David Emge, who portrayed Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews in George Romero’s runaway zombie hit “Dawn of the Dead,” has passed away at 77, according to an online obituary.
The actor died peacefully on Saturday, January 20th at West River Health Campus in Evansville, Indiana where attentive staff earned the adoration of his family for giving Emge a quality of life in his final days.
Before making his way to Hollywood, Emge served honorably in the Vietnam War, a culmination of his Eagle Scout upbringing at Sacred Heart in Evansville. Following his draft, he returned home to study drama at the University of Evansville and later pursued small roles in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. before making his way to New York City in 1976. There, Emge worked nights as a chef while earning praise from Romero, who cast him as Stephen in his 1978 horror epic about a mysterious plague that devastates the U.S. and reanimates the dead into flesh-eating zombies.
Shot in Pittsburgh, “Dawn of the Dead” focuses on Andrews, a local traffic reporter who schemes to steal the station’s helicopter to escape the overrun television studio. The couple befriend two disillusioned police officers and take shelter in an abandoned mall before a dispute with a gang of bikers causes the stronghold to collapse. Injured and eventually bitten, Emge’s character becomes a zombie while his girlfriend and one of the officers escape amid a loss of emergency radio transmissions, suggesting the government has been undone.
— Gaylen Ross (@gaylenrs) January 22, 2024
Rest In Peace David Emge, who played Stephen Andrews in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. pic.twitter.com/4jrY4mkzW0
— Will (@HHNDawg) January 22, 2024
Despite garnering an X rating from motion picture regulators at the height of cinema’s “moral panic” era, “Dawn of the Dead” grossed $66 million nationally on a $680,000 budget, catapulting Romero, Emge, and the movie’s entire cast into overnight fame. The film proved to be the most successful of the “Dead” series and allowed Emge to leverage his visibility into other notable movies like 1990’s “Basket Case 2” and 1992’s “Hellmaster.”
Speaking about his time filming “Dawn of the Dead” in Pittsburg, Emge said the production was unforgettable.
“I loved that movie,” Emge said in a 1979 interview with The Burlington Free Press, according to Entertainment Weekly and the Daily Caller. “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.”
Emge is survived by Sue (Bob) Berry, Kathleen (Bob) Wittgen, and Barbara (Allen) Rexing, as well as many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.