his distinctive voice and enduring talents as an actor, but it’s easy to forget just how long he did this with over 100 credits to his name dating back to the 1960s. Genre fans will remember him for his appearances in Alien in 1979, as well as his depiction of Garrick Ollivander in the Harry Potter film series, and his time as The War Doctor in Doctor Who.
Comic book fans will remember him as Hellboy’s father figure, Trevor Bruttenholm, in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films, as well as Adam Sutler, the villainous dictator of England in V for Vendetta. In 2015, Hurt announced that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, continued to work through treatment, and seemingly beat the disease. Sadly, he passed away in January of 2017 at the age of 77.
8. SUSANNAH YORK AKA LARA LOR-VAN
In 1978, Richard Donner brought the world of Krypton to life and Marlon Brando gave the world the iconic depiction of Jor-El. However, what most people ignore is that baby Kal-El’s mother, Lara Lor-Van, was also there, and she was played by talented English film and stage actor Susannah York. She reprised the role for the 1980 sequel and again for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987.
Before she was Superman’s mother, York was considered one of the best actors in her time. She was nominated for and won multiple prestigious awards in the 1970s, and performed in the theater well into the later years of her life. Ever the professional, York refused chemotherapy to treat her cancer in 2010 so she could fulfill her contractual obligation to perform in Ronald Harwood’s Quartet. She passed away in 2011 at the age of 72.
7. PAT HINGLE AKA JAMES GORDON
If you tilt your head and squint, you’ll notice that Commissioner James Gordon was actually in all for movies from the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman film series, even though he wasn’t given the attention he deserved. Pat Hingle played the commissioner as a more buffoonish caricature (to fit in with everyone else) than the serious and competent figure he was in Christopher Nolan’s later films.
Hingle was a veteran actor who appeared in over 100 films and television episodes and frequently portrayed authority figures, which is likely where the role of Gordon came in. He was a frequent collaborator of Clint Eastwood and appeared in several of his films. Hingle continued acting into his 80s, right up until his death in 2009 at the age of 85.
6. JOHN PINETTE AKA BUMPO
The 2004 Punisher film borrowed quite a few elements from Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank comic book series. One character who made the jump to live action was Bumpo, the plus-sized neighbor to Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle. In the movie, Bumpo is played by actor and comedian John Pinette.
As a comedian, Pinette had been touring since the 1980s, where he was known for his impressions and his skills as a singer. He released several comedy albums over the years, got into acting, and even worked on the stage later in his career. Sadly, Pinette passed away in 2014 at the age of 50 from a pulmonary embolism after years spent living with the effects of liver and heart disease.
5. MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN AKA KINGPIN
People love Michael Clarke Duncan for his memorable roles in The Green Mile, Armageddon, and many films from the 2000s. Comic book fans have seen him in a variety of roles over the years, including his turn as the Kingpin in the 2003 Daredevil film and as Manute in Sin City. An accomplished voice actor, Duncan also portrayed Kilowog in the 2011 Green Lantern film and provided voices in several superhero animated shows.
Tragically, Michael Clarke Duncan passed away in 2012 at the age of 54 after suffering from a heart attack. At the time of his death, he had multiple projects in the works. The films A Resurrection and The Challenger were released posthumously, and his work on the video game Saints Row IV was unfinished at the time, leading the game producers to recast his role.
4. YVONNE CRAIG AKA BATGIRL
Yvonne Craig started her career off as a professional ballerina in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before moving into acting and appearing in many of the popular science fiction and action television shows on TV in the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1967, she was cast as Batgirl for the final season of Batman and became an icon for women everywhere and an advocate for equal pay.
Science fiction fans might also remember her for her role as the green-skinned slave girl in the 1969 episode of Star Trek “Whom Gods Destroy.” It seems that no matter what the role, Craig was at the forefront of women in television. She eventually left the industry and wrote an autobiography before getting into voice acting for the children’s show Olivia. Craig succumbed to breast cancer in 2015 at the age of 78.
3. CLIFF ROBERTSON AKA UNCLE BEN
Cliff Robertson, the man who played Uncle Ben in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, was a talented actor in his heyday. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his roles as Charlie Gordon in the 1968 film Charly. He was a leading man in movies before becoming more of a character actor and portraying mostly villains late into his career.
Robertson’s career got a boost right in the end when he was cast as Uncle Ben. Spider-Man 3 proved to be the final role of his career before he retired. Hawk-eyed fans may also remember him for his role as Shame, the Conniving Cowboy of Crime, in the Batman television show from the 1960s. Robertson passed away in 2011 at the age of 88.
2. LEE QUIGLEY AKA BABY SUPERMAN
It’s easy to forget how many people have really played Superman when most fans don’t count all the actors who have played a young Clark Kent and a baby Kal-El. In 1978, Richard Donner gave us the very first blockbuster Superman film, but the first time we see the title character, he’s still just an infant on the planet Krypton.
A child by the name of Lee Quigley portrayed baby Kal-El in Superman. We see Jor-El, played by Marlon Brando, place him inside his rocket, and then the Superman mythology kicks off. What you may not have heard was that Quigley died tragically at the age of 14. Many felt it was another example of the infamous Superman Curse, but really it was just a tragic turn for someone so young and full of potential.
1. ADAM WEST AKA BATMAN
In a simpler time, Adam West was deemed to be the definitive live-action Batman for his role in the television show that spanned 1966 to 1968, and its accompanying theatrical film. Over the years, he has returned to the role that made him famous by voicing Bruce Wayne in The New Adventures of Batman in 1977, among many other projects over the years.
He turned his recognizable voice into a successful voice acting career and became a character himself, which was most famously put on display through his work on Family Guy. West returned to Batman again with Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders in 2016 and Batman vs. Two-Face in 2017. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 88 after a brief battle with leukemia.
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