15 Musicians, Entertainers, and Actors Who Died at Work
When people shell out good money to see a show, they don’t expect to witness the star’s demise. Unfortunately, several entertainers have passed away in front of their fans. Some performers may even be better known for the way they died than how they lived.
1. Rock singer Les Harvey
A lesser-known member of the “27 Club,” guitarist Les Harvey was in the Scottish rock group, Stone The Crows. Led by Maggie Bell, the band was on the verge of global success when tragedy struck in the form of an ungrounded microphone. On May 2, 1972, Stone The Crows was doing a soundcheck at a ballroom in Swansea, Wales when the guitarist gripped a mic stand and suffered a deadly shock.
Next: Death by deranged fan
2. Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott
When he was 14, Darrell Abbot won a Texas talent show. Eventually, he won so many local contests, he was asked to stop entering. By the time Abbot was 16, he’d recorded his first album with metal band Pantera. In 2003, Abbott left Pantera and created a new band, Damageplan.
On December 8, 2004, Damageplan was 30 seconds into a set at a Columbus, Ohio nightclub when disgruntled Pantera fan Nathan Gale charged the stage with a loaded handgun and started firing. According to Rolling Stone, Gale killed security guard Jeffrey Thompson, club employee Erin Halk, a fan named Nathan Bray, and Abbott, who died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.
Next: No time for an encore
3. Country Dick Montana
Born Daniel Monte McLain on May 11, 1955, the musician got his big break when his band, The Penetrators, opened for the Ramones in 1978. After breaking up the band in 1984, McLain changed his name to Country Dick Montana and created The Beat Farmers. One of the preeminent bar bands in the world, the Beat Farmers delivered eight albums of “American cowpunk” to a select albeit enthusiastic public.
Sadly, the band’s last gig occurred in 1995 at a saloon in Whistler, British Columbia. During the song, “The Girl I Almost Married,” Montana collapsed and died of a heart attack. Country Dick was 40 years old.
Next: Real-life death scene
4. Actor Brandon Lee
At five years old, Brandon Lee moved with his parents from Oakland, California to Hong Kong in 1970. When his father, martial artist Bruce Lee, passed away, the family returned to the U.S. After a brief time in acting school, Brandon made his TV debut in Kung Fu: The Movie in 1986.
Tragically, Brandon’s first major movie role was doomed. In 1994, while filming a death scene in The Crow, a faulty prop gun ejected a bullet shard that lodged near the 28-year-old’s spine. Despite medical efforts, Brandon — whose wedding to Eliza Hutton was set for April 17 — died on March 31, 1993. He is buried next to his father in Seattle.
Next: Death by jealous spouse
5. Musician Lee Morgan
The hard bop trumpeter was jamming with Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie before he even graduated from high school. Born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938, Edward “Lee” Morgan recorded many albums, including Blue Train with John Coltrane. Known for expressive lines and energetic playing, Morgan was killed by his wife, Helen, in 1972.
On a snowy evening in 1972, Morgan had a gig at a jazz club in Manhattan’s East Village. When his wife and girlfriend both showed up, trouble ensued. During his show, Helen approached the stage and fired a bullet into Morgan’s chest. The wound was not instantly fatal, but bad weather delayed rescue. The 33-year-old bled to death before an ambulance arrived.
Next: Death by stingray
6. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin
Born February 22, 1962, Steve Irwin was raised by naturalist parents at a reptile park near Brisbane, Australia. In addition to duties as director of Queensland Zoo, Irwin hosted a popular TV show, The Crocodile Hunter, with his wife, Terri. In 2006, Irwin was filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef. As he swam, he startled a bull stingray who stabbed him in the heart with its barbed tail. At 44 years old, the father of two was pronounced dead within an hour.
Next: Jammed to death
7. “Colonel” Bruce Hampton
Born on April 30, 1947, “Colonel” Bruce Hampton was a permanent fixture on the jam band scene. The day after his 70th birthday, he was onstage performing the extended jam classic, “Turn On Your Love Light,” in Atlanta. When Hampton dropped to his knees mid-song, the audience and bandmates thought he was kidding. The colonel died doing what he loved best: making music with his friends.
Next: Tiptoe through the tulips one last time.
8. Tiny Tim
Born on April 12, 1932, Herbert Khaury, aka Tiny Tim, was a ukulele-playing throwback to earlier times. Known for his falsetto voice and campy act, he appeared on many TV shows in the ’60s and ’70s, including The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1969, the 37-year-old married 17-year-old Victoria Budinger on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The live wedding was witnessed by 40 million viewers.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1996, Tiny Tim had a heart attack on stage at a Massachusetts ukulele festival. Two months later, he suffered another heart attack while singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on stage in Minnesota. This time, it was fatal. The offbeat singer was 64 years old.
Next: Leave ’em laughing.
9. Comedian Dick Shawn
Born in Buffalo, New York on December 1, 1923, Dick Shawn’s off-the-wall humor was regarded by many to be an acquired taste. In addition to his hilarious movie roles in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Producers, Shawn cracked up TV viewers who tuned into The Love Boat, Password, The Lucy Show, Three’s Company, and St. Elsewhere.
On April 17, 1987, Shawn collapsed mid-performance in San Diego. As he laid face down on the stage, the audience laughed, thinking it was part of his act. But the 63-year-old had died of a massive heart attack.
Next: The final flight
10. Aerialist Karl Wallenda
Prussian-born Karl Wallenda astounded audiences for decades before falling from a tightrope to his death in 1978. Airing on live TV, the aging “Flying Wallenda Family” patriarch traversed a high wire stretched between two ten-story buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Opinions vary as to what went wrong. Regardless, the 73-year-old lost his balance and fell more than 120 feet to the sidewalk below.
Next: Dancing to the death
11. Snake dancer Irma Bule
An expert dangdut singer, Irma Bule typically worked with non-poisonous pythons. But, on April 4, 2016, the singer used a supposedly defanged king cobra in her act, which took place in Karawang, Indonesia. During the second song, the mother of three accidentally stepped on the snake’s tail. Refusing on-the-spot treatment, Bule kept performing until she was overcome by seizures. The 29-year-old singer died en route to the hospital. Not all dangdut performers work with reptiles, but those who do earn more money, reports Time.
Next: Stratocaster master
12. Johnny “Guitar” Watson
Influenced by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and T-Bone Walker, Johnny “Guitar” Watson inspired many young musicians — like Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix — to pick up the guitar themselves. The master of the Stratocaster, Watson’s career spanned four decades before he passed away during a tour of Japan in 1996. Watson was 61 years old when he had a heart attack on a Yokohama stage.
Next: Banned by the BBC
13. Judge Dread
Not only was Judge Dread the first Caucasian to have a reggae hit in England, but he also boasted more BBC-banned songs than anyone else. Born Alexander Minto Hughes on May 2, 1945, Dread’s varied career included gigs as a bouncer, pro wrestler, bodyguard, and radio DJ. According to eyewitnesses at Canterbury’s Penny Theatre on March 13, 1998, Dread yelled, “Let’s hear it for the band!” before exiting the stage and dropping dead of a heart attack. Judge Dread was 52.
Next: Maybe she died of a broken heart.
14. Lillian Hardin Armstrong
Although she and Louis Armstrong divorced in 1938, they remained friends for life. In fact, she often performed under the moniker “Mrs. Louis Armstrong,” and he didn’t mind. In August 1971, just a few weeks after Louie’s funeral, the female jazz pioneer played at a televised memorial concert for her late ex-husband. In the middle of “St. Louis Blues,” she collapsed at the piano and never recovered. Lillian was 73 years old.
Next: Prop gun gone wrong
15. Illusionist Chung Ling Soo
Despite his Chinese moniker, Chung Ling Soo was actually named William Ellsworth Robinson. Born of Scottish descent in New York on April 2, 1861, Robinson began doing magic tricks with the family act at age 14. In 1900, he “borrowed” the act of a Chinese conjurer named Ching Ling Foo. Robinson began wearing Asian garb, grew a ponytail, adopted a new stage name, and invented an outlandish backstory about growing up in China.
He spoke English onstage only once — after a prop gun misfired during his final trick at a London theater on March 23, 1918. “Oh my god, lower the curtain!” the 56-year-old gasped before dying onstage.