Given that we’re about to enter the season during which everybody debates whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, I thought I’d use it as an opportunity share one of the favorite facts I learned about recently: It turns out that a 70-plus Frank Sinatra was originally offered the role of John McClane.
I figure since I had never heard the story, other fans of the movie may not have been aware either. So here’s what happened.
As told in the Netflix show The Movies That Made Us, the early origins of Die Hard date back to a 1968 Sinatra film called The Detective. The movie ended up being such a big hit that Sinatra tried to convince Roderick Thorp, the author of the novel on which it was based, to write a sequel to it. But the author didn’t get around to releasing one for another decade.
When it was finally released, Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever ended up depicting a now retired NYPD detective visiting his daughter’s office building for a Christmas Eve party, when a group of terrorists take over, and he manages to hide from them and kill them off one by one. The studio sat on the idea of adapting it until the late 1980s. But once the movie was finally green lit and it was time to cast, there was a snag.
“They were legally obligated to offer the part to Sinatra first,” screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, recalls in the Netflix documentary. At the time, Sinatra was in his early 70s and so fortunately for everybody involved in the project, declined. De Souza joked that, “otherwise the chases in the building would have been on Rascal scooters.”
Producers offered the role to a number of more conventional leading men (Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Gere) before ending up with Bruce Willis.
But it does leave us to reflect on what could have been were an aging Ol’ Blue Eyes to have starred. I suppose he could have belted out some Christmas tunes while gunning down terrorists and settled all debates from here to eternity.