Celebrity cameos are nothing new, and can come in many forms across many different mediums. Sometimes it’s a big name actor playing a smaller role for a few minutes, other times it’s an actor completely unrecognizable under makeup or costuming. Often, cameo roles go uncredited. However, there’s no more pure cameo goodness than when a celebrity plays a version of themselves onscreen. These magical moments of self-parody allow us a glimpse behind the curtain to see just how human these larger-than-life figures actually are. Whether it’s a tongue-in-cheek lampooning of how they’re depicted in the media, or a straightforward appearance in something unexpected, cameos offer a wonderful chance to see public figures in a new light. They’re also a great opportunity for the rest of us to have a bit of fun at their expense.
Since it’s October, and we’re nearing Halloween, let’s take a look at the most extreme form of celebrity cameo self-parody: the on-screen death. That’s right, we’re looking at the best times a celebrity has agreed to play themselves dying on screen. Each of the following entries is taken from a comedy, and in the interest of good taste only still-living celebrities have been selected. This is, of course, all in good fun. In a year filled with more than our fair share of tragic celebrity deaths, let’s take a look a few that make us laugh instead of cry. Here are the top five celebrity cameo deaths in movies:
Honourable Mentions: Simon Cowell in Scary Movie 3, Penn & Teller in Penn & Teller Get Killed, Henry Winkler in Little Nicky (Bees!), A whole bunch of celebrity puppets in Team America: World Police, Justin Bieber in Zoolander 2, every Frank Miller cameo ever
5) Brittany Spears in Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Mike Myers and Brittany Spears were both at the height of their fame when the third Austin Powers film came out, so with the star-studded opening it only made sense for the two to square off in a pseudo-dance battle. Spears plays it straight throughout most of the scene, itself part of a larger dance opening, until Austin’s ‘mojo’ is too much for her and it’s revealed–through classic gun-nipple extension–that she’s been a ‘fembot’ all along. The rest goes as you’d expect, as Austin catches one of her breast machine gun bullets in his mouth and then causes her head to explode with his mojo. It’s a great callback to an earlier gag, and a fine celebrity cameo as one of the most desired women on Earth meets her match–and her end–at the hands of the world’s grooviest super spy. While Spears does make an appearance later in the film, still alive, this is still one of the best self-parody celebrity death cameos of all time.
4) John Hurt in Spaceballs (1987)
Though he’s not specifically playing himself in the scene, John Hurt is included in the credits as ‘Himself’ for his hilarious cameo in 1987 Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs. The scene in question–a blatant callback to Hurt’s previous role as Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien–features an alien chestburster erupting from inside his ribcage, with Hurt even crooning, “Oh no, not again,” as it happens. It’s a groan-worthy camp moment that fits perfectly in the film, made all the better for the small musical number that follows. While Hurt fully commits and sells the death scene, it’s the fact that the little alien then gets up and dances to “Hello! Ma Baby” by Howard and Emerson, in reference to the Chuck Jones cartoon One Froggy Evening, that makes the scene memorable. He’s even kinda cute, high-kicking with his little hat and cane. Hurt was a good sport to do the exact same scene in a different movie, and it shows in his brief performance.
3) Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)
Neil Patrick Harris, or NPH, experienced a career resurgence due in part his exaggerated and outrageous persona in the Harold and Kumar movies. Credited as ‘Neil Patrick Harris’ instead of ‘As Himself’, movie-Neil is a crude, drug-addicted womanizer, unlike the real Neil Patrick Harris, an openly gay, wholesome family man. Movie-Neil appears throughout the series to assist and aggravate the boys in their various quests, and in Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, he ends up getting shot for his antics. It’s understandable, considering that Movie-Neil branded a prostitute at a brothel prior to his death, that his character would receive some sort of karmic retribution. It’s a scene made hilarious through the frenzied, emotional cries of John Cho and Kal Penn–but don’t worry, it’s revealed at the end of the movie that NPH survived. It’s also worth noting that, in the sequel, it’s revealed that he DID die, but was thrown out of heaven by Jesus himself. Take THAT, conservative values!
2) Bill Murray in Zombieland (2009)
One of the most famous self-parodied celebrity cameo deaths of all time, Bill Murray’s appearance in Zombieland was actually much meatier than you’d expect. In fact, he’s the only character outside of the four central protagonists to have any speaking lines at all (outside of flashbacks). In the modern internet-era Bill Murray has become something of a legend, known for antics like showing up to random parties and doing the dishes for groups of strangers. Whether or not all the stories about him are true, his appearance in Zombieland perfectly captures those zany rumours that surround him. Of course the guy who crashes engagement photos or accidentally starred in ‘Garfield’ would paint himself like a zombie and golf through the apocalypse. It just makes sense, and Murray is more than game enough to play along, even as he’s mistakenly shot and dies in front of the other characters. The death scene is made even funnier by Murray’s deadpan acceptance of his fate and Woody Harrelson’s tortured despair throughout. Even to his last (fake) breath, Murray is completely hilarious.
1) Michael Cera (and everyone else) in This Is The End (2013)
If you’re looking for self-parodied celebrity death scenes, look no further than This Is The End, which is packed with a slew of celebrities meeting their, well, end. Even with the deaths of Aziz Ansari, Rihanna, and Mindy Kaling, it’s clearly Michael Cera’s coked-out lamppost-impaled cell-phone screaming demise that stands out as the winner. Despite a number of stand-out performances bucking against public perception, no other actor in the film does such an outlandish 180 degree turn against what they’re known for as Cera. He spends the entire first act playing against type, blowing cocaine into his good friend’s face and sharing juice-boxes in bathroom three-ways—and no, that last one isn’t a metaphor. Normally thought of as a milquetoast, awkward, quiet type, This Is The End shows Cera exactly as NOBODY expected him, and Cera plays along fearlessly. His profanity-laced tirade to find his missing cellphone in the face of the apocalypse is beaten only by the moment, just before he’s dragged to hell and after he’s been impaled, where he happens to find it in his own pocket. Extra points for hilarity have to be awarded for Jason Segel’s frenetic background freak-out as Cera’s blood gets all over his face. It’s everything you want in a celebrity cameo, and one of the best celebrity death scenes ever filmed.
Look at that little guy go! And there it is, the list of the top five self-parodied celebrity cameo deaths in movies. It might be a shockingly specific topic, but it’s nice to remind ourselves that each of these death scenes was done by the actors and actresses as a fun jab at themselves and their image. Public persona and personal identity have always been a difficult thing to balance in full view of the world, and these celebrities have gone above and to the great beyond in service of finding that balance.
Do you agree with the order of our listing? Are there different entries you think should’ve made the top five? Let us know your thoughts below and chime in with what you think. And, as always in October, Happy Halloween!