After working on more than 170 movies, John Wayne capped off his career with The Shootist. Directed by Don Siegel, the western sees Wayne as an aging gunfighter, dying of cancer, who decides to go out in a blaze of glory. (In real life, Wayne would pass away from cancer just a few years later.) The critically acclaimed film was possibly the finest swan song the Duke could ask for, and it was also one of the few instances of John Wayne dying on film.
In the movie's climax, Wayne's character, the legendary J.B. Books, has challenged three desperadoes to a gunfight at the local saloon, hoping one of them will kill him in the shootout. But hey, this is John Wayne we're talking about, and he dispatches his foes with relative ease. However, when Books isn't looking, a bartender shoots him in the back. That's when Books's young friend, Gillom (Ron Howard), goes into Hulk mode, picking up the shootist's six-shooter and killing the bartender.
Horrified by what he's done, Gillom tosses the revolver away, turning his back on a life of violence. Books nods his head in approval, right before he slips into eternity. Sure, it sounds kind of grim, but in the original version of the screenplay, things got a whole lot darker. Instead of the bartender showing up, Books would ask young Gillom to perform the coup de grace. "Take my gun," Books would say, "but first kill me." Ron Howard would then murder John Wayne, forever ruining the "aw shucks" image of Richie Cunningham.
Wayne, however, wasn't having it. Worried audiences would hate the ending, the Duke demanded a change. Thanks to Wayne, the mercy killing was dropped, but Howard still got to shoot someone. So in a way, everybody won. Except for the poor bartender.