Fond farewells: Every actor who got an Oscar nomination for their final film

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Since the second Academy Awards ceremony in 1930, 73 people have received acting Oscar nominations for their debut film performances, yielding a total of 15 breakout wins. Conversely, the list of actors who have earned recognition for their final movie appearances is much smaller, featuring only 18 general and two successful examples. Those who belong to this club gained entry in a variety of ways, with some having voluntarily quit acting altogether, others having specifically stepped away from film performing, and a few having sadly not lived long enough to bask in the glory of their farewell nominations.

Since film acting retirement can never be absolutely permanent while a performer is still alive, only deceased individuals can correctly be counted as official members of this group. Although most currently living retired actors did not pick up Oscar nominations for their latest films anyway (e.g., Gene Hackman of 2004’s “Welcome to Mooseport”), the academy did smile upon one – Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread,” 2018) – on his declared way out. Also not included on the list are any actors who were recognized for their last physical big screen appearances but later gave vocal performances in theatrical films (e.g., Paul Newman of 2002’s “Road to Perdition” and 2006’s “Cars”).

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This list’s subset of posthumous nominees consists of five performers, all of whom are contained within the Best Actor category. They are James Dean (“Giant,” 1957), Spencer Tracy (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” 1968), Peter Finch (“Network,” 1977), Massimo Troisi (“Il Postino,” 1995), and Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” 2021). Finch, who died 31 days prior to the announcement of his nomination, is the first of said two winners and stood as the only post-death acting champ in academy history until Heath Ledger (Best Supporting Actor, “The Dark Knight”) joined him in 2009. Along with Jeanne Eagels (“The Letter,” 1930), Dean (“East of Eden,” 1956), and Ralph Richardson (“Greystoke,” 1985), Ledger is one of four people to have received a posthumous Oscar notice for a film that was technically not his last one.

The only other performer who has won an Oscar for his final film role is Henry Fonda, who took the 1982 Best Actor prize for “On Golden Pond.” He was still alive at the time of his victory but was too ill to attend the ceremony (his daughter and costar, Jane Fonda, accepted the award for him) and passed away less than five months later. Similarly, Richard Farnsworth picked up a lead bid for “The Straight Story” in 2000 and died later that same year.

The other five actors on this list who stopped film acting within a decade of their deaths are Paul Muni (“The Last Angry Man,” 1960; died 1967), Fay Bainter (“The Children’s Hour,” 1962; died 1968), Lee Tracy (“The Best Man,” 1965; died 1968), Rupert Crosse (“The Reivers,” 1970; died 1973), and Ingrid Bergman (“Autumn Sonata,” 1979; died 1982). They each tacked on one or multiple follow-up TV credits, with standout examples including Crosse’s starring role on the single-season NBC series “The Partners” and Bergman’s posthumous Emmy-winning work in the telefilm “A Woman Called Golda.”

Rounding out this list are six women who were 10 or more years away from their deaths when they delivered their last movie performances: Peggy Lee (“Pete Kelly’s Blues,” 1956; died 2002), Nancy Kelly (“The Bad Seed,” 1957; died 1995), Peggy Wood (“The Sound of Music,” 1966; died 1978), Jocelyne LaGarde (“Hawaii,” 1967; died 1979), Eva Le Gallienne (“Resurrection,” 1981; died 1991), and Ann Sothern (“The Whales of August,” 1988; died 2001). LaGarde (who had also never previously acted) and Sothern left the profession entirely, while the other four subsequently appeared on television to varying extents.

The range of ages at which these 18 actors were added to this list spans 56 years, with those on the respective low and high ends being Dean (26) and Le Gallienne (82). The overall average age of entry is 58, while the specific male and female means are 56 and 60.

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