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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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December 2nd, 2013
06:01 PM ET

How Hollywood handles the death of a star

(CNN) - It is the kind of plot twist no one wants to believe: A star pulled from the story far too soon.

As the reality of actor Paul Walker's death settles over Hollywood, questions surrounding his fictional fate begin.

Walker was best known for his work in the billion-dollar "Fast and Furious" franchise. He was killed in a car crash Saturday, just one day before filming was set to resume after a Thanksgiving break.

"Right now we're in a limbo period where (movie studio) Universal needs to decide what to do, and how to put the pieces together now that they've lost one of their stars," said Ramin Setoodeh, film editor with Variety.

For now, production has been postponed. But as they say in show business, the show must go on – the question is how?

"We've seen situations where cast members die, and studios have to resort to doing things like going into CGI, and using special effects," said Setoodeh. "They're going to have to figure out a respectful way to explain his character's absence."

Actor Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded an Oscar for his role in "The Dark Knight," which hit theaters just six months after the actor's sudden death.

But when Ledger accidentally overdosed in 2008, his next film "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" was still in production.

To complete it, three of Ledger's contemporaries – actors Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law – stepped in to creatively depict his character.

With so much money at stake, it's not surprising that studios strive to complete productions.

Actor Oliver Reed's character in "Gladiator" was originally intended to survive the blockbuster's gory plot. However, when the actor suffered a heart attack before his final scenes, producers used a body double to reflect his character's demise.

"It's not easy to just stop production on a film if a star dies in the middle of a film, because you've already invested in a crew, you've already invested in scripts, in the budget – you have millions of dollars invested into a film, so you can't just pull back and say, 'We're not going to do the movie anymore,'" said Setoodeh.

The unfortunate and often sudden need for plot changes happen with the big screen and on television.

When "Glee" actor Corey Monteith died in July at age 31, a tribute episode captured the fresh emotion of his still-grieving cast mates, including real life love, actress Lea Michele.

As Walker's fans mourn, the destroyed red Porsche at the crash scene is reminiscent of another involving an actor gone too early.

James Dean, most famous for his leading role in "Rebel Without a Cause," was killed in his silver Porsche in 1955, just one day after wrapping the movie "Giant."

On his verified Twitter account, Walker described himself as an "Outdoorsman, ocean addict, adrenaline junkie" who does "some acting on the side."

He leaves behind a 15-year-old daughter.

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