America's Got Talent is a weekly talent competition where a variety of performers like singers, dancers, comedians, magicians, and novelty acts compete for a $1 million cash prize and the opportunity to headline a show at the Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. The reality show debuted in June of 2006, and its current season (12) premiered on May 30, 2017. It just happened to become one of the most-viewed shows at the moment, thanks to the viewers in their homes across the country.
The largest perk of America's Got Talent is that the judges provide opportunities to unknown talented performers regardless of their race, ethnicity, and s*xual orientation. Contestants who advance to the live shows compete for the judges' and viewers' votes. The acts who make it to the top 10 vie for solely the audience's votes, and regrettably, one of them has to leave each week until the winner is announced. That being said, contestants are a crucial part of the show, and they use the big stage to entertain the masses with the best of their abilities.
Some contestants stand out from the crowd during the 90 seconds they perform on the stage. Whatever the reason may be, their stories, or their day jobs, they're amazing people who just happen to have the talent(s) to woo not only the judges, but also the people watching the show. Unfortunately, death is inevitable, and it's something that we all have to deal with. Here are 15 America's Got Talent contestants who died too soon.
15 Ryan Stock
It's time to deviate from the topic for a bit. Things nearly turned deadly on June 16 as a stunt went wrong for a couple on live television.
Canadian daredevil and sword swallower Ryan Stock was shot in the neck with a flaming arrow by his fiancée, Amber Lynn Walker. The mishap left the judges in absolute shock as Stock gagged and trembled in pain. The crowd went silent, but Stock luckily managed to pick himself up off the ground and walk off the stage. He reassured the crowd, saying, "I'm OK. It got my shirt. I'm OK."
Despite the "OK" from Stock, judge Howie Mandel urged the male contestant to seek medical attention. Judge Simon Cowell was also noticeably concerned. He asked, "Why are we judging this act?...Amber just shot Ryan and he needs to go to a hospital now."
After a commercial break, host Nick Cannon assured viewers that Stock was examined by on-set emergency medical technicians and appeared to be fine. Stock tweeted after the broadcast, "We had a serious mishap tonight... A very unfortunate mechanical failure but I am very fortunate to walk away from it."
14 Frank Simon
You may not have remembered a man named Frank Simon because he was eliminated by the judges in the audition round in 2006. But he passed away in 2013 from unknown causes.
Simon was from Budapest, Hungary. He has balanced a wide range of objects on his face, such as a dishwasher, refrigerator, and a Blackberry on a pencil.
In Episode 102 of Season 1, Simon's audition consisted of balancing a motorbike and a stove on his chin. The audience loved his act, but Piers Morgan, Brandy Norwood, and David Hasselhoff all buzzed him and voted "no" which sent him packing. Morgan stated toward the end of his audition that "this is a talent show, not a freak show." The comment was followed by loud boos from the crowd.
Although it's unknown as to how Simon died, death is really not funny, and hopefully, he was the happiest he has ever been.
13 Mr. Bill
In Season 2, Mr. Bill—whose real name is Bill Ratner—put his singing skills to the test in the audition round, only to be eliminated from the competition. Ratner's day job was a far cry from the music industry as he worked as a school bus driver in Las Vegas, Nevada. His dream was to become a professional performer. His boss initially convinced him to audition for America's Got Talent.
In Episode 201, Mr. Bill sang "Climb Every Mountain" by Jordan Smith. Piers Morgan hit the buzzer first and then David Hasselhoff followed suit. Although Sharon Osbourne voted "yes," Morgan and Hasselhoff both voted "no," thus, eliminating Mr. Bill from the competition.
Mr. Bill faced other challenges after appearing on the show. He passed away on July 30, 2012, after a battle with leukemia, a cancer in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increase the numbers of abnormal white blood cells to suppress the atypical production of normal blood cells, which can lead to anemia and other symptoms.
Simeon P. Mountain Jr., better known as Alaska, was a freestyle dancer who auditioned in Season 6 of America's Got Talent. He was eliminated in the audition round.
In Episode 605, Alaska's audition consisted of freestyle dancing. Piers Morgan was first to buzz the act. All three judges—Piers, Sharon Osbourne, and Howie Mandel—voted "no." As a result, Alaska didn't advance to the next round, but said goodbye to the stage in a funny way that made the audience laugh and giggle as Nick Cannon joined him on stage for additional dancing.
Alaska died of unknown causes on October 13, 2015. The idiopathic term "unknown causes" is extremely vague, but the announcement of death is sad nevertheless. He is definitely dead, but his spirit lives on. He may not be a talented man in your eyes, but you have to admit that his dancing was fairly comical. That's what makes the show exciting and fun to watch.
11 Johnny Holiday
Johnny Holiday was a novelty act who auditioned (and was eliminated) in Season 2 of America's Got Talent. Before appearing on the show, he worked as an actor, who acquired minor roles in television shows like Charmed and Life with Bonnie.
In Episode 204, both the judges and audience members were unsure of what exactly Holiday's audition consisted of. But his act clearly contained some weightlifting since he was shown asking Jerry Springer to hand him weights. He had some fight left in him. Despite the potential strength, David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne, and Piers Morgan all buzzed the act. One of the judges voted "yes," but the other two voted "no," thus halting Holiday into the next round.
Holiday died at the age of 96 on February 28, 2009. He was an elderly man, and it's clear that he died of natural causes. He wasn't a household name, but he's certainly someone to remember when you take a trip down memory lane.
10 Ed Cole
Ed Cole was a bodybuilder who auditioned during the filming of Season 6 of America's Got Talent.
In Episode 608, Cole's audition consisted of flexing his muscular, toned body in front of the judges. Piers Morgan buzzed the act. The other judges hit their buzzers after Morgan expressed his disapproval. Cole was surprised, but discontinued his act and walked off the stage with what looked like shock in his facial expression.
In front of a large New York audience, Cole showed that you can never be too old for bodybuilding. His looks spoke for the health benefits as he looked healthy and was able to perform without pain and injuries. Physical training, along with a healthy diet, can promote a longer, healthier life. These methods certainly worked on him, but illnesses can affect healthy people too.
Cole passed away on January 18, 2013 after a long battle with an undisclosed cancer.
9 Debra Winer
Debra Winer was a pop singer who auditioned in Season 3 of America's Got Talent. She was born in Fairfield, Connecticut and later moved to White Plains, New York.
In Episode 304, Winer's audition consisted of singing "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas. It wasn't long before all three judges—Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne, and David Hasselhoff—hit the buzzer to send her packing. However, Winer refused to stop singing even though she was buzzed and booed. As a result, David had to walk onto the stage and forcefully escorted Winer away from the crowd. She was obviously eliminated from the competition. Next!
Winer passed away on April 7, 2013. Although it's unclear what caused her death and where she lived at the time of her death, her passing is an unfortunate loss for her family and friends. She will be missed and remembered as a wonderful woman.
8 Franklin Ruehl, Ph.D.
Franklin Ruehl, Ph.D. was a novelty act who auditioned in Season 4 of America's Got Talent. He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from UCLA. His cable television show, Mysteries From Beyond the Other Dominion, was one of the four original series to premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel when it was launched. The show focused on the scientific evidence for UFOs and ETs, paranormal phenomena, cryptozoological entities, weird crime, bizarre medicine, and strange people.
Ruehl was a regular on A Current Affair, 9 On The Town, Strange Universe, Weird TV, and Ancient Aliens. He also co-hosted a radio program called Hypergalactic Enigmas on Blog Talk Radio.
In Episode 410, Ruehl's audition consisted of sticking 10 straws into one potato and shouting a magic word each time. Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne, and David Hasselhoff all buzzed the act and voted "no," thus eliminating Franklin from the competition.
Ruehl passed away in 2015.
7 Powerlifting Granny
Powerlifting Granny was a power lifter who auditioned in Season 10 of America's Got Talent.
Sandra Foli, better known as the Powerlifting Granny, was an elderly woman from Bloomington, Illinois. In 2013, she set a powerlifting record in her age group in 2013. She also completed a clean deadlift of 181.5 pounds at a competition prior to her audition. Her trainer, Chad Hobbs, said, "She went out there and put up a pretty serious weight for a woman of her age...It's an inspiration to a lot of people, where so many people become sedentary later on in life, she's doing something about it."
Even more amazing, Foli picked up the sport in 2003 after dealing with septic shock, a significant drop in blood pressure. She said, "I said I just need to get fit after my illness...It was touch and go for awhile, but I fought it and I recovered." Despite the medical obstacles, the grandmother continued training in hopes of breaking her own record.
In Episode 1005, Foli's audition consisted of powerlifting 185 pounds, but she was eliminated from the audition round. Foli died from old age on November 5, 2015.
6 Bernie Barker
Bernie Barker was the self-proclaimed oldest male stripper hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada. He was a retired nuclear engineer who specialized in radiation protection. He auditioned in Season 1 of America's Got Talent, becoming the first stripper whose audition was televised on the show. His audition consisted of stripping to "She Bangs" by Ricky Martin. The judges sent him to the semifinals, but he was eliminated without actually performing in Episode 104.
Barker passed away on March 21, 2007, after a six-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 66 years old. The city of Las Vegas mourned the tragic loss in a write-up in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Local columnist Norm Clarke wrote, "Most of us were taught the words to ‘This Little Light of Mine’ as kids. Barker lived them."
Looking back on Barker's career, it's clear that both onstage and in person, Bernie let it shine. He didn't grow old gracefully. He lived his senior years with glitz, glamour, and s*x appeal.
5 Ray Jessel
Ray Jessel was a comedy singer and pianist act who auditioned in Season 9 of America's Got Talent.
Jessel was born in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom in 1929. He earned a degree in music at the University of Wales. He also won a scholarship to study composition for a year in Paris as a graduate student with Swiss composer Arthur Honegger.
He emigrated to Canada, where he began his career as a composer for CBC. He collaborated with pianist and composer Marian Grudeff for his first piece for the musical theater in the Canadian satirical revue Spring Thaw. Broadway producer Alexander H. Cohen then hired them to write songs for his Sherlock Holmes musical, Baker Street. He did two stints on Broadway.
Jessel made his debut at age 72 as a Cabaret performer at Hollywood's Gardenia room in 2002. He was a featured star in the Mabel Mercer Foundation's Cabaret Convention in Palm Springs, California as well as New York's Town Hall.
In Episode 906, Jessel's audition consisted of playing the piano and singing his original comedy song titled "What She's Got - The P*nis Song." He advanced to Judgment Week, but didn't make it to the Quarterfinals.
Jessel passed away on July 17, 2015 at the age of 85.
4 Kacey Jones
Kacey Jones was a comedy singer and guitarist who auditioned in Season 10 of America's Got Talent.
Audiences have been laughing with Jones for decades. In 1997, Jones signed with Curb Records and recorded one of the few original music-with-comedy albums ever released by a female artist in Nashville, Tennessee. Furthermore, Kacey entered the studio with cult artist, Kinky Friedman, only to emerge as the producer of his critically-acclaimed album, Pearls in the Snow, which reached the No. 1 spot on the Americana radio chart in 1999. The following year, Jones and blues singer Delbert McClinton recorded the duet "You're The Reason Our Kids are Ugly," which stayed on top of the European country chart for nine weeks.
In Episode 1011, Jones' Judge Cuts performance consisted of singing an original song titled "Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, Or Dead" while playing the guitar. Her performance wasn't strong enough for a spot in the Quarterfinals, and she was eliminated from the competition alongside Aaron Smyth and Leroy Patterson. Jones died from cancer on September 1, 2016. She was 66.
3 Mighty Atom Jr.
Mike Greenstein, better known as Mighty Atom Jr., was a strongman who auditioned in Season 9 of America's Got Talent.
His father was Joe Greenstein, the Mighty Atom, who gained international fame for his abilities to bend iron bars and horseshoes with his teeth and drive spikes and other items with his bare hands.
Mighty Atom Jr. followed his father's footsteps. He emulated his father's accomplishments like pulling and lifting things with his hair or teeth using a leather bite pad attached to a rope or chain. He demonstrated his skills to raise awareness for breast cancer, which claimed both his wife and daughter.
In Episode 901, Mighty Atom Jr.'s audition consisted of pulling a 3,000-pound station wagon with three people in it with his teeth clenched on a leather bite pad. Howard Stern voted "no," but Heidi Klum, Mel B, and Howie Mandel all voted "yes."
In Episode 907, his performance consisted of pulling a 5,000-pound truck with six people in it with his teeth. Surprisingly, he was eliminated and didn't make it to the Quarterfinals. Mighty Atom Jr. passed away while visiting family in Florida on February 16, 2016. He was 95 years old.
2 The Kinetic King
The Kinetic King was a builder of chain reaction gadgets who competed in Season 6 of America's Got Talent.
In Episode 604, the Kinetic King's audition consisted of demonstrating his stick-bombs. The Kinetic King was one of the Judges' Favorites in the Vegas Round. He was then sorted into the Novelty Acts category. His performance consisted of demonstrating his clever-lever. The judges sent him and The Funny Little People to the Quarterfinals.
Piers Morgan brought The Kinetic King back for the Wild Card Show. In Episode 603, his performance consisted of demonstrating a gadget made of soda cans, large sticks, plastic cups, ping-pong balls, balloons, and garbage cans. The act received enough votes for a spot in the Semifinals.
1 Dr. Brandon Rogers
Dr. Brandon Rogers was a singer who auditioned for Season 12 of America's Got Talent.
Dr. Rogers decided to pursue medicine at age six after coming home from school one day, only to find his mother laying in a pool of blood. She was rushed to a hospital, where doctors managed to save her life. From there, he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. He was a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dr. Rogers sang to cope with the stresses of being a doctor. He decided to audition for America’s Got Talent after the show's producers found a video of him covering "On Bended Knees" by Boyz II Men. His buzz led to a performance with Boyz II Men from January 20 to 22.
In Episode 1206, Dr. Rogers sang "Ribbon In The Sky" by Stevie Wonder. He wowed the judges and audience with his career, voice, and looks. All four judges voted "yes," and he advanced to the Judge Cuts.
Dr. Rogers embarked on a trip with two friends on June 10. The driver fell asleep, drifted onto the right shoulder, veered off the road, and struck a tree. The driver and the other friend survived, but sadly, Brandon died from his injuries the next day. He was only 29 years old. Dr. Rogers became the first contestant whose audition was televised after their death.
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