30 years after his death, John Wayne is still appearing in movies. The Hollywood icon’s final film, a never-before-released independent titled “Thunder Riders of the Golden West,” is about to hit DVD. The sci-fi western was produced in 1984 and features footage of Wayne that was shot before the actor died of stomach cancer in 1979, according to an article in a local Texas newspaper. Whether this footage was filmed specifically for “Thunder Riders” is unclear.
“Thunder Riders” was produced by Dave Burleson, a bit-part actor and stuntman who was apparently good friends with Wayne. He clarified to the Kerrville Daily News that “it’s not the last movie he acted in, but it’s the last performance to be released.” So that would mean Wayne’s role in this film was performed many years before he died, since the last movie he acted in was the 1976 western “The Shootist.”
Wayne has had his share of posthumous work, of course. Back in the late ‘90s, “The Duke” appeared in a couple of controversial Coors Light commercials, courtesy of “Forrest Gump”-like special effects. Will “Thunder Riders” be viewed as a more honorable and legitimate use of the movie star? Or will fans continue to credit “The Shootist” as the prototypical silver screen cowboy's true final work?
Interestingly, “Thunder Riders” seems to feature a parallel to The Duke’s cause of death, much like “The Shootist,” which stars Wayne as a cancer-stricken cowboy. Set in present-day 1984, "Riders" is about truck drivers who go treasure hunting in the middle of an atomic bomb test site. In real life, such a test site may have been responsible, at least in part, for Wayne’s cancer.
Wayne filmed the 1956 Genghis Kahn biopic “The Conqueror” near to a location used for the testing of nuclear weapons. The story is mostly Hollywood legend, but many believe that exposure to radioactive fallout led to the deaths of a large number of the cast and crew of that film.
Are you anxious to see the final film appearance of John Wayne? Or, would you rather ignore this and stick to The Duke’s movies released during his lifetime? Are you sick of the constant exploitation of posthumous works?