We see actors and actresses die in movies and TV all the time, but that’s just it… they’re acting. These men and women are playing a role and whether they’re stabbed, choked, commit suicide, have a heart attack, or get hit by a bus, we, as the audience, understand that in “real life” these folks will be A-OK once they head home (to their mansions) after a tedious day of shooting.
That said, sometimes life is even more dramatic than anything we could ever see on the small or big screen. Sadly and suddenly, there have been cases of stars who were killed or died on set or during production. Surely no director ever saw it coming, and yelling “Cut!” has never felt more surreal. For these 15 tragic stars, the closing credits not only finalized the movie or TV show, but their lives as well.
Some may say at least these stars were doing what they loved at their time of passing, while some may speculate a case of “foul play” or something to do with drugs or alcohol. Whatever the reason for these stars’ deaths, the rest of the cast must have had one heck of a time getting back into character.
Let’s remember these stars for their bodies of work and not their dead bodies. People can pass at any time and anywhere, so it is not really a huge surprise that some people die at work. But just like every other situation, when there is a celeb involved, the story gets all the more intricate and interesting. May these famous folks rest in peace as we recall their untimely passing.
15. Oliver Reed – Gladiator
British actor, Oliver Reed played the role of Proximo in the film Gladiator in the late 1990s. While gladiators are known for their strength and stamina, too much booze seemed to take over Reed after a long day of filming in Malta. It’s been reported that Reed hit up a local bar one evening and drank an enormous amount of liquor leaving him heavily intoxicated. He fell in the bar and had a heart attack leading to his unfortunate death at the age of 61. Since filming was not entirely complete, a stand in and digital technology was used to finish up the scenes where Reed’s character was pivotal. Some have said Reed’s death wasn’t a surprise, as he was known to hit the bottle on the regular and enjoy his time socially as much as possible. While 61 is relatively young, Reed had a vast career in film with parts in The Three Musketeers, The Brood, and spots on a number of television shows.
14. Steve Irwin – Ocean’s Deadliest
You may recall the “Crocodile Hunter” from down under, Steve Irwin. He was always educating the public about nature and the wildest and rarest of animals. While on set of the documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest in September of 2006, Irwin was stung by an 8-foot-wide stingray and was killed, giving the name of the program a meaning no one could have imagined. He and his cameraman were in the water in Queensland, Australia at the time of the incident, but the cameraman made it out alive. Today, Irwin’s family continues on, still holding a sense of love and adventure when it comes to animals, and his daughter, Bindi, was a recent contestant on Dancing With The Stars. Surely Irwin is looking down on his loved ones with pride and they have realized that although Irwin put himself in harm’s way, he was doing what he was most passionate about at his time of death.
13. Paul Walker – The Fast and the Furious 7
One of the more recent deaths we’ve heard about was that of the ruggedly handsome and super talented Paul Walker, who passed away tragically while The Fast and the Furious 7 was in production. In 2013, Walker and his friend, Roger Rodas were unsafely speeding at a rate of up to 100 miles per hour in a Porsche and wound up in a horrendous crash where the sports car went up in flames, killing both men. In a situation that was ironic to say the least, Walker died in a fashion which was being glorified on screen, as the film dealt with street racing as something to marvel at. Walker left behind a teenage daughter who surely is mourning the loss of her dearly departed dad. Others on set still cannot believe their cast mate and good friend is gone, and his role will be forever remembered in the box office smash.
12. Larry Hagman – Dallas
No one could forget those good looks, charming personality, and raw talent that the late actor Larry Hagman exuded, but during filming of the second installment of the hit TV series Dallas, Hagman passed away from leukemia. The unforgettable role of J.R. Ewing was known by the masses back in the 1980s and was to come to life again in the early 2010s. Sadly, Hagman would not make it until the end of the reboot of the show, but his co-workers, fans, friends, and family were surely glad to have him participate for the time he could. That iconic cowboy hat and dapper duds made Hagman look the part of a true southern gentleman, both on screen and off. We can always watch reruns, but the real thing is always better. Aside from Dallas, Hagman acted in The Edge of Night, I Dream of Jeannie, Orleans, and other movies and television shows.
11. John Ritter – 8 Rules for Dating My Daughter
We all know the late, great John Ritter best from his iconic role on the goofy hit comedy, Three’s Company, where Ritter played the fun-loving and often clumsily charming, Jack Tripper, along with his perky roommates Janet and Chrissy. After years spent fairly off the radar as far as acting goes, Ritter landed another winning role as the father on 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter. It was on the set of this TV comedy that Ritter became ill and was taken to the hospital after suffering severe chest pains during a rehearsal. While he didn’t die instantly, Ritter later passed away at the hospital during surgery to attempt to fix an issue with his heart. Ritter was 54 years old at his time of passing. His comedic timing and overall likability made Ritter a gem in the eyes of his adoring fans. His son acts successfully today, following in the footsteps of an actor who is sorely missed.
10. Clark Gable – The Misfits
At the age of 59, the handsome and talented actor Clark Gable died of a sudden heart attack while in the midst of filming the movie, The Misfits. Gable was considered a true heartthrob in his day and passing at 59 was far too soon for this idol. Rumor has it that his unfortunate heart attack was brought on by his push to perform his own stunts in the filming of the movie. Since the movie filming was not yet complete, a stand-in double was used to finish the undone scenes where Gable’s role was of importance. Clark Gable was best known for his work on Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night, The Call of the Wild, Red Dust, and many more classic films. He was often considered “The King of Hollywood,” but now he’s an angel to those who admired and adored his talent, charm, and star status.
9. Brandon Lee – The Crow
In March of 1993, Brandon Lee, the son of famed martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, was accidentally shot while filming scenes for The Crow, the story of a rock and roller who was given special powers by a crow. Normally, when a film wants to simulate a scene where guns are being used, blanks are used in place of real bullets, which makes sense from a safety perspective. However, in Lee’s case, a small fragment of a bullet was somehow left in the gun, and as Lee activated a device used on set to make a gunshot look realistic, he was accidentally punctured in the abdomen, ultimately killing him by day’s end. Lee was just 28 years old at the time of his time of death. The film continued on with production in order to finish the filming thanks to the technology of special effects as well as a stunt double to complete any unfinished scenes.
8. Vic Morrow – The Twilight Zone
If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, you know the scenes and story lines are super scary and like nothing that could ever happen in real life. But for the late actor Vic Morrow, fright was all too close to home when he and a child actor were frighteningly decapitated while filming a Vietnam sequence for The Twilight Zone movie. A helicopter which was part of the scene was flying too low and one of the blades came off, seriously injuring the actors. A Vietnam vet was the one flying the copter and he noted that there were concerns during rehearsal, but his words went unheard. So they went ahead and filmed some more, leading to the demise of the tragic Morrow and his child co-star. One would say this turn of events is like something out of The Twilight Zone, but in this case, the meaning is literal.
7. Kun Liu – The Expendables 2
You may have never heard of Kun Liu, but he was the stand in and stunt double for the better-known actor Jet Li during the filming of The Expendables 2 as was filmed in Bulgaria. Kun Liu was only 26 years of age at his time of passing caused by explosives which went off on set. He was killed in an instant in a tragic moment for him, his family, and the others on set. Liu’s family reportedly sued the production company for over $25,000 claiming they did not take the proper measures to ensure safety for the actors and others on the cast and team. Surely Jet Li felt remorseful and on the other hand is thankful it wasn’t him who perished in the tragic and unforeseen deadly incident. High-action movie sequences are certainly a thrill for moviegoers, but at what expense? Naturally the movie was a box office hit and it’s a shame Liu wasn’t there to bask in the success.
6. Roy Kinnear – The Return of the Three Musketeers
“All for one and one for all” wasn’t exactly the theme or the fate for the late British-loved actor, and charity enthusiast, Roy Kinnear. The actor who was a star in The Return of the Three Musketeers was tragically killed when he accidentally fell off a horse and painfully broke his pelvis while in the process of filming. Complications from the fall and injury lead to his ultimate and untimely demise. Kinnear was also quite popular from his roles in the movies Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Hill, and Watership Down, was popular on television, and even appeared in music videos, most notably for the pop/rock band Mike and the Mechanics. Kinnear was a popular 1960’s star, particularly in Great Britain and even his kids, Rory and Kristy made their way into the acting business. His heartbroken and angered family sued the production company for his death and won the case.
5. Redd Foxx – The Royal Family
Best known for his iconic role on the hit series, Sanford and Son, and his TV program The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour, Redd Foxx continued to act and moved onto a show called The Royal Family in the early ‘90s. This would be the last acting gig for Foxx who collapsed one day during a rehearsal for the program and later died after being rushed to the hospital in hopes to save the beloved actor. He was 68 years of age at time of death from what was later classified as a heart attack. While a tragic way to end a fruitful career, Foxx was always the jokester and even began showcasing his flair for the funny as a child. He was a true hero for many an up-and-coming comedian including the hilarious and controversial George Carlin. Foxx was surely a standout in his craft and although 68 is relatively young to pass, he made an impression on the world in those years coming from poverty and making his way into the homes of millions.
4. Eric Fleming – High Jungle
Unfortunately, the jungle wasn’t high enough for actor Eric Fleming who drowned tragically on the set of the move High Jungle. He was only 41 at the time of passing in 1966, in what was surely a horrible way to die. While filming a scene in Peru, Fleming was situated inside a canoe which somehow overturned and was swept away. Unable to be rescued, those who finally found his deceased body claimed that it was ravaged by hungry piranhas. Reportedly, Fleming had wished to leave his body for donation for scientific research, but with the remains as they were, his final wish would never be. Fleming was most popular for his role in the movie Rawhide where he played “Gil Favor.” Filmed today, this tragic scene would have probably been done post-production or with the tricks of Hollywood technology, not by sending a fellow downstream in a rickety canoe to meet his final fate.
3. Jon Erik-Hexum – The Cover Up
Russian roulette may seem like a risky, yet usually safe(ish) plan, particularly when the gun is only loaded with blanks, but for the late actor Jon Erik-Hexum, a day on set of the series The Cover Up ended in utter tragedy when he stupidly dabbled in the high-stakes game and gruesomely shot himself in his head. Word has it that he got bored while there was a lapse in filming so the actor figured a little roulette would liven things up. Sadly, his head hemorrhaged and just a week later, Erik-Hexum was dead and gone. Aside from his final role in The Cover Up, you may have seen Erik-Hexum in the TV series, Voyagers. Unfortunately, his final “voyage” at the tender age of just 26 years, was a trip to heaven due to his untimely passing from his unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wound. No “cover up” could ever erase this mess on set.
2. River Phoenix – Dark Blood
At the all-too-early-age of 23, the handsome and wildly talented actor, River Phoenix was in the middle of production of the film, Dark Blood when he died of a drug overdose outside Hollywood’s Viper Room. The film was shelved for 19 years and was finally released to viewing audiences in 2012. Prior to Dark Blood, most fans first caught a glimpse of Phoenix when he starred in the iconic film, Stand By Me in 1986. He also had memorable parts in Explorers, Dogfight, I Love You to Death, Running on Empty, and My Own Private Idaho, among many others. While Phoenix had a number of siblings, the most famous is his brother Joaquin, who is also an actor. A life that was never lived to its potential, Phoenix had the world at his fingertips, but the power of drugs has harmed far too many young stars. Who knows where he’d be today in his field, but any true fan would certainly long for another film starring the mysterious talent.
1. David Carradine – Stretch
Seasoned actor, David Carradine was found dead in his hotel room at the age of 72 while mid-production of the film, his last, Stretch. Filmed in Thailand, Carradine was far from home when in 2009, suspicions of suicide surrounded his mysterious passing, although the death was eventually considered “accidental asphyxiation.” Carradine was better known for his memorable roles in the movies Kill Bill 1 and 2, The Long Riders, Bound for Glory, and Bird on a Wire, among many other parts over his comprehensive career, including his iconic role on the TV series Kung Fu. Why Carradine chose to take his life, if that is in fact the actual cause of his death, is a mystery, but with such talent on the screen as well as in the martial arts, it’s a shame he had inner demons even fame and fortune couldn’t beat out. While 72 isn’t young, it appeared that Carradine had many years ahead of him to make more movies for his admiring fans.
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