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David Emge, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Star, Dies at 77

David Emge, who played the helicopter pilot turned zombie Stephen in George A. Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead, has died. He was 77.

Emge’s family shared the news of his death with the Evansville Courier & Press, a newspaper in his Indiana hometown. He died Saturday at the West River Health Campus. A cause of death was not disclosed.

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In addition to Romero’s 1978 sequel to his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, Emge appeared in such other films as The Devil and Sam Silverstein (1976), The Liberation of Cherry Janowski (1976), Basket Case 2 (1990) and Hellmaster (1992).

In a documentary about the making of Dawn of the Dead, Emge recalled what was going through his head before filming began.

“Being the zombie was something that I could just like, grab onto,” he said. “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, ‘OK, 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.”

David Michael Emge was born in Evansville, Illinois, on Sept. 9, 1946, to Richard Andrew and Gertrude Mary Emge.

He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Evansville, where he studied drama. While in college, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served during the Vietnam War.

His post-schooling acting career began in 1971 onstage at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and he made his film debut in the comedy The Booby Hatch (1976). He began working as a chef at a restaurant in New York City that year before being cast as Stephen in Dawn of the Dead.

Survivors include his sisters, Sue, Kathleen and Barbara, and several nieces and nephews.

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