Unfortunately, live TV has some perils with it. Sometimes, there is the charmingly harmless. A baby starts crying or an animal goes to the bathroom on a nighttime talk show. At the last Super Bowl, you had the players touching the trophy during the presentation unable to keep the swearing to a minimum. Of course, the Super Bowl is also the place where we all saw Janet Jackson’s breast during the halftime show What can you do, it’s live TV? None of these instances are really that big of a deal. Sometimes mistakes happen.
Then there are the big incidents, usually associated with a news event and seemingly happening more and more over the last 20 years as cable news channels jockey to be the first to bring you big events without thinking about what they’re showing. At its best, television news connects us and helps us come together during great tragedy. At it’s worst, it’s little more than a giant snuff film.
But what can we do? Not much, especially when it brings it ratings. So whether it be a bad choice by a TV news producer or just one of those things that happened tragically and could never have been avoided, here are 15 Times We Sat And Watched While People Died on Live TV.
15 John F. Kennedy Assassination
This wasn’t broadcast live on television to the entire nation because it was supposed to be just another motorcade and nobody saw the famed Zapruder film for years, but we would guess this is the death that has probably been seen more on television than any other in the history of death caught live on film. Unless you were in Dallas that morning in 1963, you probably didn’t see this as it happened. For years people wondered if someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald (a name you’ll see again on this list) was not the only person responsible for Kennedy’s death, and it was the theme of the movie JFK. In the long run, though, what most people seem to remember about the death of arguably the most popular president this side of Lincoln was the grisly footage of his murder and his beautiful wife’s reaction to her husband’s brain exploding all over her pretty dress.
14 The 9/11 Jumpers
You’ll see the events of September 11, 2001, on this list a few times. It was a day that changed the entire way of thinking of this country probably forever. The way our presidential elections are conducted with bitter rhetoric, the way we go through airports, the way we are forced to thank everybody in the military for their service...it all comes out of 9/11. One of the toughest scenes of that day, prior to the collapse of the buildings, were of Trade Center office workers standing in the spots where windows had been knocked out, trying to make the decision to jump to their death or not. Remember, their building was already struck by a plane, filled with smoke and fire and there was no sign of rescue. The heat must have been ridiculous. Despite not knowing they would have died minutes later in the eventual collapse, many decided jumping to their death was the best option.
13 Robert Dwyer
You probably know this story in passing, but only because of Filter’s song “Hey Man Nice Shot” which isn’t about Kurt Cobain’s suicide as many people mistakenly believe. Nope, Robert “Budd” Dwyer was a former state senator in Pennsylvania who had risen to state Treasurer, called a news conference and killed himself with a gun at the state capitol in front of reporters and news cameras who all-too-happily showed it on television. Dwyer had been found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for influencing government contracts and was scheduled to be sentenced the next day. At the end of the press conference, where he had some not nice things to say about the governor, he pulled out a manila folder that contained a .357 Magnum revolver and shot his way into alternative music history.
12 Victor Barrio
The final score was Lorenzo the Bull 1, Victor Barrio 0. For those who weren’t watching on Spanish TV as it happened, that was the death count at the end of the bullfight in 2016 as part of the Feria del Angel festival. You’d think the bull might win more often, but this 1,100-plus pound monster scored a rare win for the mammals, killing a bullfighter for the first time since 1985. Yeah, people get hurt all of the time during the actual Running of the Bulls through Pamplona, but that’s what happens when drunk people stand in the way of charging animals in small spaces. Bullfighters are trained and “fights” are seen more as an artistic dance than an actual battle. In most parts of Spain, bullfights are not considered animal cruelty, despite the fact, as we mentioned it was 30 years between bulls winning.
11 The Challenger Explosion
On a January morning in 1986, schoolchildren all over America were glued to their classroom television sets to watch teacher Christa McAuliffe be the first civilian to zoom into space. All of those years of promising “regular” people being astronauts and seeing ourselves eventually being up there were coming true until tragedy struck 73 seconds into the launch. McAuliffe and the other six members of the Challenger shuttle were killed when the spaceship exploded off the coast of Florida. Many in NASA have said that the accident, caused by o-ring issues in the rocket fuel boosters, set the space program back by not only years or decades, but to a place it would never recover from. It’s hard to dispute since the greatest leaps forward in civilian space travel are now being made by private companies, not governments.
10 Doug Dedge
When mixed-martial arts were first becoming popular in the United States in the late-1990s, when a state legislator who did his homework wanted to bring up a reason to not allow the state to sanction tournaments or exhibitions, the name Doug Dedge would be, well, dredged up. In 1998, Dedge, a fighter who ran an MMA training school in Florida visited Ukraine to participate in a televised tournament. He fought against a guy named Yehven Zolotaryov. After about five minutes, the American was pinned down and struck by his opponents in the face by a flurry of punches, somewhere between 12 and 15. The ref probably should have stopped it quicker, but clearly didn’t expect Dedge to collapse when he tried to make it to his feet, being pronounced dead due to brain trauma, all while a TV audience of tens of thousands watched.
9 Owen Hart
Thankfully, fans in Kansas City were paying attention to a video being shown in the darkened arena to a video package that fans at home were watching when professional wrestling Owen Hart accidentally flipped the switch on his safety harness, causing him to plummet to his death from the rafters of Kemper Arena. Hart was supposed to descend in as a superhero character known as The Blue Blazer for a match against The Godfather at a World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view. The wrestling company caught a lot of flack from people for continuing the show when it was known to almost everybody producing the program, although not the fans in attendance that Hart had died. Hart's widow sued the company and was awarded millions of dollars.
8 Alison Parker and Adam Ward
It was just another cut-away, forgettable morning segment for everyone involved the morning of August 26, 2015, in Moneta, Virginia, when reporter Alison Parker was supposed to interview the director of the local chamber of commerce. Behind the camera was Adam Ward, only 24, shooting what was probably a very boring assignment. What nobody planned on was Bryce Williams, who was a reporter fired a couple years earlier from the same TV station, showing up at the scene. The attack, which left Parker and Ward dead, was shown live and later cell phone footage shot by Williams at the time of the attack was released. Vicki Gardner, the subject of the interview, was shot, but survived. Williams escaped and led police on a five-hour chase, ending when he committed suicide.
7 Lee Harvey Oswald
On “No Cure For Cancer” the comedy album that made Denis Leary famous, he said; “I'm sick of my generation getting called the TV generation. ‘Well all you guys do is watch TV.’ What did you expect!? We watched Lee Harvey Oswald get shot live on TV one Sunday morning, we were afraid to change the @#$#%#$ channel for the next thirty years. ‘This show sucks.’ ‘Yeah, but somebody might get shot during the commercial!" It’s an interesting debate whether more questions or conspiracy theories exist around the death of John F. Kennedy or Lee Harvey Oswald, the President’s assassin. A known Communist sympathizer, Oswald also shot a police officer the same day he killed Kennedy and thought a good place to hide after the murders was a movie theater. Had he lived, Oswald still wouldn’t be 80 years old.
6 Jodon Romero
There are few news anchors who are more fun to watch under stress than Fox News’ Shepard Smith and watching him lose his stuff after carjacking suspect Jodon Romero killed himself on live TV almost helped soften the blow you just watched live suicide. Smith, like all of us, could sense that the 2012 police chase was not going to end well and assured viewers that the video was coming on a delay from the Phoenix news affiliate. Apparently, that wasn’t true. Romero put the gun up to his head, Smith screamed “Get off! Get off” and bang, down goes the bad guy. Cut back to Smith and he looked like he just told every child in America the truth about Santa Claus. While you had to feel for those who care about Romero, Smith seemed like the real victim in all of this. After coming back from commercial, he was more apologetic than any news person we’ve seen, promising it would never happen again. Good thing we believe everything we hear from Fox News.
5 Franco Scoglio
If there's one thing Italians take seriously aside from food, it's their soccer and during a heated argument about the sport - they call it football for whatever reason - one of their noted managers and TV commentators died discussing it. The guy's name was Franco Scoglio and he was debating a bigwig in Italian football, Enrico Preziosi on a show called Primocanale. Preziosi, who was on the show via telephone, clearly wasn't looking at his screen when Scoglio passed out because he just kept ranting and raving when it was clear something was wrong. Let this be a message to people who call in to talk shows. If you can't see the host or the other guests, always check in once in a while to see if they are still breathing.
4 Shannon Stone
On a warm July night in 2011, Shannon Stone took his six-year-old son Cooper to a baseball game in Arlington, Texas to see the Texas Rangers play the Oakland A’s. They got seats in the front row of the left field bleachers and like many fans who are sitting out there, brought their gloves in hope of bringing home a souvenir home run. At one point a player tossed a foul ball in that direction and Shannon leaned too far over the railing, plummeting around 25 feet to the concrete below. Based on the arch in his back, you can tell he was going to land on his head and neck although thankfully the impact was not seen on live TV. Before the next night’s game at the stadium a moment of silence was recognized and flags were flown at half-mast.
3 Nodar Kumaritashvili
The Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were toned down as far as celebration went because earlier that day Nodar Kumaritashvili, a competitor in luge from Georgia (the former Soviet Union country, not the southern U.S. state) was killed during one of his practice runs. Obviously, a death in any Olympics is a really big deal, but because this happened on the first day of coverage it meant there were not many stories to cover. Almost nothing had been filmed yet so the footage of his deadly practice run, featuring his normal takeoff leading to his limp body sliding down the icy track was shown again and again the first few days of the Olympics. He was the second luger to be killed at an Olympics and the fourth Winter Olympian to be killed in the history of the games.
2 Tommy Cooper
On the 1970s television show Sanford & Son, comedian Redd Foxx always joked he was having a heart attack. It became part of schtick the rest of his career in his stand-up act. In the 1990s, he was filming a different sitcom and between takes, people thought he was going into his schtick. It turned out, he was actually having a heart attack and died. We thought that was the worst story until we heard about Tommy Cooper, a British comedian who had a fatal heart attack on stage during a broadcast of his variety show “Live From Her Majesty’s.” He was performing a comedy routine where he’d pull props out of his robe when he quickly sat on the floor, seemingly part of the act and fell backward. It wasn’t until the show abruptly went to commercial that audience members could tell something had not gone as planned. If you don't mind watching people die - and if you've made it this far, we assume you don't - check this one out and ask yourself how long you would have taken before you thought something was wrong.
1 The Second 9/11 Plane
There were so many tragedies, so many horrific scenes from 9/11 that it seems wrong to pick two and feature only those on this list but the idea of people having to choose between staying in a building or jumping and the idea of the world watching a plane fly into a building are the two that stick out in our mind from that fateful day. Nobody was watching live when the first plane flew into the Tower One, and millions were watching by the time the towers started collapsing and planes were being reported at the Pentagon and crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. By that point, anything seemed possible. To us, it was that second plane that flew into view as we were looking at the first tower burn that made us realize 9/11 was a day like no other. When that second plane filled with innocent people smacked into a skyscraper filled with equally innocent people, we don’t know if we’ve ever felt more surprised or helpless.
Sources: usatoday.com, cnn.com, 911memorial.org