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Projects That Were Canceled Because Someone Died

Life doesn't go as planned — anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. This is especially true in show business, where no plan is final and projects can change on a dime. Though Hollywood is infamous for its big personalities, not everything that gets canceled is the result of ego gone wild. There are, in fact, a whole host of projects that have only ended because of a key player's death. That's the end of it, right? Well, sometimes yes ... and sometimes no.

Some projects can just recast and move on as scheduled, employ sophisticated computer graphics, or edit around the absence — but not every project is so lucky. Some halt before they can even get off the ground. Others were built to revolve around the deceased star, and simply cannot continue. Sometimes, the projects are revisited years later and released anyway, to a diminished audience. No matter how or why, these are the projects laid low by a death.

Chris Farley wanted to make a Fatty Arbuckle movie

Chris Farley's public persona as brash and goofy was at odds with his true self: A gentle man self-conscious about his size and unhappy with being typecast. Not long before he died, he was hard at work on a biopic about silent movie star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The project had promise, and could have expanded his career beyond clowning ... but wasn't completed before Farley died.

Arbuckle was one of the first true Hollywood stars. He was a gifted physical comedian and remarkably agile for his size, but was privately insecure and resentful of his girth. Arbuckle is best remembered today for being accused of the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe, a silent film starlet. He was exonerated after three trials, so much so that the jury of the last trial apologized to him, but his career was effectively over.

Farley knew this role could change his career. His obsession with the movie endured through the haze of his addictions, to the point that some colleagues believed it to be an unhealthy fixation. Ultimately, Farley never got clean and died of a drug overdose in 1997. In a final, tragic parallel between the two men, Arbuckle also died shortly after signing a comeback feature film deal.

Natalie Wood had a play and a movie lined up

Natalie Wood's enigmatic death by drowning is a landmark Hollywood tragedy. She didn't just leave behind an enduring mystery — she also left behind at least two projects that went unfinished.

A few weeks after her death, actor Timothy Hutton said that he and Wood had purchased the film rights to Barbara Wersba's book Country of the Heart. The book tells the story of a teenage writer who falls in love with a famous novelist dying of cancer. Her death stopped the project before it could ever start. The novel has since faded into obscurity.

Wood was also a few months out from making her stage debut. She was working on Anastasia, a play about the tragic Russian princess, set to debut at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Tony winner Arvin Brown was attached to direct, with rehearsals to start in January 1982 and opening night scheduled for the following February. Development of the show ended upon her death.

Phil Hartman wanted a live action Troy McClure movie

Phil Hartman had a superpower: He could make anything funny. Take his iconic role in The Simpsons, Troy McClure. You might remember this character from the Planet of the Apes musical he stars in, the clip shows he hosts, or the infomercials he attaches his name to. Do any of those sound hilarious in concept? Not so much. Are they gut-bustingly funny when depicted by Phil Hartman? Absolutely.

Before Hartman was murdered, he was part of early talks for a live-action Troy McClure film. Most accounts indicate that Hartman himself pushed the idea, and that many Simpsons staff writers were on board, including Matt Groening. Tragically, Hartman was killed by his wife before any of this could take place.

Groening would later revisit the idea of a live-action Simpsons spinoff: In 1994, he and Michael Weithorn completed a pilot script for a Krusty the Clown-centric show. It never got off the ground, but thankfully this was not due to anyone's death.

Michael Jackson died before This Is It, leaving only a documentary

Following his trial for child molestation in 2005, Michael Jackson spent the next few years away from the spotlight. He slowly rehabilitated his image, but also desperately needed money. As such, in March of 2009, he announced This Is It, a year-long residency at the O2 Arena in London starting that July. Less than a month before the first show, however, Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication at the age of 50.

AEG Live, who promoted the concert, decided to make some money off the event anyway. They put together a documentary-concert film titled Michael Jackson's This Is It, released theatrically in October, 2009. While some fans were dismayed by what they saw as shameless profiteering, they were massively outnumbered by those who saw the film, which made $261 million worldwide. The documentary is surprisingly low-key, limited by the fact that its footage is entirely from rehearsals. In the wake of Jackson's shocking death, however, that was more than enough to make it into a hit.

River Phoenix was cast in a movie John Boorman is still trying to make

River Phoenix was one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood when he died at the age of 23, leaving behind several unfinished projects. Some were recast: Phoenix was set to play Daniel Molloy in Interview With A Vampire, and was replaced with Christian Slater. Other projects, however, never saw the light of day after his untimely death. Consider Broken Dream, a project that's been in the works for decades.

Broken Dream is a passion project of John Boorman's, the man who somehow directed Deliverance and Zardoz within two years. He wrote it in the late 1970s with Neil Jordan, who'd go on to win an Oscar for The Crying Game. Boorman has been cagey about the plot, describing it as being "about a man, an illusionist who discovers how to make objects disappear ... so that everything material becomes a spirit." River Phoenix was attached alongside Winona Ryder, bur production halted after Phoenix died.

Broken Dream was revived in 2012 when Boorman thought he found new suitable cast members. Caleb Landry Jones, fresh off of X-Men: First Class, was cast as the male lead, alongside John Hurt in an undefined role. Not one iota of news has come out since, and given that Hurt died in 2017 and Jones has been busy with mega-hits like Get Out, it's almost certain this version is gone, too.

Sam Kinison signed a three picture deal

Sam Kinison was killed near the peak of his popularity by a drunk driver. This sudden and tragic loss sent shockwaves through the comedy world. He left behind a series of classic stand-up albums, TV guest spots, and music video appearances. He also had several projects lined up that ended up canceled, including one with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bill Kinison, Sam's brother and business manager, revealed in 2009 that Kinison had signed a deal with New Line Cinema for three movies shortly before his death. One would have been a straightforward concert film, one would have been a movie with Rick Moranis, and one would have been a truly star-studded affair.

Of this last film, Bill Kinison shared: "It was going to be Schwarzenegger, Beverly D'Angelo, Christina Applegate, and Corey Feldman ... The movie was about Sam as a convict, and it's an adopt-a-convict thing where you have to adopt a convict, he comes and lives with you to help him straighten out his life, and all that. Well, that's the family, and Sam is the convict that they adopt, and by the end of the movie, Schwarzenegger and D'Angelo are in jail, the kids are in juvenile, and Sam has their house." Alas, it was not to be — the movie was shelved following Kinison's death.

Robin Williams was finally going to make Mrs. Doubtfire 2

The death of Robin Williams shocked the world. The comic giant left behind a stunning legacy, as well as four in-production films that were eventually released. There was, however, one project that went unfinished: The sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire.

Attempts at a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel date back to at least 2001. Both Robin Williams and Chris Columbus repeatedly turned down scripts they found uninspiring. As Williams said, Mrs. Doubtfire being unmasked in the original movie made a repeat performance difficult. A sequel was finally announced in April of 2014. Williams was set to star, Columbus was signed on to direct, and Elf screenwriter David Berenbaum would script it.

Williams' 2014 death put an end to the movie — there is, simply put, no making a Mrs. Doubtfire film without Robin Williams. Fans will have to comfort themselves with the stellar first film, along with the rest of Williams' legendary filmography.

Bill Paxton's death killed Training Day

Training Day, a TV sequel to the 2001 Denzel Washington film of the same name, was set to become a headlining CBS series. Bill Paxton starred as Detective Frank Roarke, alongside Justin Cornwell as Officer Kyle Craig. Just a few weeks after the series' premiere, however, Paxton died of a stroke following open heart surgery. He was 61.

Paxton had shot all 13 episodes of Training Day's first season prior to his death, allowing it to air as planned. The show saw a small ratings spike after Paxton's death, but reviews weren't spectacular and its audience dwindled as the weeks wore on. Eventually, the show's time slot shifted from Thursday to Saturday — a sure sign of the network cutting their losses. Between low ratings, lackluster reviews, and the death of the show's biggest star, CBS chose not to recast the Roarke role and pulled the plug after one season.

Atuk is a cursed screenplay

Hollywood spent much of the 1980s through the 1990s trying to bring Moredecai Richler's novel, The Incomparable Atuk, to the silver screen. A fish-out-of-water story about a Canadian Inuit adapting to life in the big city, the screenplay — simply titled Atuk – went through many stars. So many, in fact, that it is now believed to be cursed.

John Belushi was the first star attached to the role, and was by some accounts who screenwriter Tom Caroll had in mind when writing the script. Belushi's death in 1982 put an end to that. Years later, producers reached out to John Candy, who expressed interest but died while still studying the script. Overtures were made to Chris Farley, who died shortly after expressing interest. To this day, the film has never been made.

While his death didn't cancel the project, it's also worth noting that Sam Kinison was cast in 1988 and actually shot a scene. He later took issue with the script and left, resulting in a breach of contract lawsuit. He died young as well — whether or not the curse claimed him is up to you.

H. B. Halicki died during a stunt gone wrong making Gone in 60 Seconds 2

H. B. "Toby" Halicki was known as "the Car Crash King" for very good reason. A stuntman, car collector, and filmmaker, he made several movies — almost all of them involving car chases, races, and crashes. His most iconic work is Gone in 60 Seconds, a demolition derby of a film. He died making the sequel, which was canceled after his death.

Gone in 60 Seconds has something resembling a plot, involving car thieves, insurance investigation, and drug lords. Mostly, however, it's remembered for its 40-minute car chase scene in which 93 cars are destroyed. Halicki wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, supplying many of the cars wrecked in it. In 1989, Halicki decided to make the sequel. Stunts were going to be bigger, bolder, and more dangerous.

One scene called for a tractor trailer to push cars into a water tower, causing the water tower to collapse. During the stunt, the water tower collapsed prematurely. A cable attached to the water tower snapped and knocked over a telephone pole, which fell on Halicki. An ambulance was called, but he was pronounced dead on arrival. Gone in 60 Seconds 2 was never completed.

River Phoenix's Dark Blood was controversially finished decades later

River Phoenix died in the middle of shooting American-Dutch thriller Dark Blood, leaving the project canceled and unfinished. That might have been the end of it for most films, but director George Sluizer had other plans.

In 2011, 18 years after Phoenix's 1993 death, Sluizer revealed that he still had the Dark Blood footage. Worried that his work would be destroyed, Sluizer swiped the negative from the insurance company threatening to destroy it to avoid storage costs. He reedited the footage into something approaching a finished film. Sluizer announced that he had stayed in touch with the Phoenix family, and that he planned to ask Joaquin Phoenix if he'd be willing to redub some of River's lines. In response, the entire Phoenix family made their disinterest explicitly clear: They wanted no part of this.

Somehow, Sluizer still did it — Dark Blood premiered at the 2012 Netherlands Film Festival. Reviews are scarce, but the film is apparently coherent, and an interesting look at a young actor in the prime of his short career.

A Confederacy of Dunces still hasn't been made into a movie because people keep dying

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is an iconic work of American literature. As such, attempts to adapt it to the screen are many — yet none of them have come to fruition. Steven Soderbergh, who came closer than anyone else, said, "I think it's cursed. I'm not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it." Though there are many reasons why each adaptation has failed, we're going to focus on times someone dying halted the project. Even that narrow category contains multiple examples.

John Belushi was the first actor cast in the lead role of Ignatius J. Reilly. A day or two before Belushi was supposed to finalize his involvement, he died of a drug overdose. Production efforts soldiered on, but came to a screeching halt after the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide.

Years later, another attempt at adapting Dunces was made. John Candy was courted for the lead role ... until he too passed away. Ditto Chris Farley, who was considered for the role of Ignatius until his 1997 death brought talks to an abrupt end.

The movie has gone through a seemingly endless number of starts and stops since, and none have worked out.