With a heavy heart, we must report that Dawn of the Dead star David Emge has passed away at the age of 77.
Perhaps one of the most iconic zombies of all time, David’s reveal as Undead Stephen in the classic film has gone down in the annals of pop culture.
Not much is known about Emge’s early life, but we do know he served his country in Vietnam. Shortly after his service he began acting at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and was working as a chef in New York when he auditioned for Romero’s classic.
Emge’s character is vital to Dawn of the Dead, as it is Stephen’s ability to pilot a helicopter that enables a small group of survivors to find the iconic shopping mall and take shelter.
Of Dawn of the Dead, Emge had the following to say:
“”I loved that movie. It was filmed outside of Pittsburgh in a nine-week shooting schedule with two weeks off for Christmas. A cold spooky show…Half of it was shot inside the shopping mall. We worked from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and had free run of the place.”
Indeed, the Monroeville Mall is an impressive centrepiece, however, it is undoubtedly David’s eventual turn as an undead that sticks with most. His lumbering, contorted visage is what inspired Simon Pegg to create the classic horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead, after seeing it in 1980’s Encyclopaedia of Horror.
On being a zombie, David stated:
“Being the zombie was something that I could just like, grab onto. I sat there for weeks and weeks watching all of these people coming up with ‘their’ zombie. And I’m thinking, what am I gonna do? I had to come up with something that was distinctive enough, so I thought, okay, now, so what happens to this guy? He gets bit in the neck, he’s bit in the leg, he’s shot in the arm, so basically the zombie image came out of the wounds that he received.”
Despite a leading role in Dawn of the Dead, few other roles came Emge’s way. The actor stuck with the genre and had parts in 1991’s Basket Case 2 and 1993’s Hellmaster.
Quite a private person, Emge only participated in a handful of documentaries and horror conventions over the years. However, his impact on the zombie sub-genre remains undeniable.
David passed away on January 20th 2024, in his home town of Evansville, Indiana at the age of 77.
Fly high, Fly Boy.