Nov 19 2012

Five Great Performances From Actors Who Died Way Too Soon

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Lists,Movies

We have the wrong idea about death in this Country. We are so selfish, that we actually FEEL BAD for people who died. Do you realize how silly that is? They are suddenly free from bills and bosses and bitches and burdens, and yet WE feel bad for THEM? If anything, when someone dies, we should envy them. Not emulate them, mind you, but envy. Because they are free from their lives as a workhorse.

They are free from “the prison of the flesh” as Cronenberg would call it. Is there a heaven or afterlife for them to bound around inside like a ball of light, or do they just cease to exist? I do not have the answers to that, sadly. What I can tell you is that I (selfishly) would love to have seen these actors stick around a wee bit longer, just so we could see what else they had in store for us.

Alas, the twisted fist of fate had different plans for them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop for a moment and recognize a few of their powerful, pre-posthumous performances. I know that last sentence doesn’t really “work” but I am keeping it, because I could be dead soon, and it would only be silly of us to focus on such minor things right now.

River Phoenix: Stand By Me

Wil Wheaton is also awesome, for entirely different reasons.

Yes, I almost went with ‘My Own Private Idaho’, but had to go with Stand By Me for how wonderfully a young River Phoenix seemed to capture and represent young-boy angst to me in that film. Some souls are just born old, and River Phoenix seemed to be one of those souls. Even if movies like this, when he was surrounded by kids his own age, he seemed to be on a different cloud, sitting by himself. They all came across like children, yet, he didn’t. And if you paid attention to his character, he wasn’t supposed to.  He was this little-man, with so much knowledge and longing behind his eyes. And in Stand By Me, he seemed like the glue that kept that wacky crew together.

I used to watch Stand By Me and weep for the death of my own innocence. Now I watch Stand By Me and weep for different reasons. Namely, River Phoenix. Truthfully, I am still waiting for that Phoenix to rise from the ashes, even though I should know better by now.

Brad Renfro: Bully

Just like River Phoenix, there was always a broken-intensity behind the eyes of Brad Renfro.

You may not have seen the Larry Clark masterpiece, Bully, but you would still know Brad Renfro from a great deal of other movies, such as The Client and Apt Pupil. He was a good-looking, intense kid, and he had the chops to hang with the veterans on the screen. But Bully was unlike anything he had ever done.

Bully is a film about a bunch of kids who get sick of one of their friend’s constant abuse, and decide to kill him.  And ofcourse I simplify it a bit, but Renfro is what stands out in the film, as he tended to do in all his films. He played “broken” so well, because he was broken. He ended up dying of a drug overdose (just like Phoenix) and anyone following Renfro’s story up to that point was not that shocked by the event, but you didn’t have to be shocked by it to be saddened by it, which everyone was. Bully and Apt Pupil just HINTED at what the kid could have tapped into if he had just stopped tapping the needle.





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3 responses so far

  • http://chaosoutoforder.tumblr.com P-Funk

    See also: any of John Cazale’s film roles before his death.

  • dagny t

    I disagree on your choice of movies for Heath Ledger. Yes, his performance is strong in ‘Brokeback Mountain’, but I believe one of his strongest performances was as Skip Engblom in ‘Lords of Dogtown’. He not only nailed the SoCal beach drawl perfectly, but also the feckless, outlaw attitude the former surf-shop owner had.
    He’s definitely an essential part of the film.

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    ^ Great call. He was SO not himself in that film, I often forget he was in it, but I agree with you there. But, in the same breath, him as a reckless wild boy doesn’t seem as much of a stretch as gay cowboy, but maybe that’s just me.

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