Oscars mystery: Will Lisa Marie Presley’s tragic loss impact Austin Butler?

The death far too young of Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis Presley, on January 12 at age 54 came as a shock. She had attended the Golden Globe Awards ceremony on January 10 along with her mother Priscilla to cheer on Austin Butler, who won the Best Film Drama Actor trophy for his portrayal of Lisa Marie’s father and Priscilla’s onetime husband in Baz Luhrmann‘s musical biopic “Elvis.” At the Globes, Butler concluded his acceptance speech with a shout-out to the two women “for opening your hearts, your memories, your home to me.” Just two days later, Lisa Marie would be gone, the exact cause of death not yet determined.

Butler has been nominated for a SAG Award for Best Actor and is an overwhelming favorite to earn a bid at the Academy Awards when nominations are announced next Tuesday. At present, Butler is the third choice in the Oscar Best Actor race at Gold Derby behind Brendan Fraser for “The Whale” and Colin Farrell for “The Banshees of Inisherin” with combined odds of 4/1, and is running second for the SAG Awards behind Fraser with 37/10 odds. He was also among the nominees announced Thursday for Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards.

To be sure, Butler has been highly praised for his sympathetic portrayal in “Elvis” of Presley, who died of cardiac arrest in 1977 at the tender age of 42 following a well-documented physical and psychological decline. Director Luhrmann did a superb job of capturing the excitement of Elvis’ 1950s rise to stardom but opted not to document the full fall, preferring to focus instead mostly on the legend itself.

Lisa Marie herself shared her thoughts about the film last May in advance of its release on Twitter, gushing, “Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully. In my humble opinion, his performance is unprecedented and FINALLY done accurately and respectfully. (If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I will eat my own foot, haha.)” She also praised Luhrmann’s “pure love, care and respect” that was “nothing short of spectacular” and saluted him for “setting the record straight in such a deeply profound and artistic way.”

Sadly, Lisa Marie won’t be around to see her Oscar hopes for the film and its star through. But perhaps her enduring spirit will continue to boost the film and Butler’s SAG, Oscar and BAFTA candidacy over the next few months.

Will the passing of the real-life daughter of the rock ‘n’ roll legend Butler portrayed have an impact on voters in terms of a sentimental component? It’s difficult to assess at this point, as there are but a few specific historical precedents for it in a major awards show race. Perhaps the closest is Kathrine Hepburn’s Best Actress nomination in 1968 for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” She won for lead actress less than a year after the death of her beloved longtime companion Spencer Tracy, who was also nominated for the film but lost for lead actor.

There is abundant evidence of posthumous support for nominees who have died in advance of the Oscars in particular, but only a few of whom were actors. Heading that list is Heath Ledger, who passed away in January 2008 and was nominated as supporting actor the following year for his portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” And he won not only the Academy Award but a SAG Award as well in 2009. Only one other time has an actor won the Oscar posthumously. That would be Peter Finch, who died on January 14, 1977, was nominated for his iconic lead role in “Network” on February 11, and won as Best Actor soon thereafter.

Four other actors were nominated posthumously without winning, however: James Dean, who died in September 1955 but was nominated as lead actor for both “East of Eden” in 1956 and “Giant” in 1957; Ralph Richardson, who passed away in October 1983 but received a supporting actor nom at the 1985 Oscar ceremony for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”; Massimo Troisi, nominated in 1996 as lead actor for “Il Postino (The Postman)” after having died in June 1994; and Chadwick Boseman, who died in August 2020 and received a Best Actor nom in 2021 for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

There have, however been 15 occasions total when a nominee has been honored with an Academy Award posthumously, dating back to 1940 – including two deceased winners who shared the same award.

Here are the 13 non-actors who were posthumously victors:

  • Sidney Howard died in August 1939 and won the screenplay Oscar the following year for adapting “Gone with the Wind.”
  • Larry Russell and Ray Rasch died 10 years apart – Russell in 1954, Rasch in ’64 – and shared the Best Music – Original Dramatic Score trophy for the Charlie Chaplin film “Limelight.” The 1952 movie was boycotted and originally went unreleased domestically due to Chaplin’s alleged Communist ties. It was afforded a much more welcome reception and was eligible for the Academy Awards when it was re-released in the United States in 1972. Both Russell and Rasch were honored posthumously at the 1973 Oscar ceremony, more than 20 years after they completed work on the film.
  • Victor Young passed in 1956 and won for his score of “Around the World in 80 Days” at the 1957 show.
  • Sam Zimbalist died in 1958 and won at the 1960 Academy Awards as one of the producers of Best Picture winner “Ben-Hur.”
  • William A. Horning was honored with the Academy Award at the 1960 Oscars for his art direction and set decoration on both “Gigi” and “Ben-Hur” following his death in March 1959.
  • Eric Orbom won for his art direction and set decoration for “Spartacus” at the 1961 ceremony after having passed in May 1959.
  • Walt Disney earned the Best Short Subject/Cartoon statuette – his 22nd Oscar – following his death in December 1966 for “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” at the 1969 ceremony.
  • Geoffrey Unsworth died in 1978 but was honored with the Oscar for Best Cinematography at the 1979 Academy Awards for “Tess.”
  • Howard Ashman shared the 1992 Original Song Oscar with partner Alan Menken for the song and the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” He was also nominated the following year for “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin.” He died in March 1991.
  • Thomas C. Goodwin was honored posthumously at the 1993 ceremony as a producer of the Best Documentary Short Subject “Educating Peter.” Goodwin died in December of ’92.
  • Conrad L. Hall, who died in January 2003, earned the cinematography Oscar for “Road to Perdition” later that same year.
  • Gil Friesen was honored as a producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary feature “Twenty Feet From Stardom” in 2014 after passing in January 2012.

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