Just imagine John Wayne not appearing in “The Shootist” at all. Would you believe four other actors were up first for the role?
What’s more impressive is when you see who was offered and passed on the role, it might leave you scratching your head. So yes, Wayne was not the No. 1 choice to play in “The Shootist,” his final film.
Paul Newman, Charles Bronson, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood all received offers to play the lead role. All four of them said no. Why did they turn down this role before it fell to John Wayne? Well, it’s not spelled out clearly. But look at these actors and what roles they’re known for in their careers.
‘The Shootist’ List of Possible Lead Actors Is Quite Impressive
Newman played “Fast Eddie” Felson in “The Hustler” while also co-starring with Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.” Bronson became the No. 1 box-office star in the early 1970s through “Death Wish” and its sequels. Hackman played “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection.” Eastwood played “Rowdy” Yates on TV’s “Rawhide” and Harry Callahan in the “Dirty Harry” movies.
But they all passed on this role of an aging gunslinger. It’s pretty amazing once you stop and think about any one of these actors playing that role instead of John Wayne. That doesn’t seem to fit the bill.
In case you’ve never seen “The Shootist,” then here’s a short description. Wayne plays a gunfighter who is dying and wants to go out with some dignity. Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard also are part of the cast. James Stewart makes a cameo role, too, at the insistence of Wayne himself.
The movie was released in 1976. There’s been a lot of mythology around “The Shootist” that Wayne did have cancer at the time and was dying. The reality is that Wayne, who years earlier went through surgery and was cancer-free, didn’t have a recurrence of it. Wayne did die of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979, at 72 years old.
Wayne Nearly Lost His Home When Trying to Get This Movie Filmed
Making a movie about the Alamo was a passion project for John Wayne. Well, John Wayne really wanted to get the movie done.
In order to do it, though, he almost lost his house, yacht, and cars to finance the film. Wayne put nearly everything he owned on the line to get it financed. He even produced, directed, and starred in the film to drum up interest.
John Wayne had been wanting to make a movie about the Alamo for years. He hired a screenwriter in 1945 but was never able to get full funding for the project. He fought with Republic Pictures over funding, but they wouldn’t budge. They were known for B-movies with much smaller budgets than Wayne had wanted. He wanted $3 million to capture the epic nature of the battle, but Republic said no.
The film was made and went on to be a big hit, raking in $20 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. It received mixed reviews, but still netted seven Oscar nominations.