By the numbers, actors die on set ten times over the number of movies and TV show produced. Of course, those are all staged deaths, just in case you didn’t understand that aspect of entertainment.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure to watch a production in progress, you know sets can be dangerous places. There is heavy equipment everywhere, explosives, electrical wires, scaffolding and an untold number of hazards.
It’s a wonder more people don’t meet their demise on sets. This is why Hollywood has unions and we have Osha, the governing body for workplace safety.
Despite these precautions, accidents happen. That’s why they’re called accidents. People also die from natural causes. The grim reaper does he care about production schedules.
These ten actors didn’t make it to the end of filming before “the big end” made it to them.
Martha Mansfield in 1923
Movie: The Warrens of Virginia
The earliest one on this list and the most gruesome, Mansfield died from burns received when a lit match ignited her costume on set.
It was the Civil War hoop skirt with ruffles that caught fire. She died in the hospital within 24 hours of her burns.
To finish the movie, filmmakers edited down her role.
Tyrone Power in 1958
Movie: Solomon and Sheba
About 75% of the way through filming, Tyrone collapsed on a set from a massive heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital but he died en route.
Producers re-filled the role with Yul Brynner; the scenes all reshot. Some of the long shots with Power where he had turned his back made the film, but for obvious reasons none of his closeups.
Vic Morrow in 1982
Movie: Twilight Zone
If Mansfield death was the most gruesome, Morrow’s is the most tragic.
When the UH-1B helicopter he was in crashed from an explosion gone wrong, the crash killed him along with two child actors. The kids were in the UH-1B with Morrow.
To make matters worse, it turned out those kids were not permitted for the work. Between the losses of life and labor violations, the accident was a nightmare for all involved.
John-Erik Hexum in 1984
TV: Cover Up
Filming on the set of Cover Up, on the 20th Century Fox lot, Hexum suffered a shot to his temple from a gun loaded with blanks.
Bored between takes, Hexum put the gun to his head, knowing there were blanks in it. What he didn’t know was that even blanks shoot a projectile. When a gun filled with blanks is aimed at something like one’s temple at close range, it can be fatal.
Hexum died six days later in the hospital.
Roy Kinnear in 1988
Movie: The Return of the Musketeers
Kinnear was not the only actor to fall from a horse and succumb to his injuries. Falling from a horse is what led to the death of Christopher Reeves (Superman).
Kinnear was in production for The Return of the Musketeers at the time of his death. The fall from the horse broke Kinnear’s pelvis and caused internal bleeding.
It was the heart attack he suffered the next day, brought on from his injuries, that killed him.
Red Foxx in 1991
TV: The Royal Family
Fans knew and loved Foxx for many talents, but he gets credit for pioneering a raunchy style of comedy later mimicked by comedians like Richard Prior and Eddy Murphy.
Foxx was notorious for a move on the set of his self-titled TV show, Sanford, where he would clutch his chest and scream his wife’s name. When he collapsed from chest pains on the set of The Royal Family, he requested that someone get his wife. At first, people on set thought it was a joke.
He died later that evening in the hospital.
Brandon Lee in 1993
Movie: The Crow
The death of Brandon Lee is only shadowed by the death of his own father, which happened after overdosing on prescribed pain killers.
Brandon’s death was on set, and much more aggressive. While filming a scene where they blast his character with a shotgun, a modified round left the chamber of the gun with enough force to penetrate his abdomen.
After six hours of surgery, Lee died in the hospital.
Filmmakers recreated the scene with computer graphics so the movie could retain Brandon in his role.
John Candy in 1993
Movie: Wagon’s East
Few comedians will ever reach the heights of John Candy. Few regular people will ever be so loved.
Of Candy, people said that he was creative, friendly and one of the best people you will ever know. None of us will ever have that pleasure again.
To be fair, Candy was not actually on set when he passed. He was, however, not done filming Wagon’s East. Producers completed the film via script rewrites, stand-ins, and special effects.
John Ritter in 2003
TV: 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Daughter
Probably most famous for the role he played on the TV show Three’s Company, Jack Tripper, Ritter reinvented his career in later years.
It all ended in 2003 when he suffered an aortic dissection, a rare event that can happen unannounced at any time. At the time, he was rehearsing an episode of 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Daughter.
When Ritter started to sweat and complain of chest pain onset, they rushed him across the street to St Joseph Medical Center. Doctors initially thought he was suffering a heart attack. By the time they diagnosed him correctly, then started surgery, it was too late. He died during the procedure.
In the wake of Ritter’s passing, producers changed the show to 8 Simple Rules.
Steve Irwin in 2006
TV: Crocodile Hunter
Let’s call Irwin the intruder on this list. There was no acting in his performances. Steve Irwin was a nut, full of antics, but he was 100% authentic. He was also fearless. The man climbed into opaque swamps filled with crocodiles and survived.
Most people regarded the chances that Irwin took as calculated risks. He knew what was up, just like he did that day filming off the coast of Australia. When the barb of the stingray penetrated his chest underwater, Irwin didn’t panic. He thought the ray had only poked him in the leg, but the barb actually penetrated his heart.
Some distance off the coast, they rushed him back to shore, but he died before the boat made it there.
The hard thing to see with these famous deaths is that behind these famous faces were families. To us, they were our favorite comedian, our favorite action hero, our favorite young lover. To the people close to these individuals, they were Sister or Brother, they were Mom and Dad. In some cases they were Child.
My heart goes out to the people who knew and loved these contributors to the great story of humanity.