Being a legend doesn’t necessarily mean you get to go out like one. Take Orson Welles, the mastermind behind Citizen Kane, who capped his big screen career as a voice in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. Incidentally, Scatman Crothers can make the exact same claim (minus the Citizen Kane part). The point being: Neither is exactly alone in having last roles that weren’t exactly lasting roles. Take, for instance…
1. Marlon Brando – Big Bug Man (2004)
He could’ve been a contender. He made you an offer you can’t refuse. And before Brando was said and done, he was the voice of Mrs. (yes, Mrs.) Sour in this straight-to-nowhere animated feature. To help get in character, the 80-year-old Brando reportedly showed up to the one-day recording session in a blond wig, dress and make up.
2. Groucho Marx – Skidoo (1968)
Speaking of preparing a role, Marx definitely walked the walk in his final film as well. Cast as “God” (a mob boss) in this gonzo drug comedy, the 80-year-old Marx went as far as to try LSD for the first time. Marx later described both the movie and his appearance in it as “God-awful.” He reportedly enjoyed his trip a little bit more.
3. Joan Crawford – Trog (1970)
In this British horror flick, the noted hater of wire hangers plays a scientist who discovers a primitive caveman and tries to domesticate him. After that, Crawford retired from acting and did some “cave dwelling” of her own, vanishing from the public eye for the last three years of her life.
4. John Belushi – Neighbors (1981)
His unhinged persona made him a legend. But Belushi couldn’t have played more against type in his final role, as a straight man opposite Dan Aykroyd’s manic turn as his obnoxious neighbor. Unsurprisingly, they were originally cast in each other’s roles, and the last-minute switch was their idea. It was not well-received by the film’s producers … and the film wasn’t all that well-received by much of anyone.
5. Ethel Merman – Airplane! (1980)
The Broadway legend last appeared on the big screen in a brief cameo, playing a wounded soldier so shell-shocked, he thinks he’s, well, Ethel Merman. Leave it to Airplane! to give someone the most meta send-off possible.
6. Ernest Borgnine – The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez (2012)
Here’s a truly ironic swan song: The 95-year-old Borgnine playing a dude stuck in a nursing home, wishing he’d been a famous actor. In real life, he was an Academy Award-winning actor with a varied career spanning more than six decades, stuck in a film that would end up making less money than the average orderly.
7. Jimmy Stewart – Fievel Goes West (1991)
For a guy who once uttered the line “Zuzu’s petals” with heartbreaking poignancy, Stewart might have been the only man alive who could’ve given any dignity to a dog sheriff named Wylie Burp.
8. Fred Astaire – Ghost Story (1981)
The dancing legend played a member of the Chowder Society—a group of old men who love scary stories—in this obscure horror flick. Acting legends Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas and John Houseman played the Chowder Society’s fellow members. Only Houseman would go on to make another film. Scary!
9. Elizabeth Taylor – These Old Broads (2001)
After garnering her first and only Razzie nomination for her final film appearance (in 1994’s The Flintstones), the Oscar-winning, gossip-generating film legend quietly wound down her career on the small screen. This made her final film These Old Broads for ABC-TV in 2001. In it, a producer tries to reunite an aging, back-stabbing trio of legendary Hollywood actresses who can’t stand each other. Taylor played their agent.
10. Telly Savalas – Backfire! (1995)
The “Kojak” star appeared alongside an impressive cast—including Robert Mitchum, Edie Falco, and Kathy Ireland—in this instantly-forgotten spoof of Backdraft. Telly’s role? A toilet bomber named “The Most Evil Man.” What a way to… go.