This year, Emmy voters paid respects to Anthony Bourdain, who committed suicide on June 8, with six nominations for his CNN series “Parts Unknown,” and another for its digital expansion. But whether these accolades end up in the win column as well remains to be seen. If history is any judge, the Academy delivers a mixed bag on posthumous trophies, with sentimentality playing an uneven role.
“The Emmys are quirky,” says awards consultant Jonathan Taylor of Robertson Taylor Partners. “With peak TV there [are] so many shows that anybody who says they know how voters are going to vote is lying.”
Ingrid Bergman won her Emmy for “A Woman Called Golda” in 1982, a month after she died of breast cancer. Audrey Hepburn earned hers in 1993, several months after her death, for “Gardens of the World.” Raul Julia died in 1994, but earned a trophy the next year for “The Burning Season.”
Diana Hyland, nominated posthumously for her role in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” was crowned the winner at the 29th annual ceremony in September 1977, just months after she died from breast cancer in March of the same year. Her co-star and boyfriend John Travolta accepted the award on her behalf, delivering one of the more emotional moments in Emmy history as he teared up and said, “Wherever you are, Diana, I love you and we did it, baby.”
“Bewitched” also saw two posthumous performance winners in Alice Pearce, who took home the supporting comedy actress trophy just two months after passing away in 1966, and after her first nomination ever, and Marion Lorne, who won in the same category in 1968. Admittedly Lorne’s death was something of a surprise (she had a heart attack and died just 10 days before the ceremony) and ballots had already been cast by the time voters learned of her passing, though, so her award was not intentionally given posthumously.
But the majority of actors nominated posthumously — including Will Geer, who was in contention in three separate categories for three separate shows at the 30th annual Emmys in 1978; Jim Davis and Richard Burton, who received their only Emmy noms respectively in 1981 and 1985; Nancy Marchand (nommed in 2000); and Ossie Davis (nommed in 2005) — were celebrated on the nomination-round ballot, but not the winning one.
Danny Thomas, who was nominated in 1991 for his guest role on “Empty Nest” did not win that posthumous award either, but more than a decade later received the Bob Hope Humanitarian award in 2004.
TV favorite Phil Hartman grabbed a nom for “NewsRadio” after his death in 1998. Similarly, voters honored John Ritter with a nom for “8 Simple Rules” a year after his death in 2003. Farrah Fawcett earned her fourth Emmy nod in 2009 for “Farrah’s Story.” After three actress noms, this was her first time in the nonfiction category for co-producing the special that documented her battle with cancer. She died from the disease just three weeks before the noms were unveiled, but didn’t end up winning the trophy. Kathryn Joosten of “Desperate Housewives” landed a posthumous nom for supporting comedy actress in 2012, marking her fourth overall, but didn’t come out victorious either.
And just last year Carrie Fisher, who passed away in December 2016, scored a nom for her guest role on Amazon’s “Catastrophe.” Despite being in the awards conversation in more than one area, thanks to HBO’s docu “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” and coming off the global blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” she didn’t pull out the win.
So where do odds for Bourdain fall? With 20 noms and four wins overall, his track record is solid on its own, as is the show itself, and voters may want to send a message about the cultural diversity Bourdain embraced and espoused in the series by giving “Parts Unknown” the trophy.
“I think there’s a certain amount [of sentimentality], but I think there’s other forces at play. It’s a good show — it may win on just merit,” Taylor says.
But Taylor doesn’t want to discount the importance simply of being nominated either. “[That] really is an honor. It’s really hard to win, especially in this environment of peak TV,” he adds.