Nicknamed “Duke,” John Wayne is one of Hollywood’s enduring icons. With a filmography that spanned five decades, he is primarily known for his work in Westerns and epics such as The Searchers, Stagecoach, and The Alamo. John Wayne even won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the original True Grit.
While many of the characters that John Wayne played were often the white-hat hero who saved the day and rode off into the sunset, there were a handful of films in his extensive acting career in which his character did not survive to the end credits.
While there are nine films in which John Wayne’s character is confirmed to have died on screen, there are five films in which his character dies in the background, off-screen, or his fate is left ambiguous.
In Noah’s Ark (1928), he is an uncredited stuntman that dies during the flood sequence. In the movie Hangman’s House (1928), he plays two characters, one of which is possibly seen being executed by hanging. In The Deceiver (1931), John Wayne plays the dead body of a character that was played by a different actor while he was alive. In Sea Chase (1955), his character’s fate is left ambiguous. Finally, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance (1962) begins at his character’s funeral and then launches into a flashback, but his death is never shown.
9.Central Airport (1933)
Central Airport centers around pilot Jim Blaine, who, after crashing a commercial plane during a flight, becomes a stuntman and falls in love. After his love interest marries his brother, he leaves and becomes a mercenary pilot for communist rebels in China and Chile before eventually returning to save his brother from a plane wreck in the Gulf of Mexico.
In an uncredited role, John Wayne plays a pilot who drowns while trying to save a drunk passenger from drowning during one of the play crash scenes.
8West Of The Divide (1934)
n West of the Divide, Ted Hayden is in search of his missing brother and trying to learn the truth about who murdered his father. When Ted Hayden discovers that he bears a striking resemblance to deceased wanted murderer Gat Ganns, he seizes the opportunity to assume his identity in an attempt to get the answers he seeks.
In this film, John Wayne plays the roles of both Ted Hayden and Gat Ganns to make their resemblance uncanny. As Gat Ganns, John Wayne dies by drinking from a poisoned waterhole.
7.Reap The Wild Wind (1942)
Directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille, Reap the Wild Wind is set in 1840 and follows ship salvagers who take in the captain of a wrecked ship, played by John Wayne, which leads to a complex series of shifting allegiances, love triangles, betrayals, and ultimately tragedy.
Towards the end of the film, John Wayne’s character, Jack, and another lead character named Steve, go diving in the wreckage of a ship to see if there was a stowaway on board when the ship sank. However, they are attacked by a giant squid, and Jack dies in the struggle against the beast.
6The Fighting Seabees (1944)
Released during World War II, The Fighting Seabees tells the fictionalized account of the Navy’s decision to form Construction Battalions or CBs, which were then nicknamed Seabees, so that US forces could advance the war effort in the Pacific even during the threat of attack from Japan.
5Wake Of The Red Witch (1949)
Set in the 1860s, Wake of the Red Witch tells the story of rival mariners Mayrant Sidneye and Captain Ralls, played by John Wayne. What starts as a love triangle involving the two men escalates into Captain Ralls intentionally shipwrecking Mayrant Sidneye’s company’s flagship, the Red Witch, with five million dollars worth of gold bullion on board.
Captain Ralls later returns to the wreck in an attempt to salvage the valuable cargo. When the ship slips off an underwater ledge, John Wayne’s character is trapped in the wreckage and dies.
4Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949)
Shortly after World War II concluded, John Wayne starred as the tough-but-caring Sergeant John Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima. The war film follows a unit from training to their deployment in the battle for Iwo Jima. Over the course of the film, his character goes from being despised by the subordinate soldiers to ultimately respected and revered.
In the film’s closing moments, Sgt. Stryker is killed by a Japanese soldier. On his body, his troops find a letter to his son, filled with the words he never got to say. As they mourn his passing, soldiers raise the American flag in the iconic image from the battle.
3The Alamo (1960)
ohn Wayne starred in and directed the historical epic The Alamo. The film tells the story of the famous last stand made by the Texan forces in the Battle of the Alamo. The Texas army, led by Sam Houston, William Travis, Jim Bowie, and folk legend Davy Crockett, fought valiantly to the end against Mexican forces under the command of General Santa Anna.
As Davy Crockett, John Wayne meets his demise at the end of this ill-fated battle. Fighting until the bitter end, Davy Crockett is stabbed with a lance by a Mexican soldier. With his dying breath, he tosses his torch into the supply of gun powder, blowing it up and taking out everyone around him.
2.The Cowboys (1972)
Based on a novel of the same name, The Cowboys features John Wayne as rancher William Andersen, who is forced to hire a group of schoolboys to serve as his assistants on a cattle drive. Along the way, William Andersen must teach the boys about being cowboys and about being men. As they drive the cattle, the group is stocked and attacked by the villainous Asa Watts, played by Bruce Dern.
AND IN THE FIRST PLACE
1The Shootist (1976)
In the final film of his career, The Shootist, John Wayne starred as renowned gunslinger J.B. Books. In the movie, J.B. Books is dying of cancer, making him the target of every gunfighter who wants to make a name for themselves by being the one to kill the legend. As he awaits his inevitable death, J.B. Books becomes a father figure to a young boy, played by Ron Howard.
At the end of the movie, J.B. Books guns down the last of the challengers in a saloon shootout, only to be killed by the bartender. The young boy kills the bartender but rejects the life of a gunslinger, much to J.B. Books’ approval. It is only fitting that John Wayne’s final onscreen appearance brought such closer to his storied career.
PROC. BY MOVIES