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7 Ways to Cope with Movie Star Deaths

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As The Dark Knight approaches the $450 million mark, Oscar buzz is building for the late Heath Ledger. Christopher Nolan has insisted that he did not digitally alter or use stand-ins to complete Ledger's scenes—this was the director's attempt to preserve the integrity of the late actor's performance. Unfortunately, that honor was not bestowed upon the legacies of other departed actors. Here are a few methods directors have used to fill the gaps left by deceased movie stars—some respectable, others not so much.

1. Make it an A-List Tribute

Ledger's final role will officially come in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a magic-based film he was shooting when he died. Rather than abandon the film, director Terry Gillam has insisted that the show will go on. He has decided on a rather unconventional method to fill in the gap—using not one, but three, A-List actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law) to complete the film. The scenes completed by Ledger are all set in the real world, whereas the film traverses through different realms. Ledger's face will be magically changed to that of other actors used to portray different incarnations of his character. Imaginarium, like Dark Knight, will be dedicated to Ledger when it is released next year.

2. Poorly Conceal the Actor's Absence

plan-9.jpgNot all movies have access to A-List stars, like the low-budget cult disaster Plan 9 From Outer Space. There are many things wrong with this movie, but one glaring problem was the fact that Bela Lugosi died before production even began. Director Ed Wood decided to use a few minutes of unreleased Lugosi footage originally intended for a movie called Tomb of the Vampire as the basis of the script and its major selling point. After the bizarre scene with a caped Lugosi inspecting flowers in his yard, his character was portrayed by chiropractor Tom Mason. Wood attempted to hide the fact that Mason looked nothing like Lugosi (and stood a foot taller) by concealing Mason's face behind a cape and having him slouch for the entirety of the film. Due to this and other ridiculous errors, the film has become a cult classic and is regarded by some as the worst movie ever made.

The hidden face technique was used decades later with the late Bruce Lee. During production for Game of Death, Lee took a leave of absence to film the big budget Hollywood kung fu movie Enter the Dragon. Lee tragically died after filming Enter the Dragon, and thus never completed Game of Death. In order to not waste unreleased footage of a man who had posthumously become a major star, production resumed six years later using a new script and a radically different plot. Two stand-ins with sunglasses, fake beards and mysterious shadows were used to portray Lee in new scenes involving his character. Lee's absence is most obvious in a scene in which a cardboard cut out of Lee's face is taped onto a mirror for a close-up shot. The film also controversially used actual footage from Lee's funeral and a close up of his actual body in a coffin for a scene in which Lee's character fakes his own death.

3. Send in the Stunt Doubles

Of course, using stunt doubles isn't such a big deal when only one or two scenes are needed to complete a film. Natalie Wood tragically (and some argue, suspiciously) drowned during a break in production for the 1983 science fiction film Brainstorm. Though principal photography was mostly complete at the time of her death, a critical climactic scene had yet to be filmed. Production was halted for two years while the studio and director contemplated what to do with the movie. The studio wanted to abandon the project and collect the insurance money. Eventually, the decision was made by director Douglas Trumbull to use obscured camera angles and a stand in to complete the remaining scenes. The film was a critically praised tribute to Wood, but a box office bomb.

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4. Use Computers

Brandon Lee died in a tragic on-set accident while filming The Crow. His death was almost twenty years after the mysterious death of his father, Bruce Lee, and just a month before the release of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a big screen biography about his father. The Crow had just seven scenes left with Lee to film when he died on March 31, 1991. With the support of Lee's mother and fiancée, director Alex Proyas decided to complete the film using CGI technology to superimpose Lee's face on stand-ins. The film was a huge success when it was released in 1994, despite the notoriety of the devastating on-set accident.

The same CGI-masking technique was used to complete the unfinished scenes of Oliver Reed in Gladiator. Reed suffered a heart attack in Malta while wrapping up his role as the slave dealer Proximo. He was nominated for several awards for the role, and the film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Visual Effects.

5. Cut and Paste

Just because the star of a successful film series died before a film is written doesn't mean it can't be made. The 1982 bomb Trail of the Pink Panther was made a year after the death of franchise anchor Peter Sellers, who portrayed iconic Inspector Clouseau. All of Sellers' scenes were constructed using archival footage, deleted scenes and outtakes from other Pink Panther films. It became pretty obvious which movies the scenes were pulled from based on the clothing and quality of the footage. The rest of the non-Sellers scenes were made concurrently with new footage for the next installment of the series, which did not use the Clouseau character. Apparently, no one wanted to watch a movie recycled from the editing room floor; it was a commercial and critical failure.

Sellers' widow Lynne Frederick was not amused by the cut and paste film; she successfully sued the production company for tarnishing her late husband's name and reputation. The franchise continued without Sellers or financial success in Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther. When the franchise was revamped in 2006, Steve Martin was cast as Clouseau.

6. Cover it Up

When John Candy passed away in 1994 late in production for Wagons East, the filmmakers claimed that all of his scenes had been shot and would be used as is. Fans of Candy have noticed that at least one scene with Candy in a bar was recycled with a slightly different background, and that a stand-in was used in other scenes. Additionally, fans and critics suspect the script was altered to eliminate Candy's incomplete scenes. Despite being one of the last works of a beloved actor, the film was critically panned and bombed financially.

7. Scrap the Whole Thing

Sometimes it's best to place unfinished films on the shelf when a quality product cannot be made without a departed star. The final project of River Phoenix, a bizarre drama called Dark Blood, had only 11 days of filming remaining when he died in 1993. A few scenes have been made public by director George Sluizer, who legally owns all footage from the film. He has claimed that he intends to use the footage as part of a biography about Phoenix.

Marilyn Monroe's unfinished final project, Something's Got to Give, is one of the most notorious unfinished movies of all time. The film was a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife and suffered script and budget problems from day one. After failing to show up on set many times, Monroe was fired from the film, but as co-star Dean Martin stated, "No Marilyn, no picture." She was re-hired, but there was still no picture—she died on August 5, 1962, shortly before production was to resume. The nine hours of footage featuring Monroe, including a much talked about skinny dip scene, was placed in a Hollywood vault and left untouched for decades. To save face, Something's Got to Give was rewritten, recast with Doris Day and given the title Move Over, Darling and used many of the same sets and costumes from the Monroe shoot.

In 2001, the original scenes were touched up and developed into a 37-minute segment for the biography Marilyn: The Final Days.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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