8 Dead Celebrities Brought Back to Life to Sell Stuff

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over the years, several companies have raised celebrities from the dead in order to hawk their products—with varying levels of success.

The trend started in 1991, when Elton John co-starred with Humphrey Bogart, Louis Armstrong, and James Cagney in a Diet Coke spot. This was the first instance of deceased celebrities being completely recreated digitally, rather than simply splicing existing footage into a film.

The commercial was so successful that a second one was made featuring Paula Abdul (during her initial, pre-American Idol round of stardom) alongside Cary Grant, Groucho Marx, and Gene Kelly.

Coors found similar success using John Wayne in a series of spots beginning in 1997. The producers cheated a bit in these ads, though; quite often the only part of the Duke that was digitalized was his face, which was then superimposed onto the body of famed John Wayne impersonator Ermal Walden Williamson, who provided all the "action."

Though some companies found success with the practice of resurrecting deceased celebs, they weren't all winners. One campaign that backfired was a series of commercials featuring legendary hoofer Fred Astaire "dancing" with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.

When the first spot—filmed with the blessing of Astaire's widow, Robin—originally aired during Super Bowl XXXI, it was a critical favorite. But once the commercials hit the airwaves in regular rotation, hardcore MGM musical fans thought replacing Ginger Rogers with a household appliance was disrespectful, and their revulsion was reflected in the company's quarterly sales report. The spots were quietly removed from circulation.