The hardest thing to write about is death. It is hard not to let it get to you, and to readers we are sure that it can be hard to read about it as well. Regardless, the topic still fascinates us. It’s interesting that no matter how much death occurs in the world on a daily basis, it is usually a celebrity death that affects people the most. That celebrity could be local, national or international. It does not matter. We may read about genocide in some far off country, but until the television brings back images and stories of the individuals that died, many of us turn a blind eye. People seem to sympathize with celebrities, as they become attached to them, especially the celebrity’s loyal fans who might feel a stronger bond with them.
When the death is unexpected and comes too soon it becomes much harder. Many people say that a good death is one in which the person passes away doing what they loved the most. Logically it might not make a big difference to the person who died suddenly, but perhaps this is a comforting thought to the survivors. In the case of the deaths listed here, it might also be a comforting thought to the fans in attendance who witnessed the tragedy. Every death here was unexpected, a freak accident, or something that no one believed could happen. Each one occurred live in front of an audience, not in a rehearsal and not in a closed environment when a show was being recorded. Keep in mind that not every celebrity on this list is huge, many are local, but each celebrity listed had loyal fans who loved them when they were witnessing the tragedy.
15. Jane Dornacker: October 22, 1986
Apparently being a traffic reporter in the biggest city in the USA can be a dangerous job. The 40 year old traffic reporter had already survived a helicopter crash earlier that year when she managed to swim to safety. On this Autumn day, she was not so lucky. On the afternoon drive home, Jane was reporting on WNBC Radio as she usually did when out of nowhere, the radio listeners heard her scream ‘Hit the Water! Hit the Water!’.
There were two witnesses to the crash. They reported that the engine appeared to stop, and the helicopter started dropping in a ”tail dive”. The traffic reporter was found unconscious in the water when she was found by paramedics. Three and a half hours later she died in the hospital. The cause of death was drowning. The pilot was still alive, according to the NY Times article which appeared the following day.
14. Christine Chubbuck: July 15th, 1974
Forty-two years ago, the host of a television show called Suncoast Digest, which focused on local personalities and events, did the unthinkable during a live broadcast. The 29 year-old presenter, announced live on TV that: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, we bring you another first – an attempted suicide.” The Sarasota, Florida native immediately pulled a .38 caliber revolver from under her desk and shot herself in the head. Fifteen hours later, she died in a hospital.
Her brother Greg recently proclaimed that the tape of the incident is lost forever, as the family grabbed all copies after a court injunction. In her last act of desperation she did at least spare her grandparents the grief of watching. According to her brother, who was interviewed a few years back by People Magazine: “My grandparents lived across the street from my sister and she was extremely close to both of them. They watched every one of her shows, except my grandfather had an appointment with his doctor and he didn’t feel like driving so my grandmother drove him and they missed the only show they had ever missed my sister on – the show she killed herself. She knew they weren’t going to be watching that show.”
A few years back a couple of movies were created showcasing the journalist’s life and death. However her family was never interested in watching them as her brother openly stated: “Nobody wants to know who Christine Chubbuck was. They want to sensationalize what happened at the end of her life. A public suicide is not a source of joy for a family.”
13. Yoshiyuki Takada: September 30, 1985
Japan’s Sankai Juku dance company had garnered an international reputation for its stunning images of life and death. At the summer Olympics the previous year held in Los Angeles, the troupe had one of the most memorable displays with an outdoor presentation that suspended four dancers like spiders, headfirst, very high from the ground from a local pavilion. They instantly became a sensation touring everywhere in North America.
One can only cheat death so often and on September 30, 1985, tragedy finally struck. Yoshiyuki Takada, the 31 year old dancer, was hanging from his ankles, 80 feet from the ground from atop Seattle’s Mutual Life Building when the rope parted. A thousand onlookers watched, perhaps hoping that a last minute restraint would stop the fall. The dancer never looked frightened holding a perfect tuck position until impact, perhaps not realizing himself what had happened. Initially people thought it was a mannequin but of course, the death was real.
12. Les Harvey: May 3rd, 1972
It’s something you learn from a young age. Never touch an electric appliance when wet. Most of us get away with it time after time, because most of the time either we’re grounded to something or the appliance is, so we never even realize the danger. Leslie Harvey probably had the same thought pattern, and was unlucky enough to be one of the few musicians to pay the price for this mistake.
Leslie was performing in a concert at the Forever 27 club in Swansea, England. The rock band was just starting their set in front of a live audience when Leslie grabbed a cold bottle of beer. Immediately after just having wet his hands with the bottle, he grabbed the microphone and promptly received an electric shock that stopped his heart right then and there, dying instantly. Two other performers have been electrocuted, but he’s the only one in history to die from a microphone, and perhaps the only one to die from a single bottle of beer.
11. Ken Steadman: September 20, 1996
At the age of 27, the actor was finally starting to reach some level of stardom. One day he was guest starring in a relatively successful TV series called Sliders. The sci-fi adventure show lasted for five years (1995-2000). The show required a fair amount of stunt work, which the actor performed on his own. According to the LA Times, the Dune Buggy that the actor was driving overturned on a dry lake bed in Adelanto, California. The actor was flown to San Bernardino via helicopter where he died upon arrival. The passenger, himself an actor, survived. His name was never released.
10. Richard Versalle: January 5, 1996
Richard Versailles was the tenor for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. During a performance on January 5th, the opera singer had what may be called the most ironic of deaths. In his act he was standing on a ladder while singing the line: “Too bad you can live only so long.” The 63 year old immediately fell 10 feet from a sliding ladder, landed on his back and died. According to the NY Times, Opera officials initially reported that it was a heart attack, but in reality the cause of death was unknown. He was performing the premiere of The Makropulos Case, by Leos Janacek. The picture above shows the ladder that he fell off of, but it does not contain a picture of the tenor himself.
9. Owen Hart: May 23, 1999
It was at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, where many in North America realized that wrestling can be real after all. Owen was reprising an old gimmick, the Blue Blazer, a character that was a superhero spoof. As a superhero would do, he planned to make a grand entrance, flying in from above. But for some reason the wrestler fell from the rafters, where the secure rope that was supposed to help him down, just snapped. Seventy feet later his head landed on the turnbuckle. CPR could not revive him.
There were 18,000 people at the arena who witnessed this. Not one fan knew what was going on at the time. After all, the wrestler was known for his pranks. Perhaps this was just another one. The match was being broadcast via PPV, but at that moment a promo video was being aired, so no one in TV land saw the fall. The show went on as usual after the death, prompting one fan to tell the local newspaper the following: “I think it’s really messed up that they kept on with the show. They could’ve at least told us what was going on. We worry just like the other people worry.”
Owen himself had the following to say in an interview five months before his death: “When my contract is up, I’m out of wrestling. I’ve made plans. I’ve been smart with my fiscal affairs. Financially, I’ll be set. I really want to devote a lot of time to my family.” Sometimes life has other plans.
8. Renato Di Paolo: April 22, 2000
This man was not a professional actor, but a local in the tiny village of Camerata Nuova, 45 miles from Rome, Italy. One day before Easter the town held a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Renato played Judas. For those who do not know, Judas’ main claim to fame was to betray the saviour, thus allowing Jesus to be crucified by authorities. In remorse Judas hung himself. During the performance this man reenacted the hanging scene and he accidentally hung himself and died. According to a Reuters report, the young actor practiced the part safely the night before, but this time when he jumped off a rock about a foot off the ground, the noose tightened around his neck and asphyxiated him.
7. Entire Russian Theatrical Troupe: October 23-26, 2002
This a horrible reminder of what happens when Terrorists strike. On October 23, 2002, about 50 armed rebels claiming to be from the Chechen Army stormed into a Moscow Theater and held the 800 spectators hostage. At the time the musical “Nord Ost” was being performed. Chechnya, a Russian region with a predominantly Muslim population, had long struggled to assert its independence. The terrorists/rebels demanded that Russia withdraw all forces from Chechnya. During the standoff, two hostages were killed by the invaders. No government negotiates with terrorists, and Russia is no different. In the 57th hour Russian special forces surrounded and raided the theater and pumped a powerful narcotic gas that knocked almost all of the hostages and terrorists unconscious. A majority of the 800 hostages were saved, but 120 of them died, of which 17 were performers in the musical. Most of the rebels died.
6. Ty Longley: February 20th, 2003
Their hair was long and their music was loud, like all glam rock bands from the day. Great White reached their peak in 1989 with the album Twice Shy. Eventually like many musicians, they used this success to continue their careers as road warriors, playing show after show. For many bands from the 80s, the fog machine was the go-to stage prop. Unfortunately on February 20th, 2003, the fog machine became associated with something much worse, as the Station Night Club in West Warwick, Rhode Island, burned to the ground taking 100 lives along with it.
Just seconds after the band launched into their first song “Desert Moon,” pyrotechnics lit by their tour manager caused a fire to ignite toward the back of the stage. Jack Russell, the lead singer, seeing the flame behind him tried to douse it with water. Eventually the band just walked out of the night club through a fire exit thinking that the show would resume after firefighters put out the small fire. The club staff probably thought the same thing, as two of the four doors were sealed forcing all 420 fans to crowd around a couple of doors. Just 90 seconds later, panic finally struck as a rolling camera managed to catch several patrons stacked one atop the other under a black cloud of smoke trying to get out. They never did as the building just burnt to the ground leaving behind nothing but ashes.
In the aftermath, a guitarist from the band went missing. Initial reports said the missing guitarist was Kendall. Later it was discovered that guitarist Ty Longley was one of the dead, as he went back into the club to get his guitar. Many of the band members couldn’t function after the fire until they decided to tour for a couple of years to raise funds for the victims.
5. “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott: December 8th, 2004
Guitarist Darrell ”Dimebag” Abbott, formerly of the band Pantera, was performing for his new band DamagePlan in front of 250 people at the Al Rosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Out of nowhere a gunman jumped on stage, made a comment about Pantera and began firing at close range into Darrell’s body, shooting him several times. He then turned towards the crowd where he started firing shots at them with his semi-automatic Beretta 9mm handgun. A security guard tried to disarm the killer but got shot himself. The shooter managed to reload once. Police arrived quickly after receiving multiple 911 calls from scared patrons. When they arrived, the 25 year old shooter grabbed a hostage. As the hostage tried to wiggle his way out, one of the officers quickly saw an opening and fired, killing the gunman instantly. In the end five people died, including the 37 year old guitarist.
4. Franco Scoglio: October 3rd, 2005
The man on the right is Franco Scoglio, a TV Commentator and Italian Football Manager. The man on the left is chairman Enrico Preziosi of the Genoan football club. The commentator was conducting a phone interview with the chairperson live on TV. What happened next could have made the guy on the left feel a little like a heel. Franco was engaged in a heated discussion with Enrico when he suddenly passed out on his seat. Enrico, obviously unaware of what was going on as he was on the phone at the time, continued to argue and debate without realizing that there was no response. Meanwhile Franco died of a heart attack right in his seat on live TV.
3. Mitsuhara Misawa: June 13th, 2009
This is more proof that wrestling can be dangerous, which is why these athletes require a lot of practice before any move is staged live. Mitsuhara Misawa was not as well known in the western world but he was considered by many to be the greatest wrestler in the 90s. Hence a shock wave resonated everywhere, when at the age of 46, Mitsuhara Misawa died in the ring from a cervical spine injury while receiving a suplex from his opponent, Saito. Unlike Owen Hart, this was not some out of this world fancy move gone wrong. This move is performed hundreds of times around the world on a daily basis.
Misawa was teaming with Go Shiozaki against Saito and Bison Smith, on a live Pro Wrestling NOAH match in Hiroshima, Japan, when it happened. Unlike what the WWE did with Owen Hart, authorities immediately stopped the show at 8:45 pm while the wrestler was receiving CPR. The superstar had recently experienced back problems but never went to a doctor in order to see what was going on.
2. Sarah Guyard Guillot: June 29th, 2013
The Cirque Du Soleil, a modern Canadian Circus act, has made a reputation for making audiences believe that the impossible was possible. One of the troupe’s masterpieces is a show called Kà, which had been performed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for eight consecutive years before this fateful day. With a budget of $165 Million, this show was easily the most expensive live show ever created.
In the show’s climactic finale, a battle rages between the Forest People (representing good) and the Spearmen (representing evil). The performers enact this scene by leaping, twisting, flipping, and flying through the air held only by a rope and harness. The fight ends when the Forest People, at the bottom of the stage, throw the Spearmen, at the top of the stage, off the battlefield. As one, the Spearmen, fall upward. To the audience it appears as if the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had come to life before their eyes. This act is performed live twice a day, five times a week. One of the Spearmen, portrayed by 31 year old acrobat Sarah Guyard Guillot, fell to the ground, plummeting 90 feet when her safety rope was severed. She landed face first. The audience initially thought this was part of the act, but a few in the front rows heard her agonizing groans before she died. She left behind her husband and two children.
1. Singer Christina Grimmie: June 11th, 2016
In 2014, the singer made it to third place in the NBC show The Voice. Music Industry executives were so convinced about her star power that prior to the completion of the contest, she had received several offers that were not contingent on where she finished in the competition. She eventually signed with Island Records. After a performance at Plaza Live Orlando theater in Florida, the singer conducted a meet and greet with fans when Kevin James Loibl (aged 27) shot and killed the singer in front of her loyal followers. Her brother Marcus, tackled the killer. Instead of escaping, the murderer shot and killed himself. The young singer was only 22 years old. In the end, the killer’s friend confessed to police that Kevin was an obsessed fan who believed that he was meant to be together with the singer, and he had a plan that just might do the trick. Of course, no one knew what that plan was.
Her husband Bud Grimmie had a ”Giant Hole” in his heart nevertheless, maintaining his strength because: “God showed me that he’s way bigger than that hole,” said Bud. Adding: ”The three things that keep me walking upright — otherwise I would just be a crumpled-up mess in the corner — are that: I know I’m going to see her again … she’s way better off now, she’s more alive now that she’s ever been, she’s not going to be hurt anymore, and … this is where I’m wrestling … God’s plan is better than my plan.”