Superhero Movie Actors You May Not Know Died

Unlike the indomitable characters portrayed onscreen, the actors who appear in many of our favorite superhero films are, alas, mere mortals.  A surprising number of notable stars who have graced these movies have passed on, some sadly under the radar.  While the deaths of Christopher Reeve, Heath Ledger, and Chadwick Boseman were widely covered, other actors' deaths did not register as breaking news (with the onslaught of 24/7 news coverage, they could have just been another story on a busy day).

These performers were not the main stars of the films they were in, but as often is the case with supporting roles, they added a lot of depth and nuance typical of great character actors. There is a reason they are called supporting actors.

With the reverence deserving of any superhero, we take a look at some of these beloved players who we feel should be remembered for not only their contributions to the superhero world but their overall lives and careers.

William Hurt

One of the most acclaimed leading men of the 1980s, William Hurt was a handsome, thoughtful, and charismatic actor. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and received consecutive nominations for "Children of a Lesser God" and "Broadcast News." (His fourth and final Oscar nomination was a supporting nod for 2005's "A History of Violence.") 

Hurt's personal life was hampered by problems with drugs and alcohol, as well as several tumultuous relationships, and his career stalled in the 1990s. He had something of a resurgence thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Hurt memorably played Thaddeus Ross in the 2008 version of "The Incredible Hulk," "Captain America: Civil War," "Avengers: Infinity War," "Avengers: Endgame," and "Black Widow."

Hurt was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018. The disease spread to his bones, but according to a source who spoke to Daily Mail, despite severe pain, Hurt refused to be treated with opiates due to his decades of sobriety. The actor agreed to hospice care and died at home in Portland, Oregon, on March 13, 2022, one week shy of his 72nd birthday. Upon news of his death, colleagues such as Matthew Modine, who co-starred with Hurt in HBO's "Too Big to Fail," lauded him on Twitter, writing, "Bill was a consummate professional." Holly Hunter, his co-star in "Broadcast News," said on the "Today" show, "Bill was my first great mentor." M. Night Shyamalan, who directed Hurt in "The Village," tweeted, "He was a master of his acting craft."

Michael Clarke Duncan

Michael Clarke Duncan's breakthrough role in Frank Darabont's "The Green Mile" earned him an Oscar nomination for his memorable performance as a hulking yet gentle death row prisoner with magical powers. He appeared in Marvel Comics' "Daredevil" as the crime lord Kingpin, the voice of Commander Vachir in "Kung Fu Panda," and the voice of Kilowog in the DC Comics film "Green Lantern." 

At 6-foot-5, it's not surprising that Chicago native Duncan's entry into show business was as a bodyguard when he moved to L.A. Among those he protected were Jamie Foxx, Martin Lawrence, and Will Smith. However, even when he was employed as a ditch digger, he had dreams of becoming an actor. His colleagues nicknamed him "Hollywood," but as Duncan later said to CNN, "Those coworkers had no way of knowing how that joke would turn on them."

Duncan suffered a heart attack on July 13, 2012 and was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He remained hospitalized until his death on September 3, 2012 from respiratory failure. He was 54 years old. News of Duncan's passing was met with many tributes friends and colleagues. Duncan's "Green Mile" co-star Tom Hanks told ET, "He was magic. He was a big love of man and his passing leaves us stunned." Michael Strahan tweeted, "RIP to my friend Michael Clarke Duncan. A kind and gentle Giant."

Ned Beatty

Arguably one of the most recognizable character actors of the 1970s and 1980s, Ned Beatty is probably best remembered for his film debut in John Boorman's 1972 classic "Deliverance" as one of four friends whose canoeing trip turns into hillbilly hell. ("Squeal like a pig," anyone?) Beatty appeared in a string of now iconic films by high-profile directors following "Deliverance," including Robert Altman's "Nashville," Arthur Hiller's "Silver Streak," and Sidney Lumet's "Network," which earned him a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

But it was Beatty's comedic supporting role as Lex Luthor's bumbling lackey Otis in Richard Donner's "Superman" that welcomed him into the superhero universe. The wildly successful film of the DC Comics legend spurred several sequels (he reprised the role in 1980's "Superman II") and inspired other big-screen superhero movies. Beatty appeared in so many movies during his career that, according to Deadline, he earned the title "The busiest actor in Hollywood."

Beatty's final years were sadly spent battling dementia. He died in Los Angeles at 83 on June 13, 2021. Lee Unkrich, who directed "Toy Story 3," in which Beatty voiced Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear, tweeted, "It was a joy and ... an incredible honor to work with him."

Miguel Ferrer

Miguel Ferrer was Hollywood royalty, the son of Oscar-winning actor José Ferrer and actress-singer Rosemary Clooney (his first cousin is George Clooney). His pedigree was likely responsible for his love of music and acting (he played drums as a teen before studying theater).

He first gained movie audiences' attention in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 "RoboCop" as the seedy executive at the megacorporation who heads the RoboCop program. He later appeared in "Iron Man 3" as the U.S. vice president. Ferrer also had roles in notable films such as Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic," John Sayles' "Sunshine State," and Jonathan Demme's 2004 remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

Ferrer was a devoted comic book fan, so much so that he and friend Bill Mumy created their own graphic novel for Marvel Comics in the 1980s called "The Dreamwalker."  Ferrer died from throat cancer on January 19, 2017 in Santa Monica at age 61. George Clooney issued a statement saying, "Miguel made the world brighter and funnier and his passing is felt so deeply in our family that events of the day ... pale in comparison. We love you Miguel. We always will."

Bill Nunn

A versatile actor with nearly 70 screen credits, Bill Nunn made an impression in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" as the menacing Radio Raheem, whose oversized boombox accompanied him everywhere in his sweltering Brooklyn neighborhood. Lee cast the Pittsburgh native in several of his other films, including his film debut in "School Daze," "Mo' Better Blues," and "He Got Game." Nunn appeared as Joseph "Robbie" Robertson in Sam Raimi's 2002 "Spider-Man" and its 2004 and 2007 sequels.

Lee announced Nunn's death from leukemia at age 63 on Instagram, writing, "My Dear Friend, My Dear Morehouse Brother — Da Great Actor Bill Nunn As Most Of You Know Him As Radio Raheem Passed Away This Morning In His Hometown Of Pittsburgh," Lee wrote. "Long Live Bill NUNN. RADIO RAHEEM Is Now RESTING IN POWER. RADIO RAHEEM WILL ALWAYS BE FIGHTING DA POWERS DAT BE. MAY GOD WATCH OVER BILL NUNN."

John Hurt

John Hurt was a classically trained British actor who audiences remember best for his chest-popping scene-stealer in "Alien" and his moving turn as the tragically disfigured real-life John Merrick in David Lynch's "The Elephant Man." Always willing to embrace offbeat roles, Hurt received much critical praise for playing the real-life eccentric writer Quentin Crisp in the 1975 British TV movie "The Naked Civil Servant." He later reprised the role in the 2009 feature film "An Englishman in New York," which chronicled the flamboyant Crisp's final years in New York City.

He received Oscar nominations for his supporting role in 1978's "Midnight Express" and leading performance in "The Elephant Man" in 1980.  Both films earned Hurt BAFTA Awards. Hurt's later career saw him as Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm in 2004's "Hellboy" and Adam Sutler in "V for Vendetta" in 2006, as well as the wandmaker Garrick Ollivander in the "Harry Potter" franchise.

Hurt died at age 77 from pancreatic cancer on January 25, 2017. Mel Brooks, whose Brooksfilms Ltd. produced "The Elephant Man," tweeted, "No one could have played The Elephant Man more memorably. He carried that film into cinematic immortality. He will be sorely missed."

E.G. Marshall

Best known for the 1960s CBS drama series "The Defenders," E.G. Marshall's commanding demeanor gave off an air of authority that made him an ideal choice to play the president of the United States in 1980's "Superman II," the sequel to the hit 1978 film that made Christopher Reeve a household name. Marshall's key scene is when he is confronted by Superman's nemesis General Zod (Terence Stamp) in the Oval Office.

Marshall's long career began on Broadway, appearing in such classics as the original 1946 production of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" in 1953, and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" in 1956.

Onscreen he played one of the jurors in Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic "12 Angry Men," as well as the philandering matriarch of a dysfunctional Manhattan family in Woody Allen's first dramatic film "Interiors." His last feature film role was in Clint Eastwood's "Absolute Power" in 1997. Marshall passed away from lung cancer on August 24, 1998 at age 84.

Michael Gough

Before Michael Caine earned a new generation of fans as Bruce Wayne's loyal servant, Michael Gough played the role in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman." Gough's Alfred Pennyworth was understated yet witty, although not as critical to the film as Caine was in the "Dark Knight" series.

In the first "Batman" and its 1992 sequel "Batman Returns," Gough was butler to Michael Keaton. In the two sequels that followed, he served at the pleasure of Val Kilmer in 1995's "Batman Forever" and George Clooney in 1997's "Batman & Robin."

Gough studied acting at the legendary Old Vic in London and later performed in a number of plays in the West End, including playing Laertes opposite Alec Guinness' "Hamlet" in 1951.  Gough died on March 17, 2011 at age 94 from pneumonia at his home in the U.K. "To Mick — my butler, my confidant, my friend, my Alfred," Michael Keaton said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "I love you. God bless."

Jon Polito

Bald and round-faced with a little mustache and sometimes sinister expression, Jon Polito was never going to be a leading man. But his unconventional looks and talent were the stuff that great character actors are made of. Known for his multiple collaborations with the Coen brothers, Polito also starred in 1986's "Highlander" and the 1991 superhero adventure "The Rocketeer."  Polito appeared in a total of five films for the Coens: "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," "The Hudsucker Proxy," "The Big Lebowski," and "The Man Who Wasn't There."

He also appeared on Broadway and television. He played opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 1984 Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman," reprising the role in the 1985 TV movie. On TV, he played Det. Steve Crosetti on "Homicide: Life on the Street" and Earl Chambers in three episodes of "Modern Family."  Polito succumbed to multiple myeloma on September 1, 2016 at age 65.

Peter O'Toole

Ever since his 1962 film debut in "Lawrence of Arabia," Peter O'Toole was the epitome of cinematic class and charisma. He holds the less than flattering distinction of being the most Oscar-nominated actor without winning (although after eight nominations the Academy did bestow him an honorary Oscar in 2003). O'Toole ventured into the superhero world in a minor role as Zaltar in 1984's "Supergirl," which was a critical and box office failure, although Helen Slater as Superman's titular cousin received some positive notices.

O'Toole's long screen career was often overshadowed by stories (many of his own telling) of his love of drink. He was good friends with Richard Harris and Peter Finch. They relished playing pranks on each other and imbibing well into the morning hours. YouTube is replete with many of O'Toole's appearances on David Letterman's late night show, where he recounted many of these tales. (When a Dublin bar owner told him and Finch they were cut off and had to leave, they bought the bar on the spot!) Not only a magnificent actor, O'Toole was a first-rate raconteur. He died in London following a long illness on December 14, 2013. He was 81.

Margot Kidder

Margot Kidder's indelible portrayal of Lois Lane in Richard Donner's 1978 "Superman" provided the perfect, if often awkward, romantic interest for Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent/Superman. The film made a star out of Reeve and made Kidder a household name. She also earned praise for her performance. The Hollywood Reporter's Ron Pennington described Kidder as an appealing character, bringing very human qualities to the role. Kidder would reprise her role in three "Superman" sequels. In an interview with HeyUGuys, she confessed that the original movie's popularity surprised her: "I remember when we were making it I thought it was going to be a flop ... Nothing prepares anyone for that sudden thing of being world famous. I didn't realize how good the movie was until I seen it at the premiere in Washington."

The Canadian-born Kidder's first major film role was in the 1970 romantic comedy "Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx," a charming Irish film where she played Gene Wilder's love interest, a coed at Trinity University. She followed this up with several films, including Brian DePalma's 1973 "Sisters" and "The Great Waldo Pepper" with Robert Redford in 1975, before landing her career-defining role as Lois Lane.

Although Kidder did not appear in films as well-known as the "Superman" series, she worked steadily in movies and television, accumulating over 100 screen credits. Kidder had a troubled personal life and died at age 69 on May 13, 2018. A coroner's report ruled the death a suicide.

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Roy Scheider

A rugged and relatable actor who could carry a picture on his own as easily as playing key supporting parts, Roy Scheider appeared in a number of acclaimed films in the 1970s, including "Jaws," "The French Connection," and "All That Jazz," the latter two earning him Oscar nominations. Scheider played the father of Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) in 2004's "The Punisher," based on a character that appeared in a 1974 Marvel Comics edition of "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Scheider's other film credits include "Klute" with Jane Fonda in 1971, "Marathon Man" in 1976 with Dustin Hoffman, 1982's "Still of the Night" with Meryl Streep, and "2010," the 1984 sequel to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." In the 1990s, he played submarine captain Nathan Bridger in the sci-fi series "SeaQuest DSV," which ran three seasons on NBC.  Scheider died after a long illness with multiple myeloma on February 10, 2008 at age 75.

Cliff Robertson

Cliff Robertson was a much-lauded actor who won a Best Actor Oscar for playing a mentally challenged man in the 1968 sci-fi drama "Charly," the film adaptation of the Daniel Keyes novel "Flowers for Algernon." His diverse performances ranged from portraying John F. Kennedy during his time as a junior navy lieutenant in "PT 109," Hugh Hefner in "Star 80," and a regular role on the CBS nighttime soap "Falcon Crest" in the 1980s.

Younger audiences knew Robertson as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi's 2002 "Spider-Man" and its 2004 and 2007 sequels, the latter his final performance onscreen. Robertson had a passion for airplanes since he was a child and was an adept pilot who owned a number of aircraft.

Robertson died of natural causes one day after his 88th birthday on September 10, 2011. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Robertson's stepson remembered him in one of the eulogies, saying, "He was one of the greatest men I have ever known."

Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow was one of the great stars of Swedish cinema who became familiar to American audiences in such films as 1965's "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "The Exorcist" in 1973, and the 1980 space opera "Flash Gordon," in which he played Ming the Merciless, the villainous emperor of the planet Mongo. With a bald head and Fu Manchu beard, von Sydow dominated the "Flash Gordon" movie poster and strayed from his serious art house credits to become part of the campy spectacle (with a soundtrack by Queen no less).

Von Sydow was best known for his collaborations with the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, appearing in 11 of his films, most notably "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" and later works like "The Virgin Spring," "Through a Glass Darkly," and "Winter Light."

He received Oscar nominations for his leading role in "Pelle the Conqueror" and supporting turn in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Among his best American work was as part of the ensemble cast of Woody Allen's 1986 "Hannah and Her Sisters" as a misanthropic artist keeping house with a much younger woman (Barbara Hershey) who is cheating on him with her brother-in-law (Michael Caine). Von Sydow died in Provence, France (no cause of death was announced) on March 8, 2020 at age 90.