7 Actors Who Died At The Peak Of Their Careers

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It’s never good seeing someone cut down in their prime. It’s particularly painful to hear of someone dying from causes that could have, and oftentimes, should have been avoided. Sadly, it’s something we expect as fans of TV, movies, sports, and music… some of the best, young talent will inevitably die before anyone is ready to say goodbye. The following list features fellas who made us laugh, cry, gasp, swoon and reminded us compassion can run deep, even for people we don’t know. Here are six actors who died at the peak of their careers.

7. Cory Monteith

Who would have thought the clean-cut, Finn Hudson from Glee would be someone who struggled with drug addiction and abuse? It’s tough to learn that someone’s best acting job was covering up their demons, but that’s what so many people do best. Cory endured substance abuse, and addiction issues years prior to his death, and in 2013, admitted himself to a treatment facility in an effort to kick the habit. Unfortunately, he didn’t always have the accountability he so desperately needed, and on a night of relaxation, he opted to drink champagne and shoot heroin. It resulted in a toxic soup from which is body could not recover. He was 31 years old. Cory had enjoyed success in the acting realm before Glee, but the musical dramedy was set to thrust him to the next left of career projects.

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6. Chris Farley

Chris Farley was one of the most beloved comedians of his time. Rising to fame in the early to mid-1990s, he burned fast and bright, and also lost a battle to drugs at the young age of 33-years-old. Chris had struggles with his weight, alcohol abuse, cocaine and nearly anything else he could get his hands on. He had a heart for everyone else, but took terrible care of himself. At the time of his death, he was riding wave after wave of success. The biggest stink of losing Chris Farley so young–beyond the personal tragedy for family, friends and fans–was losing the opportunity to see him stretch his wings. He was a killer comedian, but it was obvious he had a lot of depth, and some serious darkness to pull from. He was in the process of developing Shrek when he died; what else might he have done if he stuck around longer?

AP / Richard Drew

5. Paul Walker

Paul Walker was a finer humanitarian than he was an actor, and that’s not discounting his ability on screen. It would have been wonderful to see Paul get a call from a directorial auteur to say, “Hey, let’s see what you can really do.” Sadly, we’ll never get that opportunity. Paul’s legacy will live on for years through his foundation, and through his past work, but these are the deaths that are really tough to swallow. Paul was always do-gooding. His reputation in Hollywood was gold, and he was a little intimidating to people who had less than the best of intentions. Paul died in a tragic and unnecessary car accident the weekend following Thanksgiving in 2013. It was another instance of boys being boys, and being with a friend who was driving far too fast on streets meant for use by the public. He was 40.

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4. Philip Seymour Hoffman

It’s hard to pinpoint a “peak” for Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a giant in everything he made. He was such a fine actor, and such a gentle human being, but he allayed the weight in life with drugs, and after early battles with addiction and sobriety, he eventually died of a heroin overdose. At the time of his death he was working on The Hunger Games films, and slated to continue work on a new television show, Happyish. The irony of the show title says it all. The show was eventually recast, but failed after one season. Philip Seymour Hoffman was believed to have his drug use under control at the time of his death, but that’s how it goes when things ultimately consume you. Good intentions lead to a “just this once,” and that’s that. Philip was 46 at the time of his death.

James Atoa/Everett Collection

3. River Phoenix

What could have been? That’s the question we all ask when considering the life and death of River Phoenix. The dynamic actor died of a drug overdose in West Hollywood on a sidewalk outside of The Viper Room on Halloween of 1993. It’s crazy to think of the “what ifs” for River. He was 23 years old when he died, and would have been 45 in 2015. You have to wonder if he might have been part of that Ocean’s 11 mix with George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Steven Spielberg adored him–surely we would have seen him in more of Spielberg’s work after playing young Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. River might have eventually hopped behind the camera, and directed something. River was also an accomplished musician–music was his true passion. Might he have embarked on a solo career? So many what ifs.

Canadian Press

2. James Dean

Considering the popularity of James Dean, one might think he made more than a dozen films before his death, yet he starred in only three: East of EdenRebel Without a Cause, and Giant. He was the coolest of the cool; he wrote the definition and set the paradigm for an entire generation. James Dean was an auto enthusiast, and it wasn’t enough that he loved cars… he loved to race cars. He was very good at racing cars. The western world was taken by shock and surprise when it was announced that James Dean had been killed in a car accident. He was 24. The accident occurred on a remote stretch of highway–it’s still quite remote to this day–when a much larger 1950 Ford Tudor sedan turned into the path of James’ Porsche 550 Spyder and James who was driving too fast, was unable to maneuver away from the other vehicle.

Canadian Press

1. Heath Ledger

The nature of Heath Ledger’s roles led many to believe he was much older than he was. He offered the perspective of someone who had lived a lot more life than 28 years. Like so many on this list, Heath died of an overdose–a concoction of prescription medications. Heath was dealing with severe bouts of insomnia at the time of his death, and was taking prescription medications for those issues, as well as prescriptions for an illness that he just couldn’t kick. Through his struggles, he continued to work. His co-workers and friends were concerned for his physical well-being, they weren’t really worried about it. It was an utter shock to his family, friends and fans when the news swept the international audience in great anticipation of Ledger’s next released performance in The Dark Knight. He was at a definitive career pinnacle.

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James Sheldon