With Heath Ledger in mind, Scott Feinberg remembers the various posthumous Oscar nominations and wins – 53 individuals for a total of 70 nominations and 13 wins, as per Feinberg’s count – in his Los Angeles Times blog:
“As you may recall, the announcement of last year’s Oscar nominations was quickly overshadowed by the tragic news that broke later that same day: Heath Ledger, the actor best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain (2005), had been found dead of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 28. It’s a terrible shame that Ledger will not be alive on nomination day this year, because his name will almost certainly be called again.”
“Believe it or not, the very first crop of Oscar nominees, which recognized cinematic achievements from both 1927 and 1928 but was only announced in 1929, included a posthumous nominee. Gerald C. Duffy, a writer for First National Studios, penned the ‘titles’ that were spread throughout the silent film The Private Life of Helen of Troy, which was an epic blockbuster in 1927. On June 25, 1928, while dictating a script, Duffy dropped dead at the age of 32. Less than a year later, the first Oscar nominees were determined, and he was among the three nominees for ‘best title writing,’ a category which was eliminated after that year due to the arrival of sound films. Duffy did not win, but he helped to pave the way for another writer who became the first nominee who did.”
Note: The “drug overdose” above refers to prescription sleeping pills.
Note II: The first year of the Academy Awards (several years before they became known as “the Oscars”) covered films released in Los Angeles in the second half of 1927 and the first half of 1928.
Note III: First National would soon be swallowed by Warner Bros., filled with cash thanks to the part-talkie The Jazz Singer and the all-talkie Lights of New York.
Note IV: I’m not sure that The Private Life of Helen of Troy was an “epic blockbuster.” It certainly didn’t turn Maria Corda into a star.
Note V: According to Feinberg’s article, the first posthumous nominee who did win an Oscar was Sidney Howard for his screenplay adaptation of Gone with the Wind (1939).
Note VI: Feinberg adds that only six performers have received posthumous Oscar nods: Jeanne Eagels (right, shooting Herbert Marshall in The Letter, 1928-29) for best actress; James Dean (East of Eden, 1955, and Giant, 1956) for best actor; Spencer Tracy (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? 1967) for best actor; Peter Finch (Network, 1976) for best actor; Ralph Richardson (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, 1984) for best supporting actor; and Massimo Troisi (Il Postino, 1994) for best actor. Only Peter Finch won the statuette.
Note VII: Jeanne Eagels received what could be considered an “unofficial nomination.” Eagels, along with four other actresses, were “considered” for the award, but no official nominations (in any category) were announced that year – only the actual winners were named. In the best actress category, that was Mary Pickford, playing (quite poorly) a Southern belle in Coquette.