The film industry may not seem like the most dangerous gig in the world. Why would it be? Most actors we know and love aren’t the people we see during intense action scenes on screen. The use of properly-trained and talented stunt doubles, coupled with serious safety precautions on set, make for a much safer filming environment.
However, accidents do happen. And they happen surprisingly often. Many of these accidents have taken the lives of beloved actors and actresses far before their time– all because of poor planning, rushed productions, or downright sociopathic directors willing to do anything for that perfect shot.
Thankfully, actors aren’t letting the poor safety on set fly anymore. Harrison Ford was one such actor who nearly died for his role while filming The Force Awakens. When the actor was knocked down during a scene, he was accidentally crushed by a heavy hydraulic door on set, sustaining a slew of injuries including a broken leg. Ford wasn’t interested in letting it go and took the case to court, where the production firm involved admitted to serious health and safety breaches that occurred while filming.
We won’t let such incidents go unnoticed either. It’s time for a history lesson! Check out these stories about 15 Actors Who Died Or Were Injured For Their Roles.
15. Vic Morrow died while filming the Twilight Zone Movie
American actor Vic Morrow is a fairly well-known case of on-set tragedy. While filming Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982, Morrow and two young children (Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen) were acting in a scene for a Vietnam War sequence. Their characters were running from an oncoming Army helicopter. The actual helicopter was hovering at barely 24 feet off the ground above them when pyrotechnic explosions initiated nearby damaged the aircraft. The helicopter crashed on top of the three actors and killed them instantly, decapitating Morrow and Le.
The accident was a completely preventable accident due to the negligence of the pyrotechnics and pilot on set. The parents of Chen and Le, as well as Vic Morrow’s children, sued the pilot, director, and several others involved in the crash. After a grueling 9-month trial, the defendants were acquitted and settled out of court with the families.
14. Brandon Lee was shot and killed by a faulty fake gun in a Crow scene
The Crow is a goth cult classic still beloved to this day. Unfortunately, the film took the life of young actor Brandon Lee, son of the late Bruce Lee.
In one particular scene, Lee’s character was supposed to walk into an apartment and discover his fiancee being attacked. Another actor was supposed to fire a gun at Lee as he entered. Rather than purchase dummy cartridges for the gun, the prop crew for the film decided to DIY it by putting real bullets into the gun and messing with the mechanisms that fire it. Unfortunately, this method can result in a bullet (also known as a squib load) getting partially stuck in the barrel.
This was the case when the scene was shot again after several takes, and the final shot dislodged the bullet– hitting Lee in the abdomen. After being rushed to the hospital and six hours of surgery, Lee died. The shooting was ruled accidental.
13. Jon-Eric Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head on set
The brief story of Jon-Erik Hexum is the story of a famous heartthrob who almost was. While shooting for the 1984 television show Cover Up, Hexum’s character uses a .44 Magnum gun loaded with blanks in an action scene. An actual gun with actual blanks was used for the scene.
Impatient with the day’s filming delays, Hexum decided to play a game of what he thought was safe Russian Roullete by unloading all but one blank into the gun. He apparently didn’t grasp how blanks worked and fired the handgun into his temple.
When blanks are fired from a handgun at point-blank range, the powder gasses in the gun can cause blunt-force trauma. When the blank fired into Hexum’s temple, it shattered a portion of his skull, causing massive hemorrhaging. Unfortunately, Hexum died after many hours of surgery.
12. Jim Caviezel was literally struck by lightning while portraying jesus
Not once, but twice! Talk about some seriously good luck. While filming the Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in 2004, actor Jim Caviezel was reportedly struck by lightning while re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion and again while performing the Sermon on the Mount. Miraculously, he walked away without any serious injuries.
When the incident occurred, Caviezel said that the crew and extras hit the ground after seeing what appeared to be fire coming out of each side of the actor’s head, a common indicator of an impending lightning strike.
While he sustained no major injuries from being struck by lightning, the rest of his time filming the movie was less than glamorous. He dislocated his shoulder, was accidentally whipped, and caught serious cases of pneumonia and hypothermia.
11. Charlize Theron was almost paralyzed while filming Aeon Flux
Barely a week and a half into shooting the film, Charlize Theron had to do a backflip for a scene. She accidentally landed on her neck and was rushed to the hospital. She managed to herniate a disc in her vertebra, and the outlook from doctors was not good. Many believed that Theron would have very limited mobility in the future due to the injury. “I was almost paralyzed,” said Theron. Production of Aeon Flux was paused for nearly eight weeks.
Fortunately, she recovered with full mobility. And now Theron has a healthier respect for stunt doubles and leaves the dangerous stuff to the professionals.
10. Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray
In 2006, Steve Irwin’s death rocked the lives of his family, friends, fans, and fellow animal lovers. It’s hard to imagine the seemingly invincible Crocodile Hunter falling victim to any animal, but unfortunately, an incident involving a giant stingray took his life.
During a pause in filming for the documentary series Ocean’s Deadliest at a reef in Queensland, Irwin decided to snorkel along the shore and capture footage for his daughter’s show, Bindi the Jungle Girl. While in the shallow waters, Irwin encountered a 7-foot wide stingray. Apparently frightened, the stingray viciously attacked Irwin with its barbed tail. Unfortunately, one sharp stab pierced Irwin’s heart and caused serious bleeding.
It is considered to be the only video footage captured of a stingray attack death. After a brief police investigation, the footage of Irwin’s death was destroyed at the request of his family.
9. Jackie Chan has a hole in his head from a role
Jackie Chan’s no stranger to doing his own stunts– he is a proficient taekwondo, hapkido, and Chinese martial arts expert, after all. However, some injuries come along with the territory of being a martial arts movie star. One such injury landed Chan a literal hole in his head.
While filming the movie Armour of God in 1987, Chan attempted to jump from a high wall into a tree. The first take was no problem, but the second take was different. Chan fell over twenty feet to the ground on his head, fracturing his skull and sending a chunk of bone into his brain. Chan miraculously came out with no brain damage despite blood literally leaking out of his ears on his way to the hospital. Today, he has a small hole in his head that is covered by a plastic plug.
8. Ellen Burstyn was injured by a director’s negligence for The Exorcist
Ellen Burstyn’s injury while filming The Exorcist is a perfect example of a director taking things too far at the expense of the cast and crew involved.
For one particular scene, director William Friedkin told a stunt double to gran Burstyn roughly around the set with a wire. Burstyn made it clear that she was worried about the safety aspect of making it “look real”, as was the stuntman. Friedkin allegedly told the stuntman to “not pull her so hard” but once the actress was out of earshot re-instructed him to “give it to her”. Burstyn was pulled so violently that she flew across the room, landing on her coccyx.
Despite her being in hysterical pain, Friedkin waited for the camera to get a good shot of her twisted-in-pain expression before calling an ambulance.
7. Martha Mansfield was burned alive on set
It’s understandable that on-set safety precautions in the twenties weren’t ideal. We’ve come a long way in the past century without a doubt. Unfortunately, actress Martha Mansfield was a victim of the times.
While filming a Civil War drama called The Warrens of Virginia in 1923, Mansfield was taking a break in a car after a filming a scene. A passerby lit a cigarette and flicked the match away, accidentally tossing it into Mansfield’s lap through the car window. She was immediately ignited, as the hoopskirt costume she was wearing was covered with very flammable fabric.
Lead actor Wilfred Lytell, as well as the driver of the vehicle, struggled to put Mansfield’s flaming costume out. They managed to exterminate the flames before they burned her face. Unfortunately, she sustained horrendous burns all over her body which cause toxemia. She died less than a day later at only twenty-four years old.
6. A punch to Sylvester Stalone’s sac almost killed him while filming Rocky IV
His pericardial sac, that is.
While filming a major boxing fight scene in Rocky IV between himself and actor Dolph Lundgren, Stallone told Lundgren to legitimately attempt to knock him out to make the scene seem more real. Stallone’s cockiness almost cost him his life– Lundgren’s punch to the chest caused Stallone’s pericardial sac, the fibrous “bag” that contains the heart and major blood vessels, to enlarge and swell. The swelling began to press dangerously against Stallone’s heart, nearly strangling it.
Luckily, Stallone knew something felt seriously wrong and went to a hospital immediately, where he was quickly airlifted to an intensive care unit in Santa Monica to treat the life-threatening condition. He was hospitalized for nearly a week and a half and (clearly) survived.
5. John Ritter collapsed on the set of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
Fans of America’s favorite sassy TV dad were shocked at the sudden death of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter actor John Ritter. While his untimely death wasn’t the fault of any cast or crew, it did cause a stir in the world of medical negligence.
In 2003, while rehearsing a scene for the show, Ritter allegedly began sweating and complaining of chest pains before collapsing on set. He was immediately rushed to a medical center across from the studio where he was misdiagnosed with a heart attack. In reality, Ritter suffered from a completely different condition called aortic dissection. His condition worsened until his doctors realized their mistake, but it was too late. He died during surgery.
Ritter’s family sued the radiologist and cardiologist who treated Ritter and received nearly $14 million in reparations.
4. Tyrone Power had a massive heart attack while filming
Tyrone Power was an American matinee idol and film actor active through the forties and fifties, admired for his stunning looks and diverse acting roles. Unfortunately, this mid-century heartthrob only made it to 44 years of age.
While filming the 1958 film Solomon and Sheba, Power had a massive heart attack while filming a fencing scene with co-star George Sanders. He was transported to a nearby hospital (notably still in his King Solomon costume) where he died. Doctors claim his cause of death was a condition in which blood “chokes” the aorta and prevents one’s ability to breathe.
3. Channing Tatum was almost burned alive while filming The Eagle
The Magic Mike star’s career (and maybe his life) could have been cut short in 2009.
While filming one particular scene for The Eagle, Tatum had to wear a wetsuit and wade through very cold water in a river. To avoid hypothermia, the crew was told to mix boiling water and cold water from the river and pour it into Tatum’s suit between takes.
Unfortunately, a crew member forgot to mix the water during the last shot of the day and accidentally scolded Tatum with boiling water. Since Tatum was wearing a wetsuit, it was impossible to get away from the boiling water, which burned some of the skin of his legs off.
After being rushed to the hospital and pumped with morphine, Tatum managed to recover.
2. The death of Bruce Lee
Beloved martial arts superstar Bruce Lee died a very untimely death at the age of thirty-two. To this day, rumors and conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of his cause of death are still discussed.
While dubbing for the film Enter the Dragon, Lee suffered from intense migraines and seizures before collapsing. After being rushed to a Hong Kong hospital Lee was diagnosed with cerebral edema– a condition that causes serious brain swelling. While doctors were able to treat him for the condition, the cause of the swelling– an allergic reaction to a painkiller– was unknown at the time. He died just over two months later.
Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, also died from a freak accident. This lead to rumors that the Lee family are victims of a curse.
1. Robert Downey Jr accidentally broke Halle Berry’s arm in Gothika
While portraying a psychologist wrongly placed in a mental hospital, Berry attempts to escape the clutches of an evil doctor played by Robert Downey Jr. While filming a physical struggle with Downey Jr., Berry attempted to make the scene look as real as possible. Unfortunately, she tried to force herself out of his grip with too much stamina and broke her ulna– one of the bones of the forearm. After only three weeks in recovery, Berry returned to finished the film.
“I knew that it was broken instantly and Robert knew it too because he heard [the bone] snap,” said Berry of the incident.
Do you know of any other on-set accidents? Let us know in the comments!
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