Gladiator Actors You Might Not Know Passed Away

Fans of Ridley Scott can debate which is the director's best film. From "Alien" to "Black Hawk Down" to "American Gangster," Scott's filmography is as diverse as they come, and there's bound to be a movie of his for everyone. One film that is often brought into the conversation is his 2000 historical epic, "Gladiator." The film sees a former Roman general return home after a long absence to get revenge on a ruthless emperor who killed his family and enslaved him. It received positive reviews from critics, and the film would sport a healthy box office return as well, earning $460 million worldwide. It also collected its fair share of accolades, including five Oscar wins for best picture, best actor for Russell Crowe, costume design, sound, and visual effects, with an additional seven nominations.

Along with its intense story that successfully blends heartfelt drama with political intrigue and brutal action, the film was also acclaimed for its stellar cast. Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, and Djimon Hounsou, amongst many others, put in fantastic performances that imbue the epic tale with its rich humanity. Sadly, several of the film's actors have since passed away. So it's time today that we pay tribute to these talented performers and celebrate their amazing careers.

Richard Harris ruled as Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, starts the film as the Roman Emperor. He is knee-deep in a 12-year war campaign, with General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Crowe) bravely leading his army against a Germanic tribe. Proud of Maximus' wartime victories, Aurelius intends to allow him to return to his farm in Spain where he can reconnect with his family. Aurelius' son, Commodus (Phoenix), learns that his father plans to have Maximus be his successor as Emperor and restore Rome to a Republic. Enraged, Commodus kills his father and takes the crown.

Despite only featuring in the film's first act, the seasoned actor adds a lot to Aurelius. He both commands and comforts, his warm voice able to bring a grounded, human element to the noble ruler. Outside of "Gladiator," Harris is known for starring in the acclaimed film adaptation of "Camelot," his Oscar-nominated role in "This Sporting Life," and the Clint Eastwood-directed Western "Unforgiven." Perhaps his most recognizable role to modern audiences is that of Professor Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, in the first two "Harry Potter" movies. Sadly, he died in October 2002 and was succeeded by Michael Gambon in the "Potter" series.

Oliver Reed's Antonius Proximo had a heartwarming turn

"Win the crowd and you win your freedom." 

These are likely the most important words Maximus absorbs during his journey, told to him by Oliver Reed's Antonius Proximo. Maximus is initially sold off to Proximo as a disposable gladiator to be done away with in battle. But as he proves himself as a fierce fighter, Proximo befriends Maximus. He reveals that he was once also a slave, but won his freedom from Marcus Aurelius by impressing the crowd enough over time. He continues to help Maximus compete in tournaments, but initially refuses to aid in his escape. When he learns that Commodus murdered Aurelius, however, Proximo decides to help Maximus, even giving his own life to ensure Maximus' freedom.

Reed plays the character with a dry sternness that at first might seem one-note, but, as we learn more about him, becomes endearing. His turn throughout the film is inspiring to see unfold as a result. Aside from this film, Reed is best known for his roles in "Oliver!," "Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype," and Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." "Gladiator" would sadly be the actor's final role, as he would pass away only weeks before the film's principal photography was complete. Scott didn't want to cut Reed out of the movie, and managed to get around it through clever use of body doubles and editing (via Variety). And thank goodness he didn't, or we could've missed out on such a wonderful performance.

David Hemmings's voice hyped us up as Cassius

Announcing some of the biggest moments in "Gladiator" is David Hemmings, who plays Cassius in the film. Donning a curly red wig, Cassius acts as the Colosseum's primary master of ceremonies. When Maximus and the other gladiators first arrive in Rome, Cassius emcees the reenactment of the Battle of Carthage. He later announces Maximus' intense one-on-one battle against Tigris of Gaul and the savage pit of tigers. While not sporting the film's largest role, Hemmings' voice captured the perfect amount of energy that was necessary to build up excitement for the film's centerpiece battles — both for the Colosseum crowd and the movie's audience.

Hemmings' career has spanned far and wide over the years. He starred in a variety of cult classics throughout the '60s and '70s including Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up," the '60s fantasy sci-fi gem "Barbarella," and Dario Argento's Italian Giallo horror, "Deep Red." He would work on various television productions during the '90s, with "Gladiator" marking his return to the silver screen. Later years saw him take on roles in more major productions, including "Equilibrium," Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." These would be amongst his final film appearances, as the actor died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 62.