The movie, in which she plays the single mother of a musical prodigy, was being heralded as her comeback, but instead is her swansong. She passed away in February, the result of an accidental drowning in the bathtub of her Beverly Hilton hotel room.
Houston’s co-star Jordan Sparks said, “She lights up the screen, and you can just tell she’s so full of joy to be doing this.”
Houston is not the first performer to earn posthumous praise for a film role. In 2008 Heath Ledger won an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, released after his January, 2008 death from accidental prescription drug overdose.
River Phoenix, another actor cut down at the height of his popularity, didn’t live to see his final completed film Silent Tongue, a movie described as “a haunting tale of love, death and shame in the Old West.” Dark Blood, the film Phoenix was just 11 days away from finishing when he overdosed in front of the Viper Room in Los Angeles, was thought lost to time, but has recently been resurrected and will debut in September at the Netherlands Film Festival.
Old Hollywood also saw its share of tragic ends and last performances.
The 1930s superstar Jean Harlow died of renal failure while filming Saratoga. Instead of replacing her, MGM used three doubles (one for close-ups, another for long shots and a third for dubbing the actress’s lines) and rejigged the story. The salvaged movie became MGM’s biggest hit of 1937.
Gary Cooper’s last film, The Naked Edge, released a month after his death wasn’t as well received.
Despite Cooper’s best efforts — his cancer required that he take frequent oxygen breaks — the thriller was a flop.
The Misfits was also a bomb, but is best remembered as the final completed film for two superstars.
Clark Gable didn’t live to see it; he suffered a heart attack two days after wrapping and died soon afterwards. Marilyn Monroe saw it but reportedly hated the movie and her performance.
Chris Farley, John Candy and Phil Hartman passed before their final films, Dirty Work, Wagon’s East and Small Soldiers, hit theatres, but left behind a legacy of laughter.