Sadly there are too many cases where actors get injured on the set of a movie, either by performing a stunt, or by a very unfortunate accident. In extreme cases this can mean the death of one of the actors on the set, while filming. This is our top 10 actors/actresses that sadly died while filming/on set. Our condolences goes out to these guys’ families. These guys could have given so much more to the world, to us, and to their loved ones.
10 Famous Actors who Died before the Film was Finished
1. Brandon Lee
Movie: The Crow (1994)
Cause: Killed by a prop .44 Magnum
Probably the most famous of them all. What a tragic accident this was indeed. On March 31, 1993 there were eight days left before shooting of the film The Crow was to be completed. The scene being filmed involved Lee’s character Eric Draven walking into his apartment and witnessing the brutal rape of his fiancée by thugs. Lee’s character would then have been shot and killed along with his fiancée by the thugs.
As the scene was being filmed, Brandon Lee was killed after Michael Massee (who played the villain Funboy) fired the gun at Lee as intended. The bullet unseated from a dummy round was lodged in the barrel of the handgun. The bullet was not noticed and the gun was loaded with a blank cartridge. When the blank was fired, the bullet shot out and hit Lee in the abdomen.
After Lee’s death, a stunt double, Chad Stahelski replaced Lee in some scenes to complete the film. Special effects were used for digitally compositing Lee’s face onto the double. The original footage featuring Lee’s actual death is the source of some controversy. Some accounts claim it was destroyed immediately, without even being developed while others suggest it was later given to Lee’s family. The bullet lodged in the dummy gun due was handed over to law enforcement officials as evidence by the Special Effects department. A display was shown to prove that dummy guns were intentionally built to be unable to fire actual bullets. The bullet was still lodged in the dummy gun when the scene was filmed.
2. Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6)
Movie: The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Cause: a Helicopter decapitated all three actors
During the filming of a segment of the 1983 movie The Twilight Zone, producted by Steven Spielberg, actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. The helicopter was flying at an altitude of only 25 feet (8 meters), too low to avoid the explosions of the pyrotechnics used on set. When the blasts severed the tail rotor, it spun out of control and crashed, decapitating Morrow and Le with its blades. Chen was crushed to death as the helicopter crashed. Everyone inside the helicopter survived sustaining minor injuries.
The accident led to legal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade, and changed the regulations involving children working on movie sets at night and during special effects-heavy scenes. The incident also ended the friendship between director Landis and producer Spielberg, who was already angered before the accident that Landis had violated many codes, including using live ammunition on the set.
3. John Ritter
Movie: 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (2003)
Cause: Aortic dissection
On September 11, 2003, Ritter fell ill and complained about severe chest pains during rehearsals for 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, when he collapsed during the rehearsals and fell into a coma. He was taken across the street to the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, where he died later that evening, at approximately 10:45 pm PST from an aortic dissection caused by a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Ritter was best known for playing Jack Tripper on the hit ABC sitcom Three’s Company, for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award in 1984.
4. Oliver Reed
Movie: Gladiator (2000)
While shootingGladiator on the island of Malta in 1999, Oliver reportedly drank three bottles of rum, eight bottles of beer, and several shots of whiskey. At the end of the night, Reed, 61, dropped dead from a heart attack. Most of his scenes had been shot, but for the few that weren’t, director Ridley Scott used a body double and then, using digital technology, placed Reed’s face on the stand-in’s body (they were fight scenes). His films include The Trap, Oliver!, Women in Love, Hannibal Brooks, The Triple Echo, The Devils, The Three Musketeers, Tommy, Castaway, Lion of the Desert and Gladiator.
5. Bruce Lee
Movie: Enter the Dragon (1973)
Cause: Cerebral edema
This is without a doubt the most controversial death by a famous actor. Bruce Lee was doing dubbing work in Hong Kong on May 10, 1973, for Enter the Dragon at Golden Harvest studios. He collapsed in the bathroom and was rushed to the Hong Kong Baptist Hospital. Doctors who treated him said he died of cerebral edema. Much controversy exists over Lee’s death over speculation that cannabis may have been part of the cause of his death.The martial-arts legend later died under mysterious circumstances while “Enter the Dragon” was being edited and before he could return to work on “Game of Death.”
6. John Candy
Movie: Wagons East (1994)
Cause: Heart Attack
Funnyman John Candy, known for portraying portly, lovable underdogs in such movies as “Stripes,” “Uncle Buck” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” died of a massive heart attack on March 4, 1994 — the same night that he filmed his final scene in “Wagons East.” Candy left the set, cooked a celebratory spaghetti dinner for his assistants, called his co-stars to congratulate them and went to bed. By the next morning, he was dead. The film — a comedy set in the Wild West — was released later that summer. Candy played the inebriated leader of a wagon train bent on getting a job from two successful businessmen. Although some believed that Candy offered the performance of a lifetime, the movie was widely panned by critics as an unworthy farewell to Candy, who had starred in nearly 40 films and was just 43 years old when he died
7. Natalie Wood
Movie: Brainstorm (1981)
Wood, the star of films including “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Splendor in the Grass,” was at the time of her death filming the movie “Brainstorm” opposite Christopher Walken. On Nov. 29, 1981, he accompanied the married couple on a late night yacht cruise off the coast of Southern California and, in the hours before dawn, Woods and Wagner argued, she went overboard and unable to swim, Woods drowned. After her death, producers struggled to secure funding for “Brainstorm.” When it did hit theaters, the movie didn’t attract moviegoers. The movie’s director, Douglas Trumbull, known for his special-effects work on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” immediately retired. Throughout the years, speculation continued to swirl around the circumstances of Wood’s death. The case was reopened in 2011, when the man who had captained the yacht that night came forward to reveal that Wagner and Walken had attempted to cover up Wood’s death.
8. River Phoenix
Movie: Dark Blood (1993)
One of the most promising young actors of his time, River Phoenix (Stand By Me, My Own Private Idaho) was shooting the movie Dark Blood, portraying a man who lived alone on a nuclear testing site and spent his time making strange dolls. With 11 days to go on the production, Phoenix, then 23 years old, overdosed on cocaine and heroin, and died on the sidewalk outside The Viper Room, a Los Angeles nightclub. There were too many pivotal scenes left to shoot, so producers completely scrapped the movie.
9. Marilyn Monroe
Movie: Something’s Got to Give (1962)
Blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, famous for her film roles, multiple marriages and memorable serenading of President John F. Kennedy, died on Aug. 5, 1962, before she could finish filming “Something’s Got to Give.”
The comedy, which was being directed by George Cukor and also starred Cyd Charisse and Dean Martin, had been plagued with conflict from the start. At one point, Monroe was even fired. But Martin refused to work with any actress other than Monroe, so the famous beauty was rehired. Before Monroe could resume her role, however, she was found dead in her Brentwood, Calif., home — the result of an overdose of barbiturates. After Monroe’s death, the filming of “Something’s Got to Give” was eventually scrapped, but parts of the unfinished film were included in a 2001 documentary titled “Marilyn: The Final Days”
10. Heath Ledger
Movie: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2008)
Cause: Accidental Overdose
Heath Ledger made a name for himself as a quick-witted heartthrob in “10 Things I Hate About You” and “A Knight’s Tale” before moving on to more dramatic roles in iconic movies that included “Brokeback Mountain” and the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie series, “The Dark Knight.”
Ledger began filming “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” with director Terry Gilliam. In January 2008, with just a third of the movie filmed, Ledger went to bed in his apartment in New York City’s tony SoHo district, where his housekeeper later found him dead. An autopsy revealed that Ledger died after an accidental and gradual overdose on a combination of painkillers, sleeping pills and other prescription drugs, leading some to speculate that playing the Joker led to his death. Ledger’s grieving Hollywood family came together to save “Imaginarium.” With some minor script changes, Gilliam brought on Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, three of Ledger’s closest friends, to portray facets of Ledger’s character in his remaining scenes. Combined with a near-identical body double, a few tricks that Gilliam isn’t revealing and several happy coincidences, their performances gave the film the chance to live — and to honor Ledger’s memory
Also worth Mentioning:
Movie: Troy (2004)
Cause: Heart attack from a blood clot in his leg
In a twist of irony, Brad Pitt tore his left Achilles tendon during shooting. Tragically, actor George Camilleri, a bodybuilding extra, severely broke his leg in a scene. He was treated at the hospital, but days later suffered a heart attack from a blood clot in his leg. He was treated once again and released only to have another heart attack which lead to his death.
Harry L. O’Connor, Vin Diesel’s stuntman
Movie: xXx (2002)
Cause: Killed due to a parasailing accident
Diesel’s stunt double was killed in an accident during filming, in a scene in which he was supposed to rappel down a parasailing line and land on a submarine. When O’Connor failed to rappel down the line fast enough, he hit a bridge at high speed and was killed instantly. His death was caught on camera, but director Rob Cohen decided to include the footage of the scene – with the final moments edited out – out of respect for the stuntman’s final act.
Movie: Queen of the Damned (2002)
Cause: Plane crash
Note: We notably not only mentioned actors who died on set, but also who may not have died while on location or on set.