Did you know that vending machines kill two to three people a year on average? It’s true, people try to get a free snack and the next thing they know, WHAM!, a glass tower of Frito’s and honeybuns is coming down on their heads. Not into junk food? Prefer the finer things in life? Well, rogue champagne corks kill close to 24 people a year, so statistically, you’re better off trying your luck at the vending machine. My point is, there are millions of wacky ways to kick the bucket, and no one is immune to them, not even the rich and famous.
At this point, discussing the smorgasbord of celebrities that went six feet under this past year would be, well, beating a dead horse. Not to worry, plenty of them died in the years leading up to 2016 and I’m happy to talk about them. Since the birth of Hollywood, before movies even had recorded audio, celebrities have dealt with stalkers, depression and stage mishaps, which leads to murder, suicide and accidental death. To really sweeten the deal, a few of them have gone in such ridiculous ways you’ll have to read these captions twice to even begin to comprehend how or why they bought the farm the way they did. Here are 15 celebrities who died bizarre, horrific deaths:
15. Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan was basically the mother of modern/contemporary dance. She pretty much gave ballet the middle-finger and came up with that whole idea of dance being a form of expression rather than low-class entertainment. By the age of 22, she ditched her home state of California for eastern Europe and became the most famous woman in the world prancing around on two feet. Fast forward through twenty-seven years of unprecedented success and we arrive at the evening of September 14, 1927 in Nice, France when she hopped into the convertible of a fancy French-Italian mechanic and sped off into the streets hollering what would be her last words, “Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” (“Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”). Duncan donned a long, flowing scarf – a good combatant of the cold but inevitably a poor choice. The scarf became entangled with the spokes of the car’s wheels and axle and Duncan was launched out of the car by her neck (which snapped almost instantly killing her). Other accounts claim the scarf strangled her to death and nearly decapitated her in the process, which is even more gruesome than the original claims. Her legacy lives on with every modern school that opens, and also with the fact that doctors now refer to any injury or death caused by neckwear getting caught in a machine, “Isadora Duncan Syndrome.”
14. Anton Yelchin
Yelchin was a rising star with a handful of big-budget flicks under his belt when he met his bizarre and untimely demise. He played the kidnapped little brother in Alpha Dog, Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, and most notably Pavel Chekov in every one of the Star Trek reboots, so it was a shocking loss when on the morning of June 19, 2016, he was crushed to death by his own car. According to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, Yelchin died as a result of “blunt traumatic asphyxia.” Although no one was present to witness the freak accident, reports say Yelchin exited his Jeep Grand Cherokee at the top of his steep driveway and walked down to check the mail. However, the vehicle in question was a part of a recent recall of models that had transmission errors leading to unintended rolling, so while he rifled through his bills the Jeep rolled down the driveway eventually colliding with Yelchin and pinned him between a pillar and security fence. The car crushed the 27-year-old actor’s lungs and he suffocated to death within 60 seconds. Yelchin’s parents were seeking a wrongful death lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler as of August 2016, but the company refused to take blame for the incident, claiming Yelchin misused the vehicle. So, in case you’re wondering, parking your vehicle in your driveway is apparently “misuse” in the eyes of auto manufacturers.
13. Ramon Novarro
Unless you’re fanatical over Hollywood’s golden age, or, like, 110-years-old, you’ve probably never heard of Ramon Novarro, but trust me this guy was a big deal back in the 1920s. He was a silent film star who was catapulted to fame after he starred in the original 1925 version of Ben Hur and he was one of those few silent-era-megastars to actually maintain a successful career after Hollywood introduced dialogue audio. At the peak of his fame, Novarro was earning $100,000 a film (equivalent to $1.2 million today), and he was an international sex symbol known for melting a woman’s heart through a black and white screen… he was also a closeted gay man and an alcoholic. Fast forward a few decades after Novarro’s career had slowed down and we arrive at October 30, 1968, when he paid, Paul and Tom Ferguson to come over his house for little mid-century version of “Netflix and chill.” All went smoothly until the Ferguson bros got wind of $5,000 that was supposedly hidden somewhere in the house and proceeded to torture and beat Novarro until he gave up the stash. The only snag in their plan was that there was no $5,000, and they beat the poor guy to death, finishing him off by suffocating him with a lead dildo (which was gifted to him years earlier by Rudolph Valentino). The accused ended up leaving the home with only $20 and were later convicted of the crime only to be acquitted some time in the 1970s. Later on, after being locked up for another heinous crime, they finally admitted their bloody role in Novarro’s murder, but due to double-jeopardy, never had to face the full consequences.
12. Natalie Wood
At this point in the new millennium, you probably know Miss Wood by name rather than by her work, but let me bring you up to speed. Natalie Wood was a child actress who you may recognize as the little girl from the original Miracle on 34th Street, or if that doesn’t ring a bell, she was also James Dean’s love interest in Rebel Without a Cause, and Maria in West Side Story. Bottom line is, Natalie Wood was the quintessential definition of a Hollywood star. She was a Golden Globe winner, an Academy Award-nominated actress and on the night of November 28, 1981, she drowned off the coast of Santa Clarita Island.
Wood was enjoying a pleasant night out on a boat with her husband, Robert Wagner, the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, and her good pal, Christopher Walken (yes, the Christopher Walken) when she mysteriously ended up a mile away in a dinghy dead of drowning and hypothermia. The autopsy found that she had a BAC of .14%, a couple of painkillers in her system, and bruises all over her arms and body, but all three men on the boat said they had no idea what happened. Her death was ruled an accident and to this day nobody really knows what happened that night.
11. Marin Gaye
Aside from Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye was pretty much the artist most responsible for developing the record label’s legendary sound. He ruled the 1960s airwaves with hits that still get plenty of play today like, “Let’s Get It On,” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Unfortunately, despite all of his success, Gaye was burdened by severe depression and paranoia and even wore a bulletproof vest at all times unless he was on stage. To deal with the pressure, Gaye turned to drug use and when his final tour ended he retreated back to his parents’ house to live and gather himself. Problem was, home life at the Gaye residence wasn’t too peachy either, and his father would violently argue with his mother constantly, which would typically lead to Gaye intervening. On the night of April 1, 1984, Gaye’s father began shouting at his wife over a misplaced insurance document. Gaye, being upstairs in his bedroom, instigated a fight, telling his father, “If he had something to say he better come do it in person.” Gaye’s father charged up to the room where a fight broke out which by all accounts Gaye won, a result that his father wasn’t too happy about. Gaye’s father returned several minutes later clutching a .38 pistol that Marvin himself had given to him as a gift the previous Christmas. He pointed the gun at his son and shot him directly through the heart. He then proceeded to step closer and fire a second shot through Gaye’s shoulder at point-blank range. He was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. He would have been 45-years-old the very next day.
10. Sonny Bono
Sonny Bono is known for a variety of things. In the 1960s, he and his wife at the time, Cher, became superstars with their show aptly called, The Sonny and Cher Show, and mega-hit songs like, “I Got You Babe.” He was also the mayor of Palm Springs, California from 1988 to 1992 and a United States Congressman from 1995 up until 1998. Bono was one of those rare cases of celebrity that had a substantial career outside of entertainment once he stepped out of the spotlight, and the only reason he left politics at the end of the 1990s was, well, because he met his horrifying freak demise. On January 5, 1998, Bono was skiing near Lake Tahoe, California when he slid headfirst into a tree. His wife later admitted that Bono struggled with an addiction to Vicodin and Valium, but the autopsy showed the congressman had no such type of substance in his system at the time of his death.
9. Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee was the son of late martial arts master, movie star, and overall life icon, Bruce Lee. He spent a brief part of his childhood living in Hong Kong until his father died at which point his mother, Linda Lee Caldwell, moved the family back to Los Angeles. He showed a strong interest in the dramatic arts, majoring in theater at Emerson College and then studied acting at Lee Strasburg Theatre and Film Institute. When he returned to California after graduating, he very admirably worked his way up in the industry despite being the son of a legendary A-lister. Lee started as a remedial script reader until (after being taught martial arts by his father’s best students) was asked to audition for Kung Fu: The Movie in 1986. Still, a big break is hard to come by, and Lee was stuck doing low-budget karate flicks until he was cast as the lead in 1992’s gritty film adaptation of the acclaimed comic book, The Crow. Knowing the movie would be a hit, the studio actually had Lee sign on to do two sequels, but alas the future of the franchise and its lead actor were cut short during the production of the first installment. Being the gothic, crime-fighting movie that it is, a particular scene in The Crow calls for Lee’s character to be shot at by various criminals, however, during the filming of one scene, the prop .44 Magnum revolver was accidentally loaded with actual bullets and when actor Michael Massee pulled the trigger he unintentionally fired a slug into Lee’s abdomen. He was rushed to the hospital, where, after six hours of surgery, was pronounced dead. Since his death was accidental no criminal charges were filed, but with his death, Hollywood lost yet another standout member of the Lee family.
8. David Carradine
Another martial arts superstar who bought the farm after a freak accident. However, Carradine’s death certainly highlights the word “freak” more than it does “accident.” Carradine became a household name after starring as the Shaolin Monk, Kwai Chang Caine, in the 1970s hit television show, Kung Fu. Never heard of it? Well, if you’ve ever referred to anyone as “Grasshopper” in a shoddy Asian accent, I got news for ya; you’re referencing Kung Fu. More recently, Carradine came back into the public eye when he played Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s epic kung-fu bloodfest, Kill Bill, a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination. In the eyes of the viewing audience, everything seemed to be going pretty damn good for the 72-year-old actor, but what that viewing audience didn’t know was that Carradine was into some pretty gnarly fetishes, so gnarly in fact, they eventually killed him. On June 3, 2009, Carradine was found dead, hanging naked by a rope in the closet of his hotel in Bangkok. At first, his death was labeled a suicide but after a couple of ex-wives spoke up about Carradine’s love of self-bondage, it became obvious his death was the cause of autoerotic asphyxiation, giving new definition to the phrase “safe sex.”
7. Bob Crane
The story of Bob Crane starts off as a typical one. Born in Connecticut, Crane moved to New York City where became a well-known radio personality. In the 1950s he took that talent to the West Coast where he hosted an immensely popular morning radio show before he packed up his notoriety and moved into acting. By the time 1965 rolled around he was the Primetime Emmy Award-winning star of the CBS World War II comedy, Hogan’s Heroes. Unfortunately, that’s where the accolades come to an abrupt stop for ol’ Bob Crane. After six years, the series ended and Crane’s career went a similar way. He appeared in a couple of throwaway Disney movies before being forced to settle with traveling dinner theater. Tough break, right? Well, it gets tougher. In the summer of 1978, while living in Scottsdale, Arizona during the run of his dinner theater play, someone entered Crane’s apartment, tied an electrical cord around his neck, and bludgeoned his face in with an unknown object. Although local police pointed an accusatory finger at John Carpenter (no, not the vampire guy), a friend of Crane’s who was visiting at the time of the killing, the murder remains unsolved to this day, and the murder weapon was never found.
6. Jon-Erik Hexum
This bulking Hollywood hunk is a perfect example of how much it pays to be good looking, and how much it costs to be stupid. Hexum was a 23-year-old apartment cleaner in New York City when he was discovered by John Travolta’s manager, Bob LeMond, and convinced to take a stab at acting in Los Angeles. He quickly gained the attention of Hollywood big-wigs and was cast in the short-lived NBC sitcom, Voyagers! After the series was cancelled, Hexum took a few small roles before landing his dream gig as Mac Harper, a CIA Operative Undercover as a male model in the hilariously titled Fox series, Cover Up. This is where the stupidity part comes in, because during the filming of Cover Up‘s seventh episode, Hexum was fighting off boredom in between takes by goofing around with a prop .44 Magnum revolver (yeah, the same type of gun that killed Brandon Lee). Unbeknownst to Hexum, guns loaded with blanks still fire off a good hunk of powder that can do some real damage if they’re aimed at close range, so when he played an impromptu game of Russian roulette with himself, it goes without saying… he lost. The gun’s discharge was strong enough to shatter just enough pieces of skull into his brain to cause massive hemorrhaging. Despite the best efforts of doctors, Hexum was pronounced brain dead six days later, his organs were donated, and his ashes were scattered into the mighty Pacific.
5. Gwili Andre
Andre was born in Copenhagen at the turn of 20th century, and as she blossomed into a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed 20-year-old, she gained a lot of fame as a model in Denmark. However, depression-era American moviegoers didn’t think she was all that fly, so when she made the move to Hollywood in the early 1930s her dreams of being a star of the silver screen deflated like an old birthday balloon. Even though RKO put her in a couple of movies, she was basically regarded as the poor man’s Greta Garbo. Oh, and her acting was horrendous. An opinion that was validated by one reviewer who called Andre a “stiff, colorless and completely talentless performer.” Now, Press like this might hurt a normal actress, but it really hurt Andre. She bailed on Hollywood, moved back to Denmark with her son, got divorced and figured she’d give the fame she knew she was destined for one last chance to find her. She moved back to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, but despite her best efforts, was unable to get any jobs. Andre’s story came to a disturbing end on February 5, 1959, when she surrounded herself in publicity clippings she chopped out of the paper and lit a match. She burned to death right there in her Venice Beach apartment, going down in history as the first woman to die of bad Press.
4. Florence Lawrence
Despite having a ridiculous rhyming name, Florence Lawrence starred in over 300 films throughout her career in the early years of Hollywood. During a time when Hollywood never publicized the names of actors in fear of their potential fame leading to a demand for higher wages, Lawrence managed to be the first publicly named actor after receiving mountains of fan letters and subsequently became the world’s first movie star. However, in 1914 she was involved in an on-stage fire that got out of control resulting in her having some nasty burns and a fractured spine. To make matters worse, the studio wouldn’t pay for Lawrence’s medical expenses and she suffered continuously for the next few years and was even completely paralyzed for few months, all while her career was steadily declining. Still, she refused to let a few small speed bumps stand in her way and returned to Hollywood in the 1920s, but sadly only landed bit parts. It all came to a head on December 28, 1938, when Lawrence called in sick to MGM Studios and then proceeded to eat a hearty lunch made up of cough syrup and ant paste; the latter, if you’re unaware is a sweet little spread, thick in consistency, one part sugar/one part poison, typically used to attract unwanted ants and then kill them. She was pronounced dead at 2:45 PM but left behind an eery note to her housemate, Bob Brinlow, which read, “Dear Bob, Call Dr. Wilson. I am tired. Hope this works. Good bye, my darling. They can’t cure me, so let it go at that. Lovingly, Florence – P.S. You’ve all been swell guys. Everything is yours.”
3. Jayne Mansfield
Jayne Mansfield’s legacy is often lost in the shadow of fellow mid-century sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, but you could make the argument that Mansfield was more talented, better liked, and simply put, sexier. She was a Golden Globe winner, the first woman to ever bare it all in a Hollywood film, and kind of invented the publicity stunt – she purposely wore an undersized bikini which popped off at a press junket in 1955 – which led her to become one of the first Playboy Playmates. Then, on the night of June 28, 1967, while driving from Biloxi, Mississippi to New Orleans with her three children, her attorney, and their driver, they collided into the back of a tractor-trailer. The crash instantly killed all three adults in the car including Mansfield herself, but the three kids, who were sleeping in the backseat at the time of the accident, miraculously walked away without a scratch. Photographs showing the car’s roof almost completely torn off lead to rumors about Mansfield being decapitated but those were proven false, although her skull was crushed and bits of her scalp and hair were actually visible in the images.
2. Ray Combs
Ray Combs started as a stand-up in the mid to late 1970s in Cincinnati. After a few years on the scene, he took a look at the no talent schmucks around him, quit his job, packed up the wife and kids and moved to Los Angeles. And it proved to be a lucrative decision because within a few years he was appearing on The Golden Girls, Hollywood Squares and The Tonight Show. By 1988, CBS had signed him to a seven-year contract to host the revitalized Family Feud, a role he treasured and toured endlessly to promote. Which again, was a decision that proved lucrative, as the show was a big hit… at least for a few years. By 1992 ratings spiraled to the floor, and by 1994 CBS replaced Combs with Family Feud‘s original host, Richard Dawson. To add injury to insult, Combs severely injured a spinal disc in a car accident later that year, leaving him in permanent pain, add that to a multitude of financial woes along with a nasty divorce and we arrive at June 1, 1996, when police were called to his Glendale, California home to investigate a disturbance. What they found was a house destroyed from the inside by Combs, who had been slamming his head against the walls for hours. Acting swiftly, the authorities brought Combs to Glendale Medical Center and put him under a 72-hour suicide surveillance watch. Unfortunately, whoever was clocked in to keep an eye on Combs must have stepped away to the vending machine or something, because the depressed game show host wasted no time in making a noose out of the bedsheets and hung himself off of the closet in his room.
1. Rebecca Schaeffer
I had a couple of crazy murderous fan stories to choose from, but Rebecca Schaeffer’s is at the top of this list because I don’t think many people remember her. Schaeffer was a small town girl from Oregon, who moved to the Big Apple with starry eyes before she was even 20-years-old. She started out modeling and eventually landed a leading role in the sitcom My Sister Sam, which only lasted a season and a half, but was still a top 25 show when it originally aired.
Enter Robert John Bardo, Tucson, Arizona native, Jack in the Box janitor, and overall psychopath. Bardo had been on the lookout for a new young lady to stalk ever since the last apple of his eye, peace activist, Samantha Smith, died in a plane crash in 1985. Bardo turned his sights on Schaeffer in 1986, wrote her heaps of fan mail, and went to great lengths to meet her. He even showed up to the set of My Sister Sam, only to be turned away by security, but never the one to let the man get him down, Bardo returned a month later only this time with a knife, but alas was sent packing yet again. Third time’s a charm, however, and after seeing Schaeffer appear in bed with a man in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, Bardo hired a private investigator to find Schaeffer’s home address, and on the night of July 18, 1989, he was able to meet her face to face at her doorstep. Their first encounter at her apartment was brief, she signed an autograph for him and asked him to buzz off, but that only angered Bardo enough to come back a few minutes later and when Schaeffer answered the door Bardo fired a Ruger GP100 .357-caliber handgun through her chest at point-blank range and took off running. Bardo died thirty minutes after arriving at the hospital and Bardo was found scrambling on the I-10 on foot. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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