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Sean Penn goes gay — dying for another Oscar?

November 29, 2008 | 10:33 am

Good news for Sean Penn fans: At the end of "Milk" — SPOILER ALERT — you get to watch your hero get blown away by gunfire.

Sorry, but that seems to be the price Penn must pay if he wants to win another Oscar to match the chunk of academy gold he nabbed for 2003's "Mystic River." That's because gay roles that win Academy Awards for actors almost always must suffer ghastly deaths.


No star has ever won an Oscar for portraying a gay, lesbian or transgender person who lives happily ever after. The character of Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gets to live, yes, at the end of "Capote," but we know that he'll end up croaking from booze and pills someday while stumbling around Joanne Carson's house in Beverly Hills.

The five other roles that paid off with Oscars have horrible ends on screen: Tom Hanks dies of AIDS in "Philadelphia," Hilary Swank gets beaten to death in "Boys Don't Cry," Nicole Kidman commits suicide in "The Hours," Charlize Theron is executed in "Monster," and William Hurt gets shot — much like Sean Penn — in "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

If you don't count roles that just hint at a character's homosexuality (Paul Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or Tom Courtenay in "The Dresser"), I've tallied up 28 gay, lesbian and transgender roles that have been nominated for Oscars. (Have I missed any? If so, click the comments link below.)

Nine get killed off. Some snuff themselves: Kathy Bates uses a pistol in "Primary Colors," Ian McKellen drowns himself in "Gods and Monsters," Ed Harris jumps out a window in "The Hours, " Javier Bardem dies of AIDS in "Before Night Falls."

The fact that Sean Penn is heterosexual in real life hikes his Oscar hopes significantly. No gay person has ever won an Academy Award for playing gay, and only two openly homosexual actors have been nominated for portraying someone with a lavender lilt: James Coco and Ian McKellen. Coco wasn't officially and fully "out" of the closet, but he was candid about his private life to friends and colleagues and frequently flaunted a flamboyant nature in public.

(X = Winner)
Estelle Parsons ("Rachel, Rachel") (1968)
Peter Finch, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971)
Al Pacino, "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)
Chris Sarandon, "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)
John Lithgow, "World According to Garp" (1982)
Marcello Mastroianni, "A Special Day" (1977)
James Coco, "Only When I Laugh" (1981)
Robert Preston, "Victor, Victoria" (1982)
Cher, "Silkwood" (1983)
X - William Hurt, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985)
Bruce Davison, "Longtime Companion" (1990)
Tommy Lee Jones, "JFK" (1991)
Jaye Davidson, "The Crying Game" (1992)
X - Tom Hanks, "Philadelphia" (1993)
Greg Kinnear, "As Good as It Gets" (1997)
Ian McKellen, "Gods and Monsters" (1998)
Kathy Bates, "Primary Colors" (1998)
X - Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" (1999)
Javier Bardem, "Before Night Falls" (2000)
Ed Harris, "The Hours" (2002)
X - Nicole Kidman, "The Hours" (2002)
Julianne Moore, "The Hours" (2002)
X - Charlize Theron, "Monster" (2003)
X - Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote" (2005)
Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica" (2005)
Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)
Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal" (2006)

Photos: TriStar, Island Alive, Miramax, Fox Searchlight

(NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bruce Davison's character dies of AIDS in "Longtime Companion." We've deleted the wrong info.)

The comments to this entry are closed.


Queen Latifah in "Chicago"

Julianne Moore wasn't gay in The Hours.

Good catch, Scott! We fixed the Bruce Davison info. TX.

Bruce Davison did not have AIDS in "Longtime Companion." His partner did. His character watched his lover die of the disease, but was not sick himself.

Interesting observations in general. But what are you suggesting Mr. O'Neil, that you have to die a horrible death to win an Oscar in a gay role? Might the fact that dramatic roles often have to do with life, death and tragedy in general have something to do with who wins awards regardless of sexuality? (see last year's Best Actor and Actress (misanthropic oil tycoon and Edith Piaf, she of the early death), Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, and Adrien Brody in The Pianist for just a few examples).

Can i just say That Virginia was most likely gay and just lived in a time where it was not acceptable for her to be so. As for Theron she played a character who had sex with men for money not for pleasure. So for all we know she was a lesbian. Homosexuality had many things that can effect it and saying that just because someone slept with both genders that they are bi is ignoring the shadings that are inherent in homosexuality.Oh and i think what he was saying is that transsexuals are part of the LBGT community

Hope Emerson in "Caged."
Grayson Hall in "Night of the Igauna"

Theron is not gay in Monster, she sleeps with men and with a woman, so technically she's bisexual

Woolf is not gay either, she had sex with both genders

society should start accepting the fact that some people are attracted to both genders

2 openly bisexual people have won the oscars : jolie and brando (interestingly enough, two of the most sexual people on screen ever - coincidence ?)

Since when is Virginia Woolf Gay?

Transexuals have the mind of the other sex, right? Something like that. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with it.

Here we go again!

When Benjamin Buttons beats Milk it's gonna be Crash reloaded!

If you had really done research for this article you might have realized that Hilary Swank portrayed a heterosexual female-to-male transexual in "Boys Don't Cry". Transexuals aren't automatically gay in any way, so saying that roles as transexuals are 'hinting at homosexuality' is in no way correct.

You conveniently forgot to mention...that...uh... there have never been mainstream gay films with Oscar nominations that have portrayed happily ever after characters. That has nothing to do with the Academy. it has everything to do with the struggle to make mainstream gay films that depict that.

One more slight note. To many of us film goers and filmmakers that actually do know a thing or two about moviemaking. We remember very well, the conspiracy buzz you created around Brokeback Mountain to the point that i truly believe it influenced it loosing, so... watch it. there's way more meat in "Milk" that just Sean Penn for nominations.



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