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The Die Hard Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Die Hard" is easily and almost universally acknowledged as one of the most original and best action movies ever made. Based on a forgotten novel by Roderick Thorp and directed by bombast master John McTiernan, it made "Moonlighting" star Bruce Willis into a permanent A-lister and action hero, as he was the perfect actor to play John McClane, a wisecracking, charmingly self-doubting NYPD officer tasked with saving his wife and a bunch of other hostages from the clutches of heisting terrorist Hans Gruber and his nefarious team in their raid on Nakatomi Plaza.

Spawning multiple sequels over more than two decades, "Die Hard" is one of the most loved franchises in American movie history. But it started so long ago that the world has begun to lose some of the people who made it so special. Here are all of the actors — with roles both big and small — from the "Die Hard" movies who have died.

Paul Gleason

Apart from terrorist Hans Gruber and his dozen henchman, the secondary villain of "Die Hard" is Dwayne T. Robinson, Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Ostensibly on the side of the good guys with John McClane, he arrives quickly on the scene of the situation at Nakatomi Plaza and immediately takes control even though he's in way over his head and tries to overcome his maddening incompetence with unearned arrogance. McClane has to work through Robinson's ineffectual, inadvertently meddling as well as a terrorist collective in order to save the day.

Dwayne T. Robinson was exactly the kind of character that Paul Gleason portrayed masterfully. Beyond "Die Hard," Gleason played a smug and nasty jerk of an authority figure in multiple '80s movies, including Vice Principal Vernon in "The Breakfast Club" and shady operative Clarence Beeks in "Trading Places." According to Gleason's daughter, Shannon Gleason-Grossman (via the Chicago Tribune), the actor had mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer related to asbestos inhalation. Gleason died in May 2006 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, at the age of 67.

James Shigeta

Joe Takagi is the impetus for much of the action that goes down in "Die Hard." As a top executive of the Nakatomi Corporation, he hosts a company Christmas party at the brand-new Nakatomi Plaza, which is underway when Hans Gruber and his goons take over the building as part of their plan to steal millions in bonds, calling out the greed and lies endemic in Takagi's company. After refusing to turn over the codes to open a vault containing that which Hans seeks, the villain shoots him in the head.

Hawaiian-born actor James Shigeta made major inroads for American actors of Asian descent, according to the Los Angeles Times. In the early 1960s, he won a Golden Globe for best new star and a year later starred in the film adaptation of the hit broadway musical "Flower Drum Song," one of the first leading roles for Asian-American men. 

Shigeta refused to take parts he found degrading or cliche, and he amassed a long resume of guest and recurring roles on TV dramas. According to Shigeta's sister-in-law, the actor had a stroke in 2012, and he endured health issues for the next two years. Shigeta died at a Beverly Hills assisting living facility in July 2014 at the age of 85.

Alan Rickman

Hans Gruber is decidedly a very bad man, leader of a plan to steal $640 million worth of bonds from Nakatomi Plaza in a heist that involves property destruction, the taking of innocent hostages, and killing whoever gets in their way. Gruber is so extreme he was tossed out of Volksfrei, a dangerous German fringe organization. But still, he's just so likable — one of the most memorable movie villains ever, in fact — with his quips, clipped manner of speaking, and above-it-all sensibility.

The character is as complex and fascinating as he is because of the actor who portrayed him: Alan Rickman. He performed with England's illustrious Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s but he didn't find his breakthrough film role until "Die Hard" in 1988 at age 41, according to the BBC. Rickman quickly found his niche in Hollywood playing complicated and charismatic villains and malcontents, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Judge Turpin in "Sweeney Todd," a cheating husband in "Love Actually," and Professor Severus Snape in all eight entries in the "Harry Potter" saga.

In January 2016, The Guardian reported that Rickman had died in London, with many friends and members of his family present. Rickman had been diagnosed with cancer sometime earlier, but had kept the news of illness private. He was 69.

Alexander Godunov

Hans Gruber is a wickedly nasty man with a plan, but he relies on his gang's underlings to do a lot of his dirty work. His chief lieutenant and most trusted ally is Karl Vreski, who initiates a lot of the casual violence and destruction necessary to stage the raid on Nakatomi Plaza. Karl is the one who takes down the first line of security guards, cuts the phone lines, and starts the ruthless search for John McClane.

Well before he was a film actor, Alexander Godunov was one of the best ballet dancers in the Soviet Union, performing with the esteemed Bolshoi Ballet in the 1970s. When his troupe visited New York for a series of shows, Godunov defected from his Communist home nation, asking for and receiving political asylum in the United States, according to the New York Times. In the U.S., he moved into acting, taking on supporting roles in "The Money Pit," "Witness," and "Die Hard."

In May 1995, according to the Deseret News, Godunov's remains were discovered in his West Hollywood home by his in-home nurse after having not heard from the actor and dancer for two weeks. His spokesperson, Evelyn Shriver, said that Godunov died of the effects of alcoholism. He was 45.

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Wilhelm von Homburg

Just as menacing but somehow striking and even more unsettling figure than terrorist cell leader Hans Gruber is the man's henchman, James. The guy straight up fires a missile launcher like it's something people normally do in the course of a day. However, James is one of the villains who meets their doom at the hands of John McClane when the policeman memorably ambushes him with a load of C4 explosives dropped through an elevator shaft right to the floor where he's stationed.

Actor Wilhelm von Homburg is terrifying as James in "Die Hard," but he's even more frightening as Vigo the Carpathian in "Ghostbusters II," the role for which he's likely best known in a career that dates back to episodes of "Gunsmoke" and "The Wild Wild West" in the mid-1960s. Born and raised in Germany, von Homburg's real name is Norbert Grupe, and he followed his father into the family business, boxing, where he positioned himself as a villain audiences loved to hate but whom was once called "The German Muhammad Ali" (according to Yahoo!).

According to Deadspin, Von Homburg was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and in March 2004, after the disease had spread from his spine and into his brain, he died. The actor, boxer, and wrestler was 63.

Matt Landers

Captain Mitchell is one the top cops of the Los Angeles Police Department, among the first to arrive on the scene with a SWAT team to thwart the Hans Gruber-led attack and occupation of Nakatomi Plaza. It's Mitchell who orders the SWAT team to break in to clear a path for police to rescue hostages, and when that plan fails, he sends in an armored car that gets blown up by anti-tank weaponry.

Portraying a law enforcement official springing into action was all in the line of duty for veteran actor Matt Landers. According to Legacy, he worked extensively in northeastern U.S.-based and touring theater productions in the 1970s, including stints in Broadway productions of "Grease" and "Working," earning a Drama Desk Award nomination for the latter. In the '80s, Landers moved into film, landing small roles in some of the most definitive movies of the '80s besides "Die Hard," including "48 Hrs.," "Flashdance," "Commando," "Action Jackson," and "Brewster's Millions."

Landers died at the Los Angeles home of his daughter in March 2015, a few years after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The character actor was 62 years old.

Mary Ellen Trainor

Television journalist Gail Wallens delivers a lot of the exposition in "Die Hard," explaining and attempting to make sense of the absurd and frightening events taking place at Nakatomi Plaza to KFLW Channel 5 viewers. The film's audience learns from Gail that the bad guy in charge is named Hans Gruber and that he used to be part of a terrorist organization until he started his own fringe group, before interviewing psychologist Dr. Hasseldorf about how the standoff may unfold.

Mary Ellen Trainor was all over the most popular and enduring of 1980s movies. In addition to her work in "Die Hard" and as LAPD staff psychiatrist Dr. Stephanie Woods in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, she appeared in "The Goonies" (as Mikey Walsh's mother), and "Scrooged" (as Ted). Trainor often worked alongside her then-husband, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, appearing in his films "Romancing the Stone," "Death Becomes Her," "Back to the Future Part II," and "Forrest Gump."

In May 2015, according to Vulture, Trainor died at home in Montecito, California. Her friend, then Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, reported that the actor had pancreatic cancer and died from complications of the disease. Trainor was 62.

George Christy

Dr. Hasseldorf, a former hostage negotiator and author of a book on the subject, doesn't appear in "Die Hard" for much more than a minute, but he leaves an impression. Interviewed by KFLW Channel 5 reporter Gail Wallens, the author of "Hostage Terrorist, Terrorist Hostage" tries to explain what Hans Gruber's captives might be going through, and that they even may start to sympathize with the terrorists in a classic example of Stockholm Syndrome, which he oddly misidentifies as Helsinki Syndrome.

George Christy's appearance as the foolish Dr. Hasseldorf amounts to a cameo, and it's one of many such performances by the actor, who was well-known in the movie industry as a powerful and popular columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. Christy showed up in dozens of movies in the '80s, '90s, and 2000s, usually playing a reporter, guard, doorman, store customer, or himself (as he did in "Troop Beverly Hills").

According to The Hollywood Reporter, where Christy wrote a gossip column called "The Great Life" until he resigned in 2001 amidst multiple ethics scandals (he was accused of illegally receiving health benefits and trading gifts and favors for positive coverage), the journalist and actor died of heart failure at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, in August 2020. Christy was 93.

Fred Thompson

Somehow, John McClane finds himself in a "Die Hard" situation again in the sequel "Die Hard 2," this time dealing with a rogue collective of former Special Forces guys seizing control over the air traffic control system at an airport and looking to wreak havoc. To restore peace and order, McClane has to work alongside the local authority figure: mistake-prone Ed Trudeau, head of air operations at Dulles International Airport.

Fred Thompson brought a believable sense of gravitas and authority to the role of Ed Trudeau, because he was an accomplished lawyer and politician in the real world. In the 1970s, he served as counsel (per The Hill) to the U.S. Senate during the investigation into President Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate break-in, and then represented Tennessee Parole Board chair Marie Ragghianti when she sued for wrongful termination after calling out a corruption scandal. In "Marie," the 1990 film about Ragghianti, Thompson played himself and gave acting a try, appearing in "No Way Out," "Days of Thunder," and portraying district attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order" when he wasn't serving in the U.S. Senate or running for president.

According to Deadline, Thompson died in Nashville in November 2015 following a re-emergence of lymphoma, a type of cancer. The actor, attorney, and politician was 73.

Stephen Pearlman

In "Die Hard with a Vengeance," Simon Gruber, son of Hans Gruber, the mega-villain whose plot against the Nakatomi Corporation and life are thwarted and ended, respectively, by John McClane, swears vengeance against his father's final rival. It takes NYPD forensic psychologist Dr. Fred Schiller to work up a profile on the younger Gruber, determining that he's a control-craving megalomaniac and a real threat to McClane and his fellow law enforcement officials.

Stephen Pearlman tended to play a lot of regular guys and dutiful public servants and professionals on screen, popping up as police officers and doctors in everything from "Die Hard with a Vengeance" to "Law & Order" to "L.A. Law" to "Kojak." Likely his most famous movie role, apart from Dr. Schiller: Rabbi Cohen in Darren Aronofsky's 1998 mind-bender "Pi." According to The New York Times, Pearlman was a downright theatrical legend, performing with the American Shakespeare Festival as well as the Second City troupe, where he was a founding member.

Pearlman died at his home in Manhattan in October 1998, the death attributed to cancer, according to the Buffalo News. Pearlman was 63.

Tony Halme

Just like his father in "Die Hard," Simon Gruber in "Die Hard with a Vengeance" doesn't work alone, executing his terror plot on the Federal Reserve with the help of a big group of henchman. Among them is Roman, who dresses up like a New York Police Department officer to blend in and gain entry who still exhibits a little fear and reluctance of the criminal life when he refuses to ride in a car next to a bomb defused by John McClane.

Appearing as overwhelmed thug Roman in "Die Hard with a Vengeance" (following roles in "Lionheart," "The New WKRP in Cincinnati," and "The Master Demon") is just one of the interesting wrinkles in the life and career of Tony Halme. Standing 6'6", Halme worked as a bodyguard and boxer (nicknamed "The Viking") as well as an MMA fighter and wrestler known by the ring name of Ludvig Borga. After walking away from combat sports and acting in the early 2000s, Halme returned to his home nation of Finland and served four years in the country's parliament.

According to MMA Fighting, authorities found Halme, deceased in his apartment in Helsinki, Finland, in January 2010. Per Independent, examiners later ruled the actor and athlete's death to be caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Halme was 47.

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