Being an actor isn’t all Hollywood glitz and glam. In fact, sometimes it can be downright dangerous. Take these 12 Hollywood stars, for example. They all have one morbid thing in common: They died from incidents that occurred while on the set of the show or movie they were filming.
While there are some celebrity deaths that are hoaxes and plenty of famous actors — like Heath Ledger — who died before finishing a project, not all of them died from something on set. Some of these deaths were the result of natural causes, while other stars met a more gruesome end.
Here’s a look at 12 actors whose lives ended before they finished filming their projects.
1. Vic Morrow
During the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, Morrow was killed on set in July 1982, along with two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Chen, says How Stuff Works. The Twilight Zone script called for the use of both a helicopter and pyrotechnics, a deadly combination in this case.
During a scene in which Morrow was being attacked by American soldiers in Vietnam, the pyrotechnics exploded, severing the helicopter’s tail, which caused it to crash, decapitating Morrow and killing the two child actors, per Ranker.
Later, it came out that the children who died were going to be paid illegally under the table. Allegedly, the director was trying to avoid California’s laws against kids working at night, as well as working around the potentially dangerous combination of a helicopter and pyrotechnics, per How Stuff Works. In fact, director John Landis and four others were later charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter due to the illegal hiring of the children. According to Ranker, the jury decided Landis wasn’t expecting the scene to be dangerous and found the defendants not guilty.
Twilight Zone: The Movie continued on, and the movie was released in June 1983, performing poorly at the box office.
2. Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed on March 31, 1993, in a stunt accident on the set of The Crow. “Lee’s character was supposed to get shot in a scene, but the handgun used contained a fragment of a real bullet,” writes Ranker.
During filming, Lee was walking through a doorway carrying a grocery bag as another actor fired blanks at him from 15 feet away, per the Los Angeles Times. At that moment, Lee activated a toggle switch underneath the grocery bag and set off the small charge, called a squib, which is commonly used on movie sets to simulate gunfire effects. Lee was hit in the abdomen by a projectile, and died later that day at the age of 28.
Director Alex Proyas used a double and some special effects in order to complete the movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Crow tells the story of a rock musician, Eric Draven, who is granted life and power by a mysterious crow. Draven uses his abilities to hunt and kill the men that murdered him and his fiancée.
3. John Ritter
John Ritter collapsed while on the set of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter on September 11, 2003. Ritter had become ill while working on the ABC series and ended up collapsing on set. He was rushed to the hospital where he underwent surgery for a tear in his aorta, a rare medical condition that can hit without warning, writes Fox News.
Ritter was well-known for his many works in television and on film, particularly for his role as Jack Tripper in Three’s Company, according to Madame Noire.
4. Tyrone Power
While filming Solomon and Sheba, Tyrone Power suffered a massive heart attack on set during a fencing scene. He died on the way to the hospital on March 15, 1958, according to Ranker.
Power first rose to popularity in 1936 with Lloyds of London, according to About. Solomon and Sheba was a series about King David’s younger son, Solomon, who he named his heir rather than his older son, Prince Adonijah.
5. Redd Foxx
In 1991 while filming on the set of The Royal Family (co-starring Della Reese), Foxx died of a massive heart attack. Ironically, he had become famous for grabbing his chest and calling out to his dead television wife, Elizabeth, while he pretended to have a heart attack on the ‘70s show, Sanford and Son, per Madame Noire.
Foxx was 68 years old at the time of his death.
6. Roy Kinnear
While in Toledo, Spain, filming the movie The Return of the Musketeers, Kinnear fell from a horse. The 54-year-old British actor sustained a broken pelvis and was taken to a hospital in Madrid. The following day, September 20, 1988, Kinnear died from a heart attack, writes Oddee.
Kinnear “played the role of Planchet, the servant of the Musketeer d’Artagnan, a role he created in the Richard Lester hit The Three Musketeers in 1974,” according to The New York Times. The director, Richard Lester, was deeply affected by Kinnear’s death and shortly after quit his own film career, per Oddee.
7. Martha Mansfield
While filming The Warrens of Virginia, the silent-film star was sitting in a car taking a break between takes. In what can only be described as a freak accident, a passerby lit a cigarette and accidentally flicked the match into the automobile. The match landed on Martha Mansfield’s costume, which was a giant and highly flammable Civil War-era dress. The dress went up in flames, per Death and Taxes. Mansfield died in the hospital the next day (November 30, 1923) from severe burns.
8. Steve Irwin
Known as an Australian adventurer and animal advocate, the “Crocodile Hunter” was stung and killed by a stingray on September 4, 2006, while filming Ocean’s Deadliest, an underwater documentary.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Irwin and his cameraman, Justin Lyons, were in chest-deep water near Queensland, Australia. The pair came across an 8-foot-wide stingray; after filming the stingray for a while, it ended up attacking Irwin. “It started stabbing wildly with its tail,” Lyons told the Los Angeles Times, “hundreds of strikes within a few seconds.”
Despite the crew’s efforts to save him, Irwin died before they could get him help. In Lyons’ interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said Irwin’s last words were “I’m dying.”
9. Paul Mantz
Mantz was a legendary aviator who lost his spot at the U.S. Army Flight School after buzzing over a train filled with high-ranking officers in an effort to show off his skills.
Later, he landed a role in Air Mail, where he flew a biplane through a hangar that wasn’t much bigger than his aircraft. Mantz then appeared in several other films, such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, Twelve O’Clock High, and The Wings of Eagles.
The daredevil died on July 8, 1965 while performing a stunt for The Flight of the Phoenix — a movie he came out of retirement to film, according to How Stuff Works. Mantz was flying over a desert in Arizona when his plane struck a hill and broke into pieces, immediately killing the aviator. Most of the film had already been shot, so filmmakers substituted another plane for some remaining close-ups. The Flight of the Phoenix was released later that year.
10. Jon-Erik Hexum
An unintentional gunshot wound to the head on the set of the CBS adventure series Cover Up, killed Hexum in 1984, writes Access Atlanta. Hexum played Mac Harper, the Green Beret-turned-model in the TV show that delved into international mystery and fashion photography.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Hexum had been napping on October 12, 1984, during delays in filming. When he learned there would be more delays, he jokingly picked up a .44 Magnum pistol loaded with blanks, said “Can you believe this crap?” and pulled the trigger. The blast’s impact fractured his skull, which drove a bone fragment the size of a quarter into his brain, causing massive bleeding. He was rushed to the hospital where surgery was performed, however, he remained comatose and was pronounced brain dead on October 18, writes Entertainment Weekly.
Cover Up continued production with a new actor, but never made it past the first season.
11. Art Scholl
Much of the fancy flying you see in Top Gun is performed by skilled stuntmen. But even for experienced pilots, there’s always an inherent risk. Art Scholl was one such pilot. He died on set while attempting to execute a move with his plane known as a flat spin. Tragically, the camera equipment mounted on the plane added too much unexpected weight, causing it to spin out of control and crash into the ocean below.
Scholl, a seasoned flight instructor with his own aviation school, was 51 years old.
12. Bruce Lee
While Bruce Lee technically didn’t die from an incident that happened while filming, he still technically passed out during production, collapsing while dubbing for The Game of Death at Golden Harvest Studio in Hong Kong. He was sped away to a local hospital shortly after. Doctors there pointed toward abnormal swelling in the brain as the cause, eventually getting it under control enough to discharge him.
Two months later, Lee went to sleep and didn’t wake up, and was later pronounced dead.
Additional reporting by Nathanael Arnold and Nick Cannata-Bowman.
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