Many of us imagine the life of a celebrity to be all glitz and glamour. All we see are the fancy clothes, the red carpet premiers, the interviews, and all of the excesses that come with being world famous and wealthy beyond belief.
But there is another side to celebrity that none of us will ever have to deal with. A darker side filled with strange, scary, and even murderous people. Most of us will never have to face death simply because we’re famous, because we may have given an interview at one time and said something that somebody half a world away took great offense to – and then began plotting your death because of it. Most of us will thankfully never have to live inside that sort of fishbowl.
Though fame and celebrity comes with certain advantages – a lot of them – it also comes with tremendous pitfalls. Pitfalls that can even lead to somebody’s death at the hands of some deranged, freakishly obsessed and/or overly-zealous “fan.”
Though there have been many more, here are just ten celebrity murders that shocked the world…
10. Dr. Haing S. Ngor
Despite having zero acting experience, Ngor was cast to play Cambodian refugee and journalist Dith Pran in 1984’s The Killing Fields, a haunting and unforgettable look into the bloody and murderous rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge – a role for which Ngor, a trained surgeon and gynecologist in Cambodia, won an academy award for in 1985. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Ngor and his niece emigrated to the United States in 1980, but he was unable to resume his medical practice. In 1996, Ngor was shot and killed outside of his home in LA’s Chinatown by reputed members of the “Oriental Lazy Boyz” street gang. Though some claim it was a botched robbery, others claim it was a cold blooded murder carried out by remnants of the Pol Pot regime for Ngor’s exposure of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous practices.
9. Andres Escobar
People around the world take their soccer seriously. Heading into the 1994 World Cup, Columbia was fielding a powerful lineup and was expected to do very well. However, there were whispers that some of the powerful and brutal Columbian drug cartels were inserting themselves into the team, and were betting heavily on the Columbian footballers in anticipation of a huge payday. Unfortunately for them, Columbia fizzled out and defender Andreas Escobar’s blunder, putting in an own goal against the US, ousted them from the tournament. Several weeks later, Escobar was confronted by men outside of a club in his hometown of Medelin, and took six shots at close range, killing the soccer star. In what might be an apocryphal story, with each shot, the gunmen shouted “goooaaalll,” in the style of soccer announcers, an obvious reference to Escobar’s infamous own goal.
8. Bob Crane
Well known for his run on the hit 1960’s television show, Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was even more well known for something else – his sex addiction, and his penchant for filming his sexual encounters with sometimes, unwitting partners. In 1978 though, the former star upset the wrong person. Crane was found in his apartment, by his co-star at a dinner theater joint, with a cord tied around his neck and his head caved in by a never discovered blunt object – though police theorize it was a camera tripod. Symbolism anybody? Though Crane’s friend John Carpenter – not the director – was tried for the murder, he was eventually acquitted, Crane’s killer has never been found.
7. Sal Mineo
Best known for his work alongside legendary actor James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, actor Sal Mineo found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in February 1976. Returning home from the Westwood playhouse where he was rehearsing for his latest play, “PS Your Cat is Dead,” Mineo parked his car in the garage beneath the apartment he was renting and headed home. Outside of the garage though, Mineo was confronted by a man wielding a knife who fatally stabbed the 37-year old actor in the chest. The attacker fled and police were stumped as to the motive for the slaying – because Mineo’s wallet remained on him, the police ruled out a robbery and so attempted to link the murder to drugs and when that didn’t pan out, to the fact that Mineo was gay and engaged in some “unsavory” practices in his personal life.
However, a year and a half later, while sitting in jail in Michigan, Lionel Ray Williams opened his mouth and bragged about killing the actor. His fellow inmates immediately dropped the dime on him for which Williams – who really had been trying to rob Mineo – earned himself another 51-year sentence in 1979. Williams has since been released on parole.
6. Gianni Versace
Italian designer Versace was an absolute giant in his industry. His world famous fashion house, Versace S.p.A. produces clothing, fragrances, make-up, and home furnishings among other things. And Versace was well loved in Hollywood, being close friends with the likes of Madonna, Cher, Elton John, and even Princess Diana. In July 1997 though, after returning home from a walk, Andrew Cunanan walked up behind him and shot him twice in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Cunanan fled from police, but was tracked down eight days later, only to save the taxpayers some money by killing himself with the gun he’d used to kill the fashion icon. No motive has ever been discovered for why the 27-year old murdered Versace.
5. Marvin Gaye
Smooth, soulful singer Marvin Gaye was a legend and pioneer in the music industry, helping shape the sound of Motown in the 1960’s with hits like, “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” On April 1st, 1984 though, the music icon was seated on a bed talking to his mother after his parents had fought. Gaye’s father, Marvin Gay Sr., entered the room with a gun and shot his son twice in the chest, wounding him fatally – with a gun Marvin had given to his father as a Christmas present. Gaye was rushed to the California Hospital Medical Center, but was pronounced dead at 1:01 pm.
4. Phil Hartman
Phil Hartman hit the big time when he landed a spot on the roster of Saturday Night Live in 1986. He had a host of original characters that people loved, as well as a laundry list of celebrity impersonations that never failed to bring down the house. Unfortunately for Hartman though, he also had a reportedly stormy marriage with his wife, Brynn, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. It is believed that Hartman had told Brynn he was going to be leaving her when, drunk and high on the night of May 27th, 1998, Brynn Hartman fired three shots into her sleeping husband, in the head, neck and arm, killing him instantly. Hours later, after having gone to a friend’s house to sleep off her murderous bender, Brynn took her friend back to her home where they called police about the murder of Phil. After locking herself in the bedroom with her husband’s body, and engaging in a tense standoff with police, Brynn Hartman used another gun to kill herself.
3. Sharon Tate
So shocking was the murder of Sharon Tate, it’s still talked about today, 40 years later. After roles in Valley of the Dolls and The Fearless Vampire Killers, burgeoning star and Hollywood sex symbol, as well as being the wife of director Roman Polanski, Tate was flying high in Hollywood circles. However noted psycho Charles Manson, and his “family,” ended all of that with a murderous rampage that claimed the lives of several people in the most grim and grisly fashion possible. The Manson family used guns, knives, strangulation, and even bludgeoning to wreak havoc and death, according to some reports, trying to incite a race war – by viciously murdering the Hollywood socialites like actress Tate, who despite being eight months pregnant at the time, was stabbed to death by the Manson family.
In the early to mid 90’s Tejano singer Selena, was burning up the charts with a wave of albums that sold millions of copies throughout the world. She was a burgeoning superstar in the music industry, and gave a lot of herself to schools and schoolchildren, stressing the importance of an education. Her involvement in the community endeared her to her fan base. But it all came crashing down when Selena learned that the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar, had been embezzling money from her. Before firing her, Selena demanded that Saldivar turn over financial records. But Saldivar lured the young singer to a motel in Corpus Christi where she shot Selena in the shoulder, severing an artery. The singer eventually died of blood loss from her wound, just a couple weeks short of her 24th birthday.
1. John Lennon
There is perhaps no celebrity murder that has rocked the world quite as much as the murder of John Lennon. A devotee of JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” and a “born again Christian,” Mark David Chapman took exception to Lennon’s remarks that The Beatles had been “more popular than Jesus,” (which was probably true). Chapman also bristled at the hypocrisy he perceived in Lennon and plotted out the music giant’s death. After obtaining an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day, Chapman waited until Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, were returning home from a recording session, and put four bullets in his back. Upon his death, fans of Lennon and The Beatles staged a vigil outside of Lennon’s apartment building – a tradition many still carry on to this day.