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John Wayne

John Wayne’s Career Ended With a Bang Thanks to His Last Western Role

John Wayne has earned his status as the King of Hollywood Westerns with his nearly unbelievable quantity of outlaw stories. Wayne’s filmography is essentially a catalog of how the genre evolved; 1939’s Stagecoach launched many of the archetypes that would last for generations, 1956’s The Searchers represented a growing maturation that reflected more serious ethical issues, and 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance explored the end of the era as gunslingers reflected on their place in history. Wayne’s work was largely ignored by the Academy Awards, but his one and only Oscar win for Best Actor was for the iconic western True Grit. It was only fitting that Wayne’s final screen appearance would be in a Western, but The Shootist is an essential film regardless; both a reflection on Wayne’s career and a study of the cyclical, all-consuming nature of violence that he had been so eager to distribute.

Directed by Dirty Harry franchise director Don Siegel, The Shootist casts Wayne as the aging gunslinger J.B. Books, who has essentially retired from duty. While Books does manage to take down a burglar with lethal force in his journey to Carson City, the real intent of his journey was to receive consultation on his failing health. Considering that Wayne actually died only a few years later in 1979 after his final public appearance at the Academy Awards, it’s evident that the role was a very personal one fashioned for him specifically. Books seeks shelter in the home of the caretaker Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and takes a romantic interest in her, but also becomes a paternal figure for her son Gillom (Ron Howard), who has grown up without a father. In an emotional journey of reflection and possible redemption, Books seeks to settle down right before his heroism is called upon yet again. It’s a powerful story regardless of the man at the center, but The Shootist is even more impactful as a swan song for Wayne’s career.

Related: Every John Wayne And John Ford Movie Ranked, According To IMDb
In ‘The Shootist,’ John Wayne Gives a Matured Performance

John Wayne in The Shootist

Image via Paramount Pictures

Wayne had worked with an established series of directors throughout his career, but the grittiness that Siegel created was certainly a change of pace from some of his recent films, such as the heartfelt family film The Cowboys. Siegel’s creation of the Dirty Harry series indicated that he wasn’t afraid to show graphic violence, and at the dawn of the “New Hollywood” era, The Shootist was allowed to push the boundaries that John Wayne’s films had previously been barred from crossing. A later sequence where two assassins attempt to take Books out results in their shocking, violent demise with more intricate detail paid to their injuries and the specificities of their weapons. It was important in showing the consequences of his actions, as the frequency of death in his films had drawn backlash. Wayne’s cold-hearted diligence during the exciting action scenes indicated that Books’ skills came from a lifetime of experience.

While Siegel succeeded in showing a more realistic depiction of what the fabled “Wild Wild West” actually looked like, it also gave Wayne a chance to show more sensitivity. His performance as Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit was more of a caricature, but The Shootist is more specific in how it reflects Wayne’s history on screen. The opening flashbacks highlighting Books’ past adventure even uses footage from Wayne’s previous films, tying the story together in an interesting way. It’s also quite touching that once he reaches Carson City, his first trip is to his longtime physician Doc Hostetler (James Stewart). Stewart was also among the most important figures in the history of the American Western and had been a frequent co-star and friend of Wayne’s. Seeing the two aging actors on screen together isn’t just a fun Easter Egg, but an encapsulation of the archetypes they had represented. Wayne is the gruff, no-nonsense drifter who pushes his physical capabilities, and Stewart is the kindly caretaker who grounds him in reality.

John Wayne’s J.B. Books Is a Terrific Character

Despite all of its disturbing moments, The Shootist is also one of Wayne’s most heartfelt roles. He shows a vulnerability that hadn’t been seen in his previous work, as Wayne’s ego was notorious. Perhaps age had softened his heart because Books feels the physical toll that his work is placing on him. He’s also not celebrating his achievements; he goes to Carson City simply to live his last days in peace and takes discreet precautions to ensure that he won’t be identified. Tragically, none of Books’ efforts can hide his status. After giving Bond a false name and creating a fake headstone for himself, his legendary status as a gunfighter spreads quickly within the community as skeevy journalists, local officials, and prize-seeking bounty hunters all seek him out. Despite having a price on his head and the word from Hostetler that he needs to limit his physical activity, Books feels the need to find a second act as a family man.
The more emotional storyline comes from his interaction with the Rogers family. In Bond, he finds someone he might foresee a future with, but he’s not aggressive in the way that many of his past characters were. His actions are to protect and comfort her, and his return to gunslinging is only to ensure that no harm comes to the city due to the criminals that are searching for him. The mentor role he plays in Gillom’s life is genuinely heartwarming, but it never becomes schmaltzy. Books teaches him the practical skills that he will need to survive and introduces him to his past associates and local troublemakers to show him the effect that the gunslinger lifestyle has. Regardless, the moment when Books gives his longtime horse to Gillom is incredibly touching.

Books’ grizzly death at the hands of a bounty hunter gang and final words of solace to Gillom are quite eerie, as he urges his young protege to remember the costs that this lifestyle has. Considering the gunfight had forced Gillom to use his gun and kill for the first time, it serves as a warning if he seeks to continue down this path. This is John Wayne’s Unforgiven, and there’s a lifetime of regret that perishes with Books. It’s a beautiful, haunting, and fitting end to the career of one of cinema’s most signature icons.

John Wayne

John Wayne’s Cause of Death and His Last Words

John Wayne is a legendary Western movie star who the world will always recognize for his contributions to the medium. However, his final words on his deathbed didn’t have anything to do with movies or his career. Rather, he used them to speak sentimental, heartfelt words aimed at his daughter, Aissa Wayne, who stayed at his bedside.

John Wayne’s cause of death was stomach cancer

John Wayne wearing a cowboy hat

John Wayne | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

According to History.com, Wayne died on June 11, 1979, of stomach cancer at the age of 72. However, it wasn’t his first encounter with cancer, as he fought it for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the doctors reported that the actor was too weak to begin chemotherapy and experimental treatment, which the actor approved of.

Wayne coined the term “The Big C” for cancer in 1964. He ultimately needed to have his left lung and four ribs removed. Wayne seemed to recover at the time, despite regularly being short of breath. However, he didn’t stop his habit of smoking and chewing tobacco regularly, which certainly didn’t help with his situation.

John Wayne’s last words were to his daughter, Aissa Wayne

Outsider confirmed that Wayne was surrounded by his family during his stay in the hospital. He was never left alone, as the doctors tried to do all they could to strengthen his physical state. However, their efforts ultimately failed. Wayne spent his last days before his death in and out of consciousness.

Wayne’s name is generally associated with a tough sense of masculinity, but he also had a sentimental side of him. These stories particularly come from his family, including Wayne’s final words.

Wayne’s daughter, Aissa, was at his bedside at the time of his death. She was holding her father’s hand and asked him if he knew who she was. He responded with his last words, “Of course, I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

‘The Shootist’ was his final acting role

Wayne’s final movie role before his death was starring as J.B. Books in The Shootist. The film follows his character, who is an aging gunfighter who has cancer. He heads to Nevada and rents a room from the widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son, Gillom (Ron Howard). Many folks confront Books for various reasons involving his notoriety. However, Books doesn’t plan to die quietly but will go out with a bang.

Wayne surprised critics and audiences with his performance, as many folks previously believed that he simply played himself in all of his roles. However, he wouldn’t ultimately earn an Oscar nomination for his role.

Wayne earned his first two Oscar nominations for Sands of Iwo Jima and The Alamo. However, it wouldn’t be until 1969’s True Grit that he would finally earn the golden statue. Many of his fans still believe that he deserved to get an Oscar nomination for his final work on The Shootist.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was ‘Miserable’ Because of ‘Venomous Remarks’ on ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Western genre went through a series of changes over the years. However, John Wayne will always remain one of the most iconic depictions of the Western film genre with performances in big titles, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Unfortunately, he didn’t have such an easy time on the set. Wayne had a “miserable” time filming because of John Ford‘s “venomous remarks.”

John Wayne played Tom Doniphon in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' John Wayne as Tom Doniphon and James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard shouting at assembly

L-R: John Wayne as Tom Doniphon and James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance follows Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) as he returns to a small town for a funeral. The press questions his arrival, but they’re about to hear the story of his connection to a local man named Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The story brings audiences back in town when Tom saved Stoddard from Liberty Valance’s (Lee Marvin) crew of outlaws. However, Stoddard and Tom are the only two willing to stand up to him and his crew.

Wayne’s performance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is iconic. He once again delivers his Western charm along with his repeated use of the line “pilgrim.” As a result, popular culture continues to refer back to the legendary actor’s performance.

John Wayne was ‘miserable’ because of John Ford’s ‘venomous remarks’ on the set

Wayne worked with Ford on many films, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. However, the filmmaker often targeted Wayne with “venomous remarks,” verbally attacking him. Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth detailed some of the comments that Ford made toward the actor, which really made him angry.

“But the most damage Ford did was to the friendship me and Duke Wayne might have had,” co-star Woody Strode said “He kept needling Duke about his failure to make it as a football player, and because I had been a professional player, Ford kept saying to Duke, ‘Look at Woody. He’s a real football player.’”

However, the comments didn’t stop there. Ford brought up Wayne not serving in the military while on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As a result, he praised Stewart’s service. This is a particular weak spot for the actor, who deeply regretted not serving in the military when he had the chance.

Strode continued: “It’s like he’d needle him about whatever reasons he had for not enlisting in the war by asking Jimmy, ‘How many times did you risk your life over Germany, Jimmy?’ And Jimmy would kind of go, ‘Oh, shucks’ or whatever, and Ford would say to Duke, ‘How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?’ … What a miserable film to make.”

‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ goes down as one of the best Westerns of all time

Ford never came forward with a specific reason for verbally attacking Wayne on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Perhaps it was to get a better performance out of the actor. However, it clearly left an impact on the cast and crew.

Fortunately, that didn’t negatively impact the finished product. Wayne fans often assert that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the best Western films of all time. It continues to impact filmmaking to this day. The film only earned an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, but it remains a classic that many viewers rewatch.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was ‘Ready For a Fight’ With His ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ Co-Star

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of John Wayne‘s most iconic roles. However, he didn’t have the most enjoyable time behind-the-scenes. Wayne’s frequent collaborator, John Ford, gave him a difficult time. As a result, he was “ready for a fight” with co-star Woody Strode, who once explained the severity of the situation.

John Wayne plays it tough as Tom Doniphon in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance finds Wayne playing a local man named Tom Doniphon in a small Western town. Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) comes into town for his funeral, which confuses the press. However, the distinguished man tells the story of how Tom helped protect him against a crew of outlaws led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

Moviegoers embraced Wayne’s signature dialogue delivery. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance includes one of Wayne’s most iconic words: “pilgrim.” He repeatedly calls Stewart’s Stoddard this, which was an insult within the time period. Nevertheless, Tom maintains Western masculinity as shown in both his narrative and the way the actor plays the part. The character is typically accompanied by his handyman, Pompey (Strode)

John Wayne was ‘ready for a fight’ with co-star Woody Strode

Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth chronicles the iconic actor’s career, including his work on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ford repeatedly harrassed Wayne on the set with rude remarks that intentionally pushed his buttons. However, the actor took it out on Strode.

“This really pissed Wayne off but he would never take it out on Ford,” Strode said. “He ended up taking it out on me. We had one of the few outdoor scenes where we hightail it out to his ranch in a wagon. He’s driving and I’m kneeling in the back of the wagon. Wayne was riding those horses so fast that he couldn’t get them to stop. I reached up to grab the reins to help, and he swung and knocked me away.”

Strode continued: “When the horses finally stopped, Wayne fell out of the wagon and jumped off ready for a fight. I was in great shape in those days and Wayne was just getting a little too old and a little too out of shape for a fight. But if he’d started on me, I would have flattened him. Ford knew it, and he called out, ‘Woody, don’t hit him. We need him.’”

However, Wayne ultimately calmed down to allow them to continue filming. Nevertheless, Strode felt that “miserable” tension on the set as a result of Ford’s behavior.

“Wayne calmed down, and I don’t think it was because he was afraid of me,” Strode recalled. “Ford gave us a few hours’ break to cool off. Later Wayne said to me, ‘We gotta work together. We both gotta be professionals.’ But I blame Ford for all that trouble. He rode Wayne so hard, I thought he was going to go over the edge. What a miserable film to make.”

James Stewart has top billing on ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ultimately gives Stewart top billing over Wayne in all of the promotional materials. However, the film itself and the theatre marquees place Wayne’s name above his co-star. Some audiences contemplate which role is truly the main character of the story, as they both experience hardship and change.

However, neither actor would get an Oscar nomination for their performances in one of the greatest Western movies ever made. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance only earned a nomination for Best Costume Design, although it lost to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Nevertheless, the movie remains a vital part of cinema history.

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