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.
ACTORS NOMINATED FOR GAY ROLES
(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.)