At the risk of stating the obvious, celebrities differ from us work-a-day folk in a variety of ways. I mean sure, they also walk to the convenience store in their sweatpants when they have a sudden craving for Doritos at 12 am, but that doesn’t come without the added bonus of being on the front page of the National Enquirer’s “Shocking Photos of Celebs Without Their Makeup” edition. Most of the time it almost seems as if they live in an entirely different world, one made up of screening phone calls for stalkers and 15 million dollar riverside mansions rather than scraping leftover macaroni and cheese off of dinner plates and dreading the arrival of the water bill every month.
Due to said differences, it’s also hard to remember that, because they’re also human beings, celebrities occasionally have to endure sickness, age, and death just like we do. In the cases of some well-known actors, death took them in its vice grip right when they were doing what was supposed to make them eternal; performing. In that moment, they were as vulnerable as the rest of us. So without further ado, from sudden heart attacks to ill fated stunts, here are 11 actors who tragically lost their lives on set.
11. Jon-Erik Hexum – Blast Impact Of Empty Gun Killed Actor
Jon Erik-Hexum was most definitely a dreamboat. His classic good looks and charisma made him a successful male model and small screen star. The true tragedy of his death was that it was originally intended as a mildly funny joke. While on the set of the 1984 series Cover Up, Hexum became restless during a delay in filming and put a magnum .44 pistol loaded with blanks to his temple, pulling the trigger while saying “Can you believe this crap?” According to reports, the blast of the impact was so strong that it fractured his skull and propelled a “bone fragment the size of a quarter into his brain,” causing massive internal bleeding. Despite emergency surgery, Hexum remained unconscious and was declared brain dead on October 18, 1984.
10. Brandon Lee – Fake Gunfire Leads To Death
Although at the time of his death he was on the cusp of sharing his father’s success, being the son of Bruce Lee did not make Brandon Lee indestructible. While shooting a scene for Alex Proyas’ 1993 film The Crow, Lee was required to walk through a doorway carrying a grocery bag while actor Michael Massee fired blank rounds at him from approximately 15 feet away. Lee activated a toggle switch underneath the bag to set off a “squib”; a device often used to simulate gunfire. He was then hit in the abdomen by a projectile, which lodged itself in his body. He died later that day at the age of 28.
9. Tyrone Power – Suffered A Massive Heart Attack
Tyrone Power dominated Hollywood’s golden era. His hands and feet were placed in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on May 31 1937, a mere six months after his breakout performance in Lloyd’s of London. From 1939 to 1941, he was aptly nicknamed “King of the Movies” by compiling an impressive and versatile resume of dramas, westerns, comedies, and even musicals. In November of 1958, he suffered a massive heart attack while filming a dueling scene for the epic Solomon and Sheba. He passed away before he reached the hospital.
8. Martha Mansfield – Passerby Tossed Cigarette Into Her Car
Martha Mansfield simultaneously stole the vaudeville stage and appeared in successful silent films including The Perfect Lover (1919), Civilian Clothes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), and The Silent Command (1923). On November 29, 1923, while shooting The Warrens of Virginia, Mansfield was sitting in a car between takes when a passerby carelessly tossed a match through the window after lighting a cigarette. Her costume, a Civil War-era dress, ignited immediately and she sustained severe burns on various parts of her body. She was rushed to the hospital, but died of her injuries twenty-four hours later.
7. John Ritter – Heart Attack
John Ritter is best remembered as Jack Tripper on the hit series Three’s Company (1977-1984). He also made several guest appearances on M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Scrubs. One of his other prominent roles was the overprotective but extremely loving Paul Hennessy in the early 2000s sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. While rehearsing a scene for the show on September 11, 2003, Ritter began vomiting and complaining of chest pains. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a heart attack, but his condition worsened. He was then diagnosed with an aortic dissection, and subsequently died during surgery to repair it. Ritter was just six days away from his 55th birthday.
6. Vic Morrow – Helicopter Pyrotechnics Explosion
Vic Morrow is primarily recognized as Sergeant “Chip” Saunders in the World War II drama series Combat! (1962-167). He also appeared in numerous other films and shows like The Evil Touch (1973), Dirty Mary, Crazy Lady, The California Kid, (1974), The Bad News Bears (1976), and Charlie’s Angels (1978-1980). While on set for Twilight Zone: The Movie in July 1982, Morrow, along with child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were filming a scene in which their characters attempt to escape a U.S. Army helicopter. The helicopter’s pyrotechnics suddenly exploded, causing it to crash on top of them. All three were killed instantly.
5. Roy Kinnear – Fell Off Horse, Then Had A Heart Attack
According to Wikipedia, Roy Kinnear was a British character actor known for his performances on various British comedy shows, as well as playing Veruca Salt’s father in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and as Planchet in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) along with its two sequels The Four Musketeers (1974) and The Return of the Musketeers (1989). While filming The Return of the Musketeers in Toledo, Spain, Kinnear fell from a horse and suffered a broken pelvis and internal bleeding. He was hospitalized in Madrid, but passed away the following day from a heart attack caused by his injuries.
4. Jean Harlow – Kidney Failure
Jean Harlow was one of the most talented and sexiest actresses of the 1930s. One of MGM’s top leading ladies, she starred in several critically acclaimed films including Red Dust (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Reckless (1935), and Suzy (1936). While filming the 1937 film Saratoga opposite Clark Gable, Harlow began to complain of fatigue, nausea, water weight, and abdominal pain. While shooting a scene in which her character had a fever, Harlow was clearly feeling much worse than her character and asked Gable to take her back to her dressing room in between takes. Several days later, it was discovered by Dr. Leland Chapman that she was in the end stages of kidney failure and was hospitalized. She slipped into a coma and died on June 7, 1937 at just 26 years old.
3. Redd Foxx – Heart Attack
Born Jon Elroy Sanford, Redd Foxx became a household name due to his off-colour stand up comedy routines throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. His series of comedy albums quickly became cult classics, and he is credited as one of the first black comedians to perform for a white audience on the Las Vegas Strip. His career also included starring roles in the sitcoms Sanford and Son (1980-1981) and The Royal Family (1991-1992). While taking a break from The Royal Family rehearsals on October 11 1991, Foxx collapsed from a heart attack and repeatedly begged co-star Della Reese to get his wife. He died in the hospital that evening at age 68.
2. Eric Fleming – Eaten By Piranhas
After appearing in several Broadway shows and a few low-budget films, Eric Fleming gained notoriety as trail boss Gil Favor in the 1958 CBS series Rawhide. While filming a scene in the waters of Peru for the film High Jungle in September 1966, the dugout canoe Fleming was in overturned and he and co-star Nico Minardos were thrown into the Huallaga River. While Minardos managed to swim to safety, Fleming was carried away by the current and drowned. Although he requested in his will that his body be donated to medical science, the search team who discovered it allegedly reported that it was eaten by piranhas.
1. Oliver Reed – Died Following Drinking Game
Oliver Reed was often recognized for his uber-macho roles in films like The Trap (1966), Oliver! (1968), Women in Love (1969), Hannibal Brooks (1969), The Devils (1971), The Three Musketeers (1973), Tommy (1975), Lion of the Desert (1981), and Castaway (1986). Unfortunately, he was perhaps even better known for his raging alcoholism and excessive binge drinking. During a break from filming the 2000 film Gladiator on May 2 1999, Reed entered a bar in Valletta, Malta, where he allegedly got caught up in a drinking game. In between drinks, he was stricken with a heart attack and fell out of his chair. He died on the way to the hospital at age 61.