Wood's popularity waned soon after his biggest "name" star, Béla Lugosi, died. He was able to salvage a saleable feature from Lugosi's last moments on film, but his career declined thereafter. Toward the end of his life, Wood made pornographic movies and wrote pulp crime, horror, and sex novels. His posthumous fame began two years after his death, when he was awarded a Golden Turkey Award as Worst Director of All Time. The lack of conventional filmmaking ability in his work has earned Wood and his films a considerable cult following.
Following the publication of Rudolph Grey's biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992), Wood's life and work have undergone a public rehabilitation of sorts, with new light shed on his evident zeal and honest love of movies and movie production. Tim Burton's biopic of the director's life, Ed Wood, earned two Academy Awards.
Later years and death
Wood had serious financial difficulties in his final years, often producing full movie scripts for as little as $100 in order to make ends meet. His career as a director had degenerated into making pornographic films such as Necromania (1971) and Take It Out in Trade, a softcore take on the Philip Marlowe detective films. Wood also made occasional appearances as an actor, appearing in two films produced by a Marine buddy, Joseph F. Robertson. Love Feast (1969), also known as Pretty Models All in a Row, was his first lead role in a film since 1953's Glen or Glenda, as a photographer using his position to engage in sexual antics with professional models. He had a smaller role in Robertson's ode to swinger parties, Mrs. Stone's Thing. Wood appeared as a transvestite who spends his time at a party trying on lingerie in a bedroom. In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, Robertson makes a reference to Wood reappearing in a film called Misty, of which no other record remains.
His primary film work in the 1970s was working with friend Stephen C. Apostolof, usually cowriting scripts, but also serving as an assistant director and associate producer. His last known on-screen appearance was in Apostolof's Fugitive Girls (aka Five Loose Women), where he played a dual cameo as a gas station attendant called Pops and as the sheriff on the women's trail.
Wood's depression worsened, and with it a serious drinking problem. Evicted from his Hollywood apartment on Yucca Street, Wood and his wife moved into the North Hollywood apartment of friend Peter Coe. On December 10, 1978, only days after the move, the 54-year old Edward D. Wood died of a heart attack while watching a football game alone in Coe's bedroom. In Nightmare of Ecstasy, it was reported Wood yelled out "Kathy, I can't breathe!", a plea his wife in the living room ignored for 90 minutes before finally going in to find him dead; apparently, he frequently feigned heart attacks and screamed for help as a way of teasing her, and at one point she even shouted at him to shut up. When he passed, Kathy herself publicly said "The world has lost a great writer."
Wood was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea. Edward Wood Jr's wife Kathy died on June 26, 2006, having never remarried.