The 1987 animated movie of GI Joe was originally supposed to have featured the death of iconic character Sgt. Duke Hauser, assassinated by the Cobra Emperor Serpentor in a moment of spite. This was altered at the last minute, so that Duke went into a coma instead. Even the original script still had dialogue that killed Duke off, and the reaction of the other Joes as he lays fallen is clearly one of grieving, not worry.
Why the death was altered
In the mid-1980's, two teams from Marvel/Sunbow productions were assigned to create feature-length films from the animated series based on Hasbro properties The Transformers and GI Joe : A Real American Hero. The two crews engaged in a friendly competition and kept an eye on each other's work. When the Transformers team learned that the GI Joe team planned to kill of Duke, one of the most prominent Joe leaders, they felt challenged to engage in a bold move of their own. When Transformers The Movie came out in 1986, Autobot Commander Optimus Prime was slain by his enemy, Megatron. This death, combined with the replacement of Optimus by a character only first introduced in the movie, was not well received and plans were immediately undertaken to resurrect Optimus in the animated series' new season. This backlash did not go unnoticed by either Hasbro or the GI Joe film team. The theatrical release of GI Joe was shelved in favor of a direct to video release, and to avoid further backlash, Duke's death, already animated, was redubbed to say that he fell into a coma, which another dub at film's end said he had awoken from. Ironically, this did not go over well, either.
Some fans say that a problem here was that, while Optimus Prime roughly defines the Transformer franchise, this is not the case with Duke and GI Joe. While a well-liked character and iconically named for classic movie tough-guy John Wayne, he was one of many leaders on the team, all capable of going on without him. The unthinkable for Prime was a gutsy move chickened out from for Duke. Since both series had been critcized for showing violence but not the real-world results, this seemed to feed the worst views of both. The connections between the two movies, meant to spur creativity, only proved to be something that kept tripping them up.
Perhaps learning the lessons of their animated ancestors, both live-action versions of these franchises killed off Duke for real, and killed Optimus yet brought him back in the same film.
The Original Dialogue Audio
It is not known if audio dubs based on the original script even exist in the English language version, though Scarlett is heard to say that Duke is dead in the Japanese version, at least. It is not known if these lines were even spoken, and if so, whether they were erased, recorded over, or placed in storage or even given to a member of the film crew. To date, no video release of the film has included anything other than the original shooting script. Ironically, for this embodiment of a costly moment for two popular franchises, it is simply not known if it ever existed, if it still exists, or where it might be now.
- Michael Bell, Duke's voice actor (and a very prolific one at that) was already no stranger to an edited death scene. In 1984, when World Events Productions was re-editing the Japanese series Go Lion into the Lion Voltron, Bell voiced the character of original Blue Lion pilot Sven. In the original Go Lion, Shirogane, Sven's counterpart, met his end at the hands of the old witch Honerva/Hagar. Since Voltron restricted all direct mention of death, Sven was able to be taken to a doctor, though the Princess Fala/Allura still took over his position. In a late-season original animation unique to Voltron, Sven got to fly Blue Lion one last time (his return enabled by animation of Shirogane's younger brother). Unlike this example with Duke, both versions of the scene are readily available, both on DVD and the internet.