From camera crews and special effects to lighting, sound and late night rehearsals, not everything always goes according to plan on movie sets. In fact, bad things happen even in Hollywood as cast and crew members face life-threatening tragedies that completely interrupt film production and life as they know it.
Whether it’s a tragic accident or even an unexpected illness, movie sets have seen their fair share of devastation that leave cast and crew members to cope with heavy hearts as they live by the motto, “The show must somehow go on.” But, exactly what kind of tragedy do we mean?
The history of Hollywood is filled with a wide variety of accidents simply because technology and safety standards were obsolete and even uncommon at the time. Thanks to today’s technological advancements and digital filmmaking, movie sets have become much safer than in decades past. However, tragedies still occur – people drown, get hurt, are shot, or have unforeseen medical issues. Life happens in Hollywood.
Today, we’re taking a look at Hollywood history by sharing with you 18 celebrities who died tragically while in the middle of filming. From early Hollywood stars and stunt pilots to martial artists and comedians, these celebs lost their lives far too soon leaving Hollywood with one less star on the illustrious red carpet. Let’s get started!
#18 – Eric Fleming (High Jungle)
“Rawhide!” Born in California in 1925, Eric Fleming had an interesting upbringing with quite an unhappy childhood. Born with a club foot and abused by his father, Fleming attempted to kill his father and then ran away from home where he spent his teenage years involved in gangs. After his service with the Navy during World War II, Fleming worked as a crew member at Paramount Studios before he was cast as a regular in 1958 on the television series Rawhide.
Fleming had just wrapped up the final season of Rawhide when he was cast in The Glass Bottom Boat across from Doris Day and High Jungle. While shooting High Jungle on site in Peru, Fleming and his costar, Nico Minardos, accidentally overturned their canoe in the Huallaga River. Minardos was able to swim back to shore but the current caught Fleming and swept him under. At just 41 years old on September 28, 1966, Fleming tragically died leaving his fiancée, Lynn Garber, and family heartbroken.
#17 – Conway Wickliffe (The Dark Knight)
“The curse of Batman.” With dreams of becoming a special effects expert, Conway Wickliffe left his native home of New Zealand at the turn of the century for the United States, Hollywood to be exact. Beginning his career as a special effects crew member, Wickliffe’s dreams came true as he worked on memorable films including Black Hawk Down, the Tomb Raider series as well as the James Bond series. Then, he received the call of a lifetime when he was asked to join the special effects crew for the latest Batman trilogy, a decision that would ultimately cost his life.
Filming in Surrey for one of The Dark Knight’s most memorable scenes, Wickliffe was in the back seat of a small Nissan when the car crashed into a tree at 20 miles per hour. Though the low-speed impact would have otherwise caused minor damage, Wickliffe had been leaning out of the window with a camera to film another stunt car traveling alongside. Paramedics were quick to respond but the 41-year-old Wickliffe was pronounced dead on scene.
#16 – Redd Foxx (The Royal Family)
Born as Jon Elroy Stanford, Redd Foxx launched his career in the 1950s as a standup comedian known for his raunchy nightclub acts. Earning his place in the spotlight, Foxx was dubbed as the “King of Party Records” and was named by Comedy Central as one of the 25 greatest standup comedians of all time. Perhaps more notable than his explicit comedy, Foxx will forever be remembered as Fred Sanford on the hit sitcom Sanford and Son, which ran from 1972 to 1977.
Long after production wrapped for Sanford and Son, Foxx stayed active in television and comedy, later appearing on the 1991 series produced by Eddie Murphy, The Royal Family. Cast opposite of Della Reese, Foxx was taking a break on set when he had a heart attack and fell to the floor. Ironically, he kept saying “Get my wife”, a phrase from his early days on Sanford that made the crew think he was doing a throwback to his former character. Unfortunately, Foxx wasn’t kidding and was rushed to the hospital where he died that evening at the age of 68.
#15 – Paul Mantz (The Flight of the Phoenix)
Let’s time travel, shall we? Traveling back to Hollywood in the mid-1900s, Paul Mantz made a name for himself simply because he loved to fly. At just 16 years old, Mantz was hired as a hearse driver in California and used his paycheck to pay for flying lessons. Joining the United States Army as an air cadet, Mantz took his career in aviation to Hollywood where he was hired as a stunt pilot and worked with Howard Hughes in films such as The Galloping Ghost and Air Mail.
After becoming a mainstay in Hollywood and serving once again in the United States military, Mantz spent the 1960s working on the film The Flight of the Phoenix, which featured an aircraft built specifically for the film. During a tragic accident while filming over a desert in Arizona, Mantz attempted to recover the aircraft just as it broke in two and plummeted nose-first into the ground, killing the 61-year old precision pilot.
#14 – Steve Irwin (Ocean’s Deadliest)
“Crikey, mate!” Hailing from the Land Down Under, Steve Irwin’s incredible passion for the planet’s wildest animals quickly launched him into the spotlight as “The Crocodile Hunter”. Irwin took his love of animals to new heights when he starred in his own television series, aptly named The Crocodile Hunter, and opened the Australia Zoo with his wife, Terri. Becoming an international sensation, people from around the world soon recognized Irwin by his signature outfit and “Crikey!” exclamation!
In what was just another regular day for Irwin, he was filming the documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest, in 2006 when the 44-year-old came up to a stingray in shallow water. The stingray reacted angrily to Irwin being so close and struck him hundreds of times within a matter of seconds. Always the optimist, Irwin believed that he would be fine but the loss of blood and the piercing of his spine claimed his life in the only stingray attack ever captured on video.
#13 – Martha Mansfield (The Warrens of Virginia)
In the early days of Hollywood when silent films first debuted, Martha Mansfield was considered a star. A New York City native, Mansfield launched her career on Broadway when she was just 14 years old before signing a contract with Essanay Studios. Once under contract, the young actress appeared in multiple silent films before making her Hollywood debut in Civilian Clothes. From there, she landed a prominent role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and later signed with Fox where her stardom skyrocketed.
At just 24 years old and in the midst of her career, Mansfield was working in San Antonio, Texas on the set of the film The Warrens of Virginia. After filming on November 29, 1923, Mansfield was sitting in a car when someone tossed a match nearby, which sent her and her Civil War era costume up in flames. Despite the help of her costar and the chauffer, Mansfield was badly burned and rushed to a nearby hospital where she passed away less than 24 hours later.
#12 – Oliver Reed (Gladiator)
Best known as a hell-raiser and a tough guy, England native Oliver Reed found it easy to live up to his reputation. Recognized by the scar on his face, which he got after a bar brawl in the 1960s that required 60 stitches, Reed had a long battle with alcoholism but always managed to hold it together long enough to star in notable films like The Three Musketeers, Castaway, Lion of the Desert and Gladiator.
Rumored to drink massive amounts, including over 100 pints in two days, Reed’s drinking habits finally caught up with him in 1999. In the middle of filming Gladiator in Malta, the 61-year-old actor was taking a break when a heart attack claimed his life on May 2nd. With Reed gone, directors used computer-generated images and mannequins to digitally insert a double in Reed’s place for the remainder of the film.
#11 – Bela Lugosi (Plan 9 From Outer Space)
Born in Hungary, Bela Lugosi was a stage actor in his native country and had collected small roles before leaving in 1917 after the Hungarian Revolution. First stopping in Germany to pursue acting, Lugosi finally arrived in the United States where he landed the biggest role of his career in 1927 as Dracula on Broadway. Just four years later, in 1931, he was cast as the title character in the Dracula film.
Toward the end of his career, Lugosi took just about any acting role he could find in order to further build his portfolio and legacy. One of the worst films of all time, Plan 9 From Outer Space, was no exception as the 73-year-old actor was preparing for filming when he suffered a heart attack and died on August 16, 1956. As a tribute to his legacy, the former Dracula star was laid to rest in full Dracula costume.
#10 – Roy Kinnear (The Return of the Musketeers)
Widely considered as one of the hardest working character actors in all of Britain, Roy Kinnear appeared on dozens of television shows and movies, especially in the comedy genre. Out of his many roles over an astonishing 44-year career, Kinnear was best known for The Three Musketeers and its two sequels as well as Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, in which he played Veruca Salt’s father.
While filming The Return of the Musketeers, the second sequel to The Three Musketeers, Kinnear was riding a horse for the cameras in Spain when he fell off and broke his pelvis. Rushed to the hospital in Madrid, Kinnear suffered from internal bleeding and later had a heart attack and died at just 54 years old. Devastated by the loss, Kinnear’s family sued the production company and was granted a $1 million settlement. The director of the film even quit the film business altogether because he was so distraught by Kinnear’s death.
#9 – Art Scholl (Top Gun)
Art Scholl and Paul Mantz can easily but put into the same category as both were skilled pilots who were able to successfully take their talents in aviation to Hollywood. Born in Wisconsin in 1931, Arthur Everett Scholl moved to California as a child with plans to become a full-time stunt pilot performing across the country. Doing exactly that, Scholl worked on many different blockbuster hits including The A-Team, CHiPS, The Right Stuff and Top Gun.
While working on one of the most memorable films in Hollywood history, Top Gun, Scholl intended to capture a spin stunt using the onboard cameras when he radioed in, “I have a problem – I have a real problem.” Since the plane’s weight had not been adjusted for the cameras, the plane spun out of control and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again. Gone at just 53 years old, Scholl’s body was never recovered but his legacy lives on as the film was dedicated to his memory.
#8 – Tyrone Power (Solomon and Sheba)
From his dashing good looks and charisma to his macho persona, Tyrone Power was quickly cast as the swashbuckler in World War II era films such as The Mark of Zorro, Witness for the Prosecution and Captain from Castile. More than just a pretty face, Power proved to have a wide range of talent across all genres and had earned the respect of his peers after serving in World War II as a transport co-pilot.
Power and his wife, Deborah, who was seven months pregnant at the time, traveled to Spain in 1958 to film the movie Solomon and Sheba. With the majority of his scenes complete, Powers was in the middle of a dueling scene with his costar and friend, George Sanders, when he had a massive heart attack and died at just 44 years old on the way to the hospital. Just two months later, Deborah gave birth to their son, Tyrone Power IV.
#7 – Jon-Erik Hexum (Cover Up)
Born in New Jersey, Jon-Erik Hexum enrolled at Michigan State University where he worked as a radio DJ and actor. With his college diploma in hand, Hexum then moved to New York City where he met and hired a talent manager who landed him numerous auditions after relocating to Los Angeles. Hexum was soon cast as the lead in NBC’s 1982 series, Voyagers!, which was canceled after one season. Still, producers saw something in Hexum as he continued to land roles in series such as Hotel and Cover Up.
In 1984 while on the set of Cover Up at 20th Century Fox studios, one of the scenes required Hexum to load blanks into a handgun. With filming stalled as directors worked out the details, the 24-year-old actor took out all but one blank in the gun and played a rendition of Russian Roulette. Putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger, the gun fired but the blank never penetrated his skull. Instead, it created a fracture that led to a brain hemorrhage that ultimately took his life six days later after hours of surgery and irreparable brain damage.
#6 – John Ritter (8 Simple Rules)
“Come and knock on our door…” Deemed by Don Knotts as the “greatest physical comedian on the planet,” John Ritter launched his acting career in 1961 and rose to prominence as Jack Tripper on the hit sitcom, Three’s Company. Appearing in hundreds of other films and television shows, Ritter is also known for memorable roles in Problem Child, It, and Bad Santa as well as his final television series, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
While rehearsing one of the scenes for 8 Simple Rules, Ritter appeared to be ill as he began sweating and vomiting. Complaining of chest pains, he was rushed to the hospital across the street where doctors assumed he was having a heart attack. As his condition worsened, doctors discovered that Ritter actually had an aortic dissection but it was already too late. On September 11, 2003, just before his 55th birthday, John Ritter passed away among family and his closest friends.
#5 – John Candy (Wagons East)
Larger than life, Canadian funnyman John Candy is one of the most memorable names in all of comedy. First performing improv in Canada at the start of his career, Candy later rose to fame after being cast in movies such as Spaceballs, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Uncle Buck. With dozens of successful roles throughout his career, Candy became one of the most recognizable and bankable names in Hollywood.
Staying true to his comedy career, Candy was filming Wagons East, a parody of Old West movies, on site in Durango, Mexico in 1994 when tragedy struck. After cooking a late dinner for his assistants while on break from filming, Candy called his costars from the hotel and then turned in for the night. While sleeping, the 43-year-old legend suffered a heart attack and was found dead the next day. Ironically enough, Candy was one of three actors considered for the role in a Fatty Arbuckle biopic. The other two actors were John Belushi and Chris Farley.
#4 – Vic Morrow (Twilight Zone: The Movie)
Born and raised in the Bronx, Vic Morrow dropped out of high school when he was 17 years old and joined the Navy. After his service was over, Morrow launched his acting career in the 1950s and, within a few years, had landed a role alongside Elvis Presley in King Creole. With appearances in television shows such as The Restless Gun, The Untouchables and Bonanza, Morrow is best known for the 1960s series Combat!
In 1982, Morrow was selected as Bill Connor, one of the lead roles in Twilight Zone: The Movie. While filming in California, Morrow was part of a scene that required him to run from a helicopter that was hovering about 20 feet off of the ground. In the middle of filming, the helicopter was damaged by pyrotechnic explosions, causing it to come crashing to the ground. Morrow, who was 53 years old, and his costar were decapitated by the helicopter blades and killed instantly.
#3 – Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon)
Who doesn’t know Bruce Lee? When it comes to martial arts and film, there is no other name in history that is bigger than Bruce Lee. A native of San Francisco, Lee was raised in Hong Kong and was a child actor until he returned to the United States at the age of 18 to attend college. Teaching martial arts while filming movies, Lee forever changed how Asians were presented in American films with his most notable roles in The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon, which he directed.
In 1973, Lee was dubbing his film Enter the Dragon into English at the Golden Harvest Studio in Hong Kong when he suffered from seizures and headaches. Rushed to the hospital, doctors discovered that he had a cerebral edema. Just two months later on July 20th, Lee suffered a similar incident that caused his brain to swell; only this time, doctors were unable to revive the 32-year-old star in what was later referred to as a “death by misadventure.”
#2 – Brandon Lee (The Crow)
Like father, like son. Brandon Lee is not only the son of Bruce Lee, he also passed away at an even younger age from an even stranger situation. Lee’s acting career kicked off in the 1980s after he starred in the film Kung Fu: The Movie. Appearing in numerous action flicks throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of Lee’s acting credits include Showdown in Little Tokyo, Rapid Fire and The Crow.
Filming The Crow in North Carolina in 1993, Lee’s scene involved him getting shot by his costar, Michael Massee, as he walked into the room. The gun was supposed to be loaded with blank cartridges but the crew had attempted to make their own blanks, causing an unseen malfunction in the gun. As Massee fired the blank, Lee was shot with a fatal round in the abdomen. Rushed to a local hospital, the 28-year-old underwent six hours of surgery before surgeons pronounced him dead at 1:03 p.m. on March 31st.
#1 – Paul Walker (Furious 7)
From a part time soap opera star on The Young and the Restless to an international icon and heartthrob, Paul Walker rose to fame after breakout roles in coming-of-age films like She’s All That and Varsity Blues. Easy on the eyes with a mischievous grin, Walker landed the biggest break in his career when he starred in The Fast and the Furious franchise which led to other leading roles in films like Eight Below, Into the Blue, Joy Ride and Running Scared.
Walker was in the midst of filming Furious 7 in 2013 when he and his financial advisor, 38-year-old Roger Rodas, arrived at a charity event in Rodas’ red Porsche. With Walker in the passenger seat, the two sped off, topping anywhere between 80 and 90 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone when they crashed into a concrete post and hit two trees. Burned beyond recognition and pronounced dead on the scene, Walker was only 40 years old at the time. Walker’s brothers, Cody and Caleb, stepped in to help finish his Furious 7 scenes.