Since 1929, the year of the 2nd Academy Awards, seven performers have earned posthumous Oscar nominations for their work. This year, a legend of the silver screen may join the list of actors recognized for roles following their passing. More than three decades since his death in 1987, John Huston is poised for a posthumous Oscar return with his leading turn in Orson Welles‘ final film, “The Other Side of the Wind.”
This actor, writer, producer and director was no stranger to the Oscars over his illustrious five-decade career in cinema. Between 1940 and 1985, he garnered a total of 15 nominations, including bids in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. His pair of victories came in 1948, as he triumphed for his direction and screenwriting on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
In “The Other Side of the Wind,” which premiered to warm notices at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Huston has a rare leading turn, portraying a washed-up, hard-drinking Hollywood director who attempts to revive his career with an experimental film, packed with sex and violence. Shot over several years in the 1970s, “The Other Side of the Wind” had a notoriously troubled production and, until now, was considered a lost film.
The first performer to receive a posthumous nomination at the Oscars was Jeanne Eagels, recognized in Best Actress for her portrayal of a plantation owner’s restless wife in “The Letter” (1929). Triumphing on the big night, however, was Mary Pickford, prevailing for “Coquette.” To date, Eagels remains the lone female performer to earn a posthumous Oscar nomination.
More than two decades later, James Dean landed not one but two posthumous Best Actor Oscar bids, for his turns as suffering son Cal Trask in “East of Eden” (1955) and ambitious handyman Jett Rink in “Giant” (1956). On neither occasion did Dean triumph, as Ernest Borgnine won for “Marty” in 1955 and Yul Brynner took home the prize for “The King and I” in 1956.
In 1967, Spencer Tracy earned his ninth and final Best Actor Oscar nomination, this time posthumously, for his portrayal of a father wrestling with his daughter’s choice of fiancee in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Tracy, who had triumphed in Best Actor twice before, for “Captains Courageous” (1937) and “Boys Town” (1938), was not the winner this time around, as Rod Steiger secured the trophy for “In the Heat of the Night.”
Nearly one decade after Tracy’s final nomination, an actor scored the first-ever posthumous Oscar win. Peter Finch, previously nominated for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1971), posthumously won the Best Actor prize for his electrifying turn as unhinged anchorman Howard Beale in “Network” (1976).
The 1980s saw a single posthumous acting Oscar nomination. Sir Ralph Richardson, first nominated more than three decades prior for “The Heiress” (1949), received a posthumous Best Supporting Actor nomination for portraying Tarzan’s grandfather in “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan” (1984). On Oscar night, however, it was Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields”) emerging triumphant for the prize.
Likewise, the 1990s also featured one posthumous Oscar nomination for an actor. Massimo Troisi, hailed as one of the up-and-coming Italian filmmakers in the prior decade, died less than one day after production wrapped on “Il Postino” (1995). Troisi’s portrayal of a postman who falls in love with poetry landed him a posthumous Best Actor nomination. He would ultimately lose to Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas”).
Most recently, it was Heath Ledger receiving a posthumous Oscar nomination and win, in Best Supporting Actor for his chilling turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008). Ledger marked the first performer to receive a posthumous trophy in this category.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.