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.

February 22, 2019 10:00 am
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Heath Ledger passed away before receiving his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Ledger is the first actor to receive the award after death. The actor was found dead in his apartment of a drug overdose that cause cardiac arrest. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
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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.

Sidney Howard

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In 1940, playwright and screenwriter Sidney Howard won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on the iconic masterpiece “Gone with the Wind.” The writer died before he could collect the award. (Photo by Florence Vandamm/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Florence Vandamm

Year: 1940

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.

Victor Young

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A portrait of Composer Victor Young, March 2nd 1954. In 1957 Young won an Academy Award after his death for Best Music for “Around the World in 80 Days.” (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
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Year: 1957

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

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William A. Horning won two Oscars for Art Direction after his death, one for “Gigi” and another for “Ben-Hur” (“Ben-Hur” photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
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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.

Sam Zimbalist

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Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida leaning her head on American film producer Sam Zimbalist’s shoulder. After his death in 1958, Zimbalist won the Academy Award for Best Picture for “Ben-Hur.” (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Mondadori via Getty Images

Year: 1959

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.

Eric Orbom

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English actor Laurence Olivier as Crassus, and actor John Gavin as Julius Caesar, in a bath scene in ‘Spartacus’, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1960. Eric Orbom, the film’s art director, won the 1960 Academy Award for art direction after his death. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
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Year: 1960

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.

Walt Disney

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Walt Disney, shown here in 1967, won an Academy Award in 1969, after his death, for the short film “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (Photo by Frankenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Year: 1969

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

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Actor Charlie Chaplin in “Limelight.” Twenty years after the film’s release, Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell were awarded an Oscar for Best Music for their work on the 1952 film. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

Year: 1972

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.

Peter Finch

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British-born actor Peter Finch wears a raincoat and raises his arms in a still from the film, “Network”, directed by Sydney Lumet, 1976. Finch is the only actor to have won a Best Actor Oscar after death. (Photo by MGM Studios/Courtesy of Getty Images)
Getty Images

Year: 1977

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.

Geoffrey Unsworth

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Holding Oscars for Best Cinematography are Jackie Unsworth (second from left) and Chislain Cloquet (second from right). Unsworth accepted the award at the 1981 Academy Awards on behalf of her father, Geoffrey, as he died prior to the ceremony. (ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Year: 1981

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.

Howard Ashman

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Howard Ashman died due to complications from AIDS before he could collect this Best Song Academy Award for the title track from the Disney classic film “Beauty and the Beast.” (Disney)

Year: 1992

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

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A still from “Educating Peter.” Thomas C. Goodwin won the award after he passed away. His producing partner on the documentary accepted the award on his behalf. (HBO/YouTube)

Year: 1993

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.”

Conrad Hall

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Conrad W. Hall, accepting the award for Best Cinematography for “Road to Perdition” awarded to his late father, Conrad L. Hall (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage)

Year: 2003

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.

Heath Ledger

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Heath Ledger passed away before receiving his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the 2008 Batman movie “The Dark Knight.” The actor was found dead in his apartment of a drug overdose weeks before the Oscar ceremony. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Year: 2009

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.

Gil Friesen

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After he died, Gil Friesen, seen here with his wife Janet Friesen, received an Oscar for his documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)

Year: 2014

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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