Before Western legend John Wayne passed away, he had his heart set on making one last film. But unfortunately, his dream never made it to the big screen.
In 1978, one year before his death, Wayne’s health was steadily deteriorating from years of battling cancer. The disease began in his stomach 15 years prior and eventually spread to his lungs. But after subsequently having a lung removed, his body was unable to fight, and he spent the last year of his life too frail to film.
However, the entire time he was fighting cancer, he refused to give up his career. during the earlier stages of the illness, he pushed himself to the limits several times. And that passion to keep filming stayed with him until his dying day.
And when John Wayne knew that his time was short, he had a dying wish to film a passion project of his titled Beau John. But he passed before he had the chance to get it off the ground.
Two Directors Agreed to Film John Wayne’s Movie
According to Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend, the actor felt empty without his work. At the time, he had been focusing on recovery and couldn’t accept any roles. And he desperately wanted to get back behind the camera.
So The Duke propositioned his friend, director Peter Bogdanovich, with a movie pitch. And Bogdanovich was an easy sell.
“It’s kind of a half-western thing, it’s not cowboys and Indians, you know, it’s — oh, the humor and the wonderful relationship between this grandfather and the son and the son-in-law and the grandson,” he told Eyman.
“Wayne said, ‘I hope to hell I live to do it. Just a wonderful story,” the director continued.
Bogdanovich agreed that he would film the movie as long as Wayne was healthy enough to star in it. So during his final months, John Wayne put all of his focus on writing and making the movie.
As Wayne grew more ill, time became his main concern. So he asked Ron Howard if he could make the movie quickly. And Howard agreed but only if Wayne could muster the strength star as the lead. As he recounted in the book, he would only film Beau John with Wayne.
“I found a book. I think it’s a movie. It’s you and me or it’s nobody,” Howard said.
However, Wayne was never able to find the strength to work one last time. He passed away on June 11th, 1979. And because of that, the movie became a memory too personal for anyone else to continue.
“At that point, he was showing signs of not being well. I was a little doubtful,” Ron Howard added. “It never got past the verbal stage.