Yes, you read that right — “deaths.” I’m not writing about the actual death of Basil Rathbone, but rather the many deaths of his characters on film and on the stage.
On film, Basil met a violent death 23 times! He was run through by a sword in five films and fatally shot by a gun in six films. His deaths in the other twelve films occurred as a result of poison, stabbing, suffocating, falling, and a few other unfortunate incidents. We will take a closer look at these below.
Here is the final duel in Captain Blood (1935), in which Errol Flynn skewers Levasseur (Rathbone):
Errol Flynn also dispatched Rathbone (as Sir Guy of Gisbourne) in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938):
In the 1935 film Romeo and Juliet, Rathbone played Tybalt, one of Juliet’s relatives. After Tybalt killed Mercutio in a duel, Romeo (Leslie Howard) challenged Tybalt to a duel and killed him:
And then there is that wonderful duel in The Mark of Zorro (1940), where foppish Don Diego (Tyrone Power) reveals himself to be a master swordsman. In the end, Don Diego wins the duel, and Esteban (Rathbone) dies.
As Richard III in Tower of London (1939), Rathbone also died by the sword. He was killed in battle on Bosworth Field:
In six films Rathbone’s characters were fatally shot.
Made in 1930, This Mad World is a film in which Basil Rathbone plays a French spy on a secret mission behind the German line during the First World War. He falls in love with the wife of a German general; she betrays him, and he meets his death before a firing squad.
In the 1937 film Confession, Rathbone played a Lothario who was shot by a woman whose life he had ruined.
In Fingers at the Window (1942), Rathbone’s character (the murderous Dr. Santelle) is shot by the police.
1941’s Paris Calling features Basil Rathbone as a Nazi collaborator. When he threatens to turn his girlfriend over to the Gestapo, she grabs his gun and shoots him.
In Above Suspicion (1943), Rathbone plays an actual Nazi, who ends up strangled and shot by a British spy.
At the end of Rio (1939), Rathbone’s character, a criminal who escaped from a penal colony, was accidentally shot by his best friend.
What about the other films? How did Rathbone die?
In The Court Jester (1956) Ravenhurst (Rathbone) engages in swordplay with Danny Kaye’s character. But Ravenhurst doesn’t die by the sword in this film. Watch the video and find out how he dies:
As Ahmed in The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), Rathbone is pushed into his own lion pit and presumably he is killed by hungry lions. In the picture it appears as though Gary Cooper is about to fall into the lion pit, but he gets the upper hand, and Basil Rathbone becomes the lions’ next meal.
In the 1966 film The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, Reginald Ripper (Rathbone) was killed in an explosion.
As mad scientist Dr. Cadman in The Black Sleep (1956), Rathbone fell down a flight of stairs while being chased by mutants.
In The Magic Sword (1962), Lodac the wicked wizard is attacked and mauled to death by a panther, who is in reality Sybil the Sorceress.
As the heartless Marquis St. Evremonde in A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Rathbone was stabbed with knife by one of the jaquerie.
Lord Rockingham (Rathbone) in Frenchman’s Creek (1944) chases Joan Fontaine with evil intent. She stabs him with a knife and then pushes a suit of armor on top of him, which crushes him.
Rathbone played a murderous physician in the 1941 film The Mad Doctor. As the police are about to arrest him, Rathbone climbs onto the ledge of the building, and jumps off. The gruesome death occurs when he hits the pavement.
In Tales of Terror (1962), Rathbone’s character suffocated under the putrid, decaying corpse of Valdemar.
In the 1955 film We’re No Angels, Rathbone’s character met his end when he was bitten by poisonous snake.
Love from a Stranger (1937) is a little different. Rathbone’s character has a bad heart. His wife tells him that she has poisoned him, and he is so frightened that he has a heart attack and dies. He wasn’t actually poisoned, but it was still a violent death.
Basil Rathbone also met with a violent death on the stage.
Rathbone performed in Romeo and Juliet many times. When he played Romeo (in 1915, 1919 and 1933-1934), he died by drinking poison. When he played Paris (1913-1914), he was killed by Romeo in a sword fight.
In Somerset Maugham’s play East of Suez (1922), George Conway (played by Rathbone) shoots himself.
In 1923 Basil Rathbone played Harry Domain in Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. Unfortunately, Harry Domain meets his violent end at the hands of killer robots.
In Julius Caesar, Cassius kills himself with the same sword that killed Caesar. Rathbone played Cassius in 1919 and 1927. In 1950, Rathbone played Julius Caesar, who was stabbed to death.
As the title character in Judas (1929), and overcome with guilt over betraying Jesus, Rathbone hanged himself.
Basil Rathbone dies in The Heiress (1947-1950) from a heart attack.
Rathbone’s ill-fated play Sherlock Holmes (1953) ended with Moriarty and Holmes plunging over the Reichenbach Falls. Although we know that the character of Holmes survived, Rathbone suffered an apparent violent death on stage in that play.