Original ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Actor David Emge Dies At 77


Mariane Angela Contributor
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David Emge passed away Saturday at the age of 77, according to his obituary.

Emge, known for his portrayal of Stephen in the 1978 cult hit “Dawn of the Dead,” died at the West River Health Campus in Evansville, Indiana, his obituary said. The specific cause of his death was not revealed to the public.

Before his foray into acting, Emge valiantly served in the Vietnam War, the obituary stated. His journey in the arts began at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, eventually leading him to New York City. It was during his stint as a chef that George Romero, the director of “Dawn of the Dead,” recognized his potential and cast him in the horror film.

The movie catapulted Emge into the limelight, Entertainment Weekly noted. Emge’s character skillfully navigates a zombie apocalypse, alongside co-stars Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger. The group finds refuge in a mall, creating a microcosm of society amidst the chaos. The film, noted for its blend of horror and satire, was shot in and around a Pittsburgh shopping mall. (RELATED: Legendary Actor Philip Baker Hall Dies At 90)

“I loved that movie,” Emge said in a 1979 interview with The Burlington Free Press, according to Entertainment Weekly. “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.”

Beyond “Dawn of the Dead,” Emge appeared in films like the 1976 comedy “The Booby Hatch” and the 1990 sequel, “Basket Case 2.” But his portrayal of Stephen remained his most iconic role, influencing generations of filmmakers and horror fans, according to Entertainment Weekly. Simon Pegg, actor and co-writer of the 2004 horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” credits Emge’s zombified character as an early inspiration, as he detailed in his 2011 memoir “Nerd Do Well,” according to ScreenRant.