Who Was the First Actor to Receive an Academy Award Nomination Posthumously?

The Academy Award is considered the most coveted prize in the entertainment industry. The Oscars celebrate artistic and technical achievement in film, as nominees receive votes from their industry peers. What beats an acknowledgment from those in the same field?

Academy Awards Oscars
82nd Annual Academy Awards | Andrew H. Walker / Staff

While most winners are alive to claim the prize, some Oscars have been awarded posthumously. So, who was the first actor to receive a nomination posthumously, and who was the first to take home the award posthumously? 

Jeanne Eagels was the first to be nominated for Best Actress posthumously; James Dean was the first to be nominated for Best Actor posthumously

Jeanne Eagels was nominated for Best Actress in 1930 following her performance in The Letter. The 1929 film starred Eagels as the bored and restless Leslie Crosbie. Crosbie turns to another man for attention when she is neglected by her husband. 

One night, as Crosbie is awaiting a letter from her lover, her husband goes out to purchase a rifle. The letter will inform Crosbie that the man she has been having an affair with has found a new love. Eagels was the first-ever performer to receive an Oscar nomination posthumously; she received the honor in the Academy Award’s second year in existence. 

Jeanne Eagels | Edward Steichen / Contributor
Jeanne Eagels | Edward Steichen / Contributor

In 1956, James Dean would be the first male actor to receive the nomination following his death. Dean’s portrayal of a troubled teenager in East of Eden landed him the 1956 nomination. Yet, Dean is the only individual to receive two posthumous Oscar nominations, as he was nominated for Best Actor in 1957 for his performance in Giant, in which he played the ranch hand, Jett Rink. 

Peter Finch was the first actor to win the Oscar posthumously 

Though a handful of actors received posthumous nominations before Peter Finch, Finch was the first to take home the Oscar following his death. Peter Finch won the Academy Award for his performance in 1976’s Network. The film is a black comedy-drama about a fictional television network and its struggle with poor ratings. 

Finch portrayed Howard Beale — the anchorman for the fake network’s evening news – and his performance went on to receive critical acclaim. He died in January of 1977 — two months before the March Oscars ceremony. 


James Dean’s Acting Career Started With His Parking Lot Job

Heath Ledger was the second actor to take home the award posthumously, following his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.  With Chadwick Boseman up for a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, he could be the third actor to receive a nomination and win following his death.