“Nobody at Warner’s died like me. It’s the one thing I had a knack for.”
Jon Robin Baitz wrote that line for Lyman Wyeth, my character in the play “Other Desert Cities,” but he could have written it for me. Throughout my career, from “Strange Reflections,” the film I made in high school in 1958, to “King Lear,” a half-century later, my life onstage and screen has often ended in an untimely fashion.
As Dr. Bob Forrest in “Class of 1999,” I had my heart pulled out through the chest by a giant robot. I’ve also been electrocuted (“Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return”), stabbed through the eye (“Ooga Booga”) and, as the old gangster movie dialogue goes, shot full of enough lead to start a pencil factory.
When it comes to dying onstage or in the movies, you can’t aim for a moving or powerful moment. You must strive to create something natural, something real, and then let the audience feel those emotions on its own. To do that, you must carefully plot all the moves: The more complicated the death, the longer it takes to rehearse. Getting that right is often what makes for an extraordinary scene.
In Shakespeare, dying often indicates a leading man’s role; I’ve had the privilege of gasping my last as Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth and King Lear. But in the movies, the star gets to ride into the proverbial sunset, and if you meet your demise, it means your name is not on the marquee. Still, it’s better to be dying on screen then sitting at home watching other actors get to do it. And so, macabre though it may be, I now present my top 10 most memorable death scenes, five each from stage and screen (big and small), counting down to my favorites. Continue Reading