The death of a beloved celebrity will always grip the hearts of fans, and send a ripple of despair across Facebook. But if these popular performers were getting on in years or were known to make precarious life choices, their passing is not necessarily a surprise.
What we are never prepared for are the freak accidents. One minute, they seem perfectly fine, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. Often times, they just got profoundly unlucky. Occasionally, they were being uncharacteristically reckless. Sometimes, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding the events and it’s entirely likely we will never know the whole story.
It’s a bittersweet easement of the pain for mourners to have someone to blame in these cases. But the guilty parties are not always clear-cut or even possible to identify. As awful as it is to think about, sometimes it’s just pure happenstance that prematurely ends the lives and careers of our adored entertainers.
Whatever series of unfortunate events that led to the shocking demise of these 15 celebrities, they all have one thing in common: their stars were snuffed out far too soon and they are sorely missed. Be careful out there, friends.
Here are 15 Celebrities Who Died In Freak Accidents.
15 Anton Yelchin - Crushed By Own Car
27-year-old Anton Yelchin’s star was still very much on the rise when, in June 2016, the media reported his shocking and untimely death. The L.A. county coroner’s office cited “blunt traumatic asphyxia” that occurred when his Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a brick pillar outside his Hollywood home. The Fiat Chrysler model was part of a recall that affected the gearshift, leading to unintended rolling.
Though there were no witnesses, investigators suspect that the Star Trek actor left his jeep running at the top of his steep driveway when he walked down to check the mail. The vehicle slipped out of gear and rolled into him.
Yelchin’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against Fiat Chrysler but the dealership refused to accept responsibility for the accident, citing “misuse, misapplication, or damage” by Yelchin. Fortunately, the court rejected the dealership’s counter-argument, and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
14 Natasha Richardson – Skiing Lesson Accident
On vacation with one of her sons at Quebec’s Mont Tremblant in March 2009, 45-year-old Richardson decided to take beginners ski lessons. She had what seemed like a mild spill on one of the resort’s gentlest slopes. Witnesses say she didn’t appear to hit her head, and was in good spirits when she righted herself. The Parent Trap star was examined by medics but refused repeated offers for an ambulance. Since she appeared lucid and sober, paramedics couldn’t force the issue and allowed her to return to her room.
An hour later, it became clear to everyone that she required immediate medical attention and an ambulance took her to a nearby facility. She later died in a New York hospital. The cause of death was “blunt impact”, which resulted in internal brain bleeding. Had she gone to the hospital immediately, doctors say her condition would have been treatable.
13 Paul Walker – Car Accident
Fast and Furious star Paul Walker was in the passenger’s seat during the 2013 car crash that took his life. 38-year-old stunt man Roger Rodas was driving the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in an office park at over 100 miles per hour, when it crashed into two trees and then a lamppost. Both men quickly succumbed to multiple injuries. As a small mercy, they were already gone by the time the car burst into flames.
Though speed is likely a factor, there is still a bit of mystery surrounding the cause of the crash. Neither man was intoxicated and both were experienced racecar drivers. Rodas had a reputation for being careful and conscientious.
40-year-old Walker was in the midst of filming Fast & Furious 7. Both men left behind devastated families.
12 Heath Ledger – Doctor Prescribed Accidental OD
In 2008, fans were stunned by the death of the 28-year-old Brokeback Mountain star. Heath Ledger had already made a huge impact during his all-too short career. A coroner ruled his cause of death as “acute intoxication” having found a staggering cocktail of drugs in his system.
The Dark Knight actor admitted to suffering from severe insomnia, only sleeping two hours a night. He had thrown himself into the role of the Joker and it was taking a physical toll. He was also medicating for anxiety, pain, and a cold.
Because one doctor would not have prescribed that combination of drugs, a federal investigation was conducted on his two known physicians. But they were deemed not guilty. Ledger’s father places the blame solely on his son, saying, “He put [the drugs] in his system… That’s hard to accept because I loved him so much and was so proud of him.”
11 Brandon Lee – Gun Stunt Gone Wrong
Brandon Lee, the son of the Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee, believed that his family was cursed. Indeed it was an improbably perfect series of events that set up the death of the star of 1993's The Crow, including script re-writes, an improperly cleaned prop gun, and a wound that wouldn’t have been fatal had it landed a centimeter off. When the gun fired, the blank discharged a lead tip that struck Lee in the wrong spot. The 28-year-old was taken to the nearest hospital and pronounced dead after 12 hours of surgery.
No one was blamed for the accident, but actor Michael Massee, who fired the fatal shot, was haunted by the incident until his own death in 2016. They completed the film using rewrites, stunt doubles, and revolutionary digital effects. It serves as a bittersweet epitaph for an actor robbed of a brilliant career by tragic happenstance.
10 Aaliyah – Plane Crash
Though fresh on the hip-hop scene, Aaliyah was already a huge star when she met with tragedy. She has just wrapped a video shoot in the Bahamas ahead of schedule and the ensemble decided to head back to Florida early. Unfortunately, the plane they arrived on wasn’t available, so they attempted to stuff the same amount of people and equipment into a much smaller craft.
In their haste, they overloaded the weight capacity and the plane crashed immediately following takeoff. All 8 people on board perished including Aaliyah, the pilot, a hair stylist, a security guard, record company officials, and the video’s producers.
The 22-year-old singer had recently filmed her acting debut in Queen of the Damned. Her brother completed post-production voiceover work for her and the film was dedicated to her memory.
9 Brittany Murphy – Perfect Storm Of Ailments
Murphy’s struggle with substance abuse was well known, but it wasn’t drugs alone that caused the Clueless actress’ untimely death in 2009 at the age of 32. Many still question the circumstances surrounding the case, but the coroner ruled the cause of death as a combination of acute pneumonia, severe anemia, and intoxication via a combination of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Stranger still, her husband Simon Monjack also died of acute pneumonia and anemia 5 months later. Murphy’s mother called for an investigation into some toxic mold found in their Hollywood home but the autopsy failed to find any traces of mold in either victim’s system. Both Monjack and Murphy reportedly lived unhealthy lifestyles, and neglected to seek medical attention for their condition.
It’s not uncommon for sufferers of pneumonia to ignore the early symptoms, at which time it’s crucial to receive proper treatment. Warning signs include chills, high fever, chest pain, severe cough, night sweats, and difficulty breathing.
8 Michael Jackson – Doctor Prescribed Accidental Overdose
It’s no secret that the King of Pop was deeply troubled. But it still came as a surprise to fans all over the world when, at the age of 50, Michael Jackson was found dead in his home from acute intoxication. The toxicology report revealed he was under the influence of a powerful anesthetic as well as several other sedatives, all of which had been prescribed for him by his live-in doctor. That same doctor, Conrad Murray, was also the man who discovered the “Thriller” singer in his room.
Jackson was found unconscious, his breathing shallow, and his pulse weak. Dr. Murray unsuccessfully administered CPR. Jackson was already dead by the time paramedics arrived.
The coroner ruled the death a homicide and Dr. Murray served two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
7 Natalie Wood – Mysterious Boating Accident
43-year-old Natalie Wood, best known for her roles in Miracle on 34th Street, West Side Story, and Rebel Without A Cause, could not have known that she was sailing to her doom on a November evening in 1981. She and her husband Robert Wagner owned the yacht that was traveling up the California coast. The ship’s captain, and actor Christopher Walken joined the couple.
Police ruled Wood’s death as an accidental drowning and confirmed that she was heavily intoxicated, with a B.A.C. of 0.14% and had also taken some painkillers. But there were no witnesses and no one knows how she ended up in the water. Initially, Wagner thought nothing of her disappearance because, after an argument, she announced she was going to bed. They found her body a mile away in a dinghy, covered in bruises and scratches.
The medical examiner reported her cause of death as “drowning, hypothermia, and other undetermined factors.”
6 Joan Rivers – Plastic Surgery Medical Malpractice
Plastic surgery is not at all uncommon in Hollywood, but Joan Rivers was especially fond of the practice. In her memoir, Melissa Rivers revealed that her mother logged 348 cosmetic operations during her lifetime. The 81-year-old veteran comedian had no reason to fear going under the knife in September 2014 for the routine throat procedure that resulted in her death.
Melissa believes her mother’s death was “100% preventable.” In a successful lawsuit, she alleged that staff at the clinic behaved unprofessionally, cracking jokes and taking selfies next to their unconscious patient. More horrifically, they gave Rivers too much anesthetic, and she never woke up.
After the clinic settled Melissa stated that she was happy to “ensure that those culpable for her death have accepted responsibility for their actions quickly and without equivocation.”
5 Sonny Bono – Skiing Misadventure
Even experienced skiers can have an accident on the slopes. Entertainer and politician Sonny Bono was with his family at a Nevada resort in 1998. They were on their last run after a long morning spent on an intermediate slope. Bono’s wife stopped to help one of their children and he went on ahead. There was nothing amiss about the conditions that day, but Bono decided to take an ill-advised detour into a wooded area.
When his wife didn’t see him at the bottom of the slope, she assumed he was still skiing, and didn’t report him missing until two and a half hours later. Bono’s body was found 25 feet off the main slope. A toxicology report came back negative. Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini stated that the cause of death was, “massive head injuries due to blunt force trauma" from colliding with a tree, describing the death as "immediate."
4 Grace Kelly – "Devil's Curse"
On September 13, 1982, Princess Grace and her daughter Stephanie were heading back from vacation to their home in Monaco. The frequent Alfred Hitchcock star ordinarily hired a driver, but this time her Rover SD-1 was filled to the brim with luggage so there wasn’t room for one.
Stephanie reported that her mother yelled the breaks were out as they approached a hairpin curve called “Devil’s Curse”. Stephanie attempted to engage the hand break, to no avail. Instead, the car accelerated to 50 mph and broke through a retaining wall, somersaulting down the slope and striking a tree trunk at the bottom.
Stephanie was unharmed. Kelly was unconscious when she was finally pulled from the vehicle, later succumbing to her injuries. Investigators believe Kelly, who had been suffering from headaches, blacked out at that crucial moment, accidentally hitting the accelerator instead of the break. Neither passenger was wearing a seatbelt.
3 Jeff Buckley – Mysterious Drowning
The beloved singer-songwriter was only 31 when he made the fatal mistake of taking a dip in Memphis’ Wolf River Harbor. Police reports called it an “accidental drowning”. But Buckley was a strong swimmer and, as the toxicology report revealed, stone cold sober at the time of the accident.
Witnesses claim he dove, fully clothed, into a water channel while belting out a Led Zeppelin song. A roadie states he looked away for a moment and when he looked back, Buckley had vanished.
The “Hallelujah” singer was the son of Tim Buckley, another acclaimed musician who died young. Stranger still, people believe Jeff predicted his own death in song. His only record release, 1994’s Grace, contains the lyrics “the dark angel is shuffling in” and “asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over.”
2 Princess Diana – Fleeing Paparazzi
Though she was no longer married to the British heir apparent, the beloved Princess Diana was heavily mourned the world over after her untimely death in 1997 at the age of 36. Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, the 41-year-old son of an Egyptian billionaire, were killed in Paris when attempting to flee aggressive paparazzi.
The driver took the Mercedes S-280 that contained Di and Dodi to a high speed as it entered the Alma Bridge tunnel and struck a pillar. The driver and Dodi died on the scene, while Diana succumbed to her injuries at the hospital a short while later. Her bodyguard was the only survivor. Fayed and Diana were reportedly not wearing seat belts.
French and British investigators both concluded that the driver was intoxicated and lost control of the vehicle when attempting to shake off their pursuers. Both the driver and the paparazzi were convicted of gross negligence and manslaughter.
1 Steve Irwin – Impaled by Stingray
Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin’s fearlessness and exuberance around wild animals was bound to catch up with him eventually. But it wasn’t a crocodile that caused the animal expert’s death at only 44-years-old.
In 2006, Irwin was snorkeling in his native Australia, filming a documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest, when he encountered an 8-foot wide stingray. Irwin took the sea creature by surprise and it responded as it would to a shark or other natural enemy, striking him several times with its spiny tail, killing him.
Though Irwin’s modus operandi involved an up-close and often hands-on look at dangerous wild animals, the popular nature show personality was always careful never to hurt any of them. He risked his life to give fans a first-hand look at animals in their natural habitat. While it made for great television, it was also his undoing.
Did we forget any celebrities? Let us know in the comments.