Heath Ledger died six months before his final completed performance in… (Warner Bros. )
The Academy Awards are more than six months away, but already the late Heath Ledger is being touted as a shoo-in for a supporting actor nomination for his terrifying performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
Ledger died in January of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 28. Many in Hollywood believe his performance is so mesmerizing and daring as Batman's clown-faced nemesis that he may become the first performer since Peter Finch (for 1976's "Network") to receive a posthumous Oscar.
Though there has been just a handful of performers who have earned Academy Award nominations after their death, numerous actors have had their films released posthumously, perhaps most famously Spencer Tracy ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") and James Dean ("Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant").
Here's a look at some other memorable actors and performances:
The silent screen's Latin Lover had one of his biggest successes with 1926's "Son of the Sheik," a sequel to one of his first big hits, 1921's "The Sheik." But he never lived to see the film open around the country. The sexy romance had its premiere in Los Angeles on July 9, 1926; on Aug. 15, the 31-year-old star collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City, where he was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. He died eight days later. "Son of the Sheik" opened nationwide on Sept. 5.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 19, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Posthumous releases: An article in Friday's Calendar section on movie releases that take place after a performer's death said that Jada Pinkett Smith replaced Aaliyah in "The Matrix" sequels. Nona Gaye replaced her.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, July 25, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Posthumous movie appearances: An article in the July 18 Calendar section about actors who have had films released posthumously said that singer-actress Aaliyah had sold 32 million records in the U.S. by the time she died in August 2001. In fact, according to Nielsen SoundScan, through July 20 of that year she had sold 8.1 million albums and 3.4 million singles in the U.S.
The former King of Hollywood gave one of his greatest performances as an aging cowboy who falls for a fragile divorcee in 1961's "The Misfits." But he never lived to see the film open (it was also the last film role of costar Marilyn Monroe). The 59-year-old Gable died of a fourth and fatal heart attack on Nov. 16, 1960, shortly after the grueling production was completed. Rumors abounded as to the cause of the heart attack. His fifth wife, Kay, stated he was stressed by the "endless waiting . . . waiting [for Monroe]." Others say that the role, which included him being dragged by horses, was too physically demanding.
The 43-year-old star had a few crucial scenes left on her latest film, the sci-fi thriller "Brainstorm" for director Douglas Trumbull, when she drowned off the coast of Catalina on Nov. 29, 1981. Though the film was near the end of production, MGM wanted to shut down "Brainstorm" and claim the production insurance. But Trumbull insisted that the show must go on. He used a stand-in and some complex camera angles to give the illusion the stand-in was Wood. The poorly reviewed film, which is dedicated to Wood, opened in 1983.
The noted African American actress, who gained a whole new fan base as the Oracle in 1999's "The Matrix," died of complications of diabetes at the age of 67 on Sept. 29, 2001. She had completed the majority of her scenes in "The Matrix Reloaded" but not for the second sequel. "Matrix Reloaded" was released in 2003. Mary Alice took over the role for "The Matrix Revolutions."
The Golden Globe-nominated actor made only five movies during his short but extraordinary film career -- "The Godfather," "The Conversation," "The Godfather Part II," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Deer Hunter" -- and each was nominated for a best picture Oscar. The noted theater actor had given unforgettable performances as the weak-willed Fredo in the "Godfather" films and as Al Pacino's dimwitted bank robbery partner in "Dog Day Afternoon." Diagnosed with bone cancer, Universal Studios didn't want to insure him for his role as Stos in "The Deer Hunter." But his then fiancee, Meryl Streep, who was also in the film, and director Michael Cimino went to bat for him. He died shortly after completing his scenes on March 12, 1978, at the age of 42. "Deer Hunter" was released that December and won the best picture Oscar.
One of the greatest British actors of the 20th century, Richardson died of a stroke at age 80 on Oct. 10, 1983, soon after completing his whimsical turn as the sixth Earl of Greystoke in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." The film, which is dedicated to him, opened the following March. In the spring of 1985, he was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar.
Some cutting-edge digital work during post-production saved this rough-and-tumble British actor's performance in 2000's best picture Oscar winner, "Gladiator." The burly actor died at the age of 61 of a heart attack on May 2, 1999, in Malta during the filming of "Gladiator," in which he played Proximo, a buyer and seller of gladiators. It cost the production $3.2 million for the two-minute digital work involving Reed's remaining scenes. (They created a digital body double of Reed after photographing a live-action body double in the shadows and then mapped a computer mask of Reed's face for remaining scenes.) The film, which opened a year after his death, is dedicated to his memory.