Hollywood’s Who’s Who of Posthumous Oscar Winners
Ten years after Heath Ledger's passing, we recall others who won Academy Awards after death.
The 2019 Oscars will mark the 10-year anniversary of Heath Ledger winning an Academy Award—a Best Supporting Actor win for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight—not long after his untimely death. Let’s take a look back at other Oscar winners who left us before they could collect their golden statue.
Award: Best Adapted Screenplay, Gone with the Wind
Sidney Howard was a playwright and screenwriter who received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1925 for his Broadway play They Knew What They Wanted. He won an Academy Award in 1940 for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on the iconic film Gone with the Wind. But during the summer before the Oscars, in 1939, Howard was in a tragic farming accident that took his life.
Award: Best Music (Scoring), Around the World in 80 Days
Victor Young had had a long successful career in Hollywood, having been nominated 20 times prior to his post-death win. He had scored notable films such as Gulliver’s Travels and For Whom The Bell Tolls. Young finally won an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days. However, Young died from a cerebral haemorrhage before he could collect his award. The composer was just 56.
William A. Horning
Year: 1958 & 1959
Award: Best Art Direction, Gigi and Ben-Hur
Art director William A. Horning has the rare distinction of being a two-time, posthumous Academy Award winner in consecutive years. Horning, who passed away in 1956, first won for art direction for his work on the 1957 film Gigi, which won Best Picture in 1958. The following year he won again in the same category for the film Ben-Hur, which also won Best Picture.
Award: Best Picture, Ben-Hur
Sam Zimbalist is the only person to win a posthumous Oscar for Best Picture. Zimbalist died in 1958 before he could accept the award for his work on classic Roman tale Ben-Hur. Zimablist was a well-known Hollywood producer and film editor. He worked on nearly 30 films before his death at age 57.
Award: Best Art Direction, Spartacus
Swedish-born art director Eric Orbom received a posthumous Academy Award in 1960 for his work on the film Spartacus. Orbom was also the art director for more than 35 other films including This Earth is Mine and Twilight for the Gods.
Award: Best Short Film, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day
In 1969, the legendary Walt Disney posthumously won his final Academy Award, in the Best Short Subject category, for Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. This was Disney’s 26th Oscar. Among his earlier notable nominations was a Best Picture nod in 1965 for Mary Poppins. Mickey Mouse’s creator holds the record for most nominations and most wins by any individual.
Raymond Rasch & Larry Russell
Award: Best Music (Scoring), Limelight
Twenty years after the initial release of the Charlie Chaplin movie Limelight, the film’s composers Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell, since deceased, were awarded an Oscar for their work on the film. Limelight had been the 81st movie to star the legendary silent film star Chaplin, but when it was originally released in 1952 it had been widely panned by critics. When the film was re-released twenty years later, however, it garnered two Oscars, one for Best Music and one an honorary Academy Award for Chaplin.
Award: Best Actor, Network
Peter Finch won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 1976 film Network. The actor’s widow, Eletha Finch, accepted the award in his honor at the ceremony. Network went on to win three more awards that evening: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Finch was the first—and is still the only—actor to posthumously win the Best Actor award.
Award: Best Cinematography, Tess
After his death, Geoffrey Unsworth won an Academy Award for Tess in 1981. The well-known cinematographer had won in the past for his work on the film Cabaret. Unsworth is perhaps best known for his work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Richard Donner’s Superman.
Award: Best Music (Original Song), Beauty and the Beast
Howard Ashman’s lyrics are beloved by millions—he wrote and won an Oscar for The Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea,”. However, after his death in 1991 due to complications from AIDS, Ashman went on to win another Academy Award for Best Original Song for the title track from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The composer’s music also went on to be featured in Aladdin, for which he was also nominated for the song “Friend Like Me.”
Thomas C. Goodwin
Award: Best Documentary (Short Subject), Educating Peter
Thomas C. Goodwin died before he could accept his Oscar for Best Documentary Short at the 1993 Oscar Awards. His producing partner, Gerardine Wurzburg, accepted the award on their behalf, saying she was “dedicating this to my partner, Tom Goodwin—business partner—who died this past year, and his wife Dorothy Jackson.”
Award: Best Cinematography, Road to Perdition
Conrad Hall was a French-American cinematographer best known for his work on iconic films like Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hall died a few months before he could collect his Best Cinematography Oscar for his work on the 2002 Paul Newman film Road to Perdition. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, Hall being the only nominee to win the prize.
Award: Best Supporting Actor, The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger is the only actor to win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award posthumously. Ledger won for his unforgettable performance in The Dark Knight as The Joker. The 2019 Academy Awards will mark the 10-year anniversary of the late actor’s post-death win.
Award: Best Documentary Feature, 20 Feet From Stardom
Gil Friesen was known as the executive producer for the 1980’s cult classic film The Breakfast Club as well as an American music executive. Friesen worked as promoter for musical acts such as The Carpenters, The Police, and Janet Jackson. Friesen went on to produce the 2013 music documentary about back-up singer, 20 Feet From Stardom, which earned him a posthumous Oscar as well as a Grammy Award for Best Music Film.
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