John Wayne earned two Oscar nominations for Sands of Iwo Jima and The Alamo before finally taking home the win for 1969’s True Grit. His eyepatch-wearing performance as Rooster Cogburn became one of the most iconic images in Hollywood history, although there was some talk that the Oscar win was meant more as a “career award” than for the individual performance. However, that honor should have been for playing J.B. Books in The Shootist.‘The Shootist’ actor John Wayne tackled mortality and dignity
The Shootist found Wayne playing an older gunfigther after he travels to Nevada at the turn of the 20th century. He’s diagnosed with cancer, deciding to stay in town and die with as much dignity as possible, seeking peace in his final days.J.B. Books rents a room from a widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son, Gillom (Ron Howard). However, he strikes an unlikely connection with them while under their hospitality, but several people have their own motives with the notorious gunfighter resting in their own small town.Wayne tackled mortality and dignity in Don Siegel’s The Shootist in ways the world had never seen from his previous performances. In real life, the movie star already faced death with his battles with cancer, which he clearly brought into the performance.John Wayne poured his soul into ‘The Shootist’Wayne said that Red River was the first time that he thought of himself as a “real actor,” as he typically played Western characters with similar performances. However, he also demonstrated range in movies, such as John Ford’s The Quiet Man.Wayne gave his all in The Shootist. It’s another Western amongst a long line of them, but he tapped into something deeper that gave this film a tremendous amount of emotional weight. He played off Bacall and Howard with such ease, crafting a character that read as utterly sincere and truly riveting.The Western movie star still brought his signature smooth talk and strong walk that audiences have come to know him for. But, he also brings an authenticity that sells the dramatic scenes leading up to the climactic final gunfight that ultimately leads to J.B.’s death.‘The Shootist’ ended John Wayne’s career on a powerful noteThe Shootist opened to favorable reviews, but it bombed at the box office. Wayne blamed it on Paramount Pictures’ marketing, who primarily focused their efforts on King Kong. Nevertheless, those who did see the film praised how Wayne managed to deliver one of his best performances in The Shootist.
Wayne didn’t have cancer while he shot the film, but he had his left lung and several ribs removed in 1964. Further, he was declared cancer free in 1969. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1975, but it went into remission before filming began. Wayne died in 1979.Wayne intended to continue working after The Shootist, but it ended up being his final film. Even so, it concluded his career on a powerful note, demonstrating his skills in a familiar character with additional depth.