ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Despite numerous safety regulations and entire crews devoted to protecting cast and crews, movie sets have become notoriously dangerous places to work, resulting in the injury and death of many innocent people. Too often, the true horror comes from no one accepting culpability for what often turn out to be preventable deaths, and then the movies premiere as if nothing happened.

This is a list of the five most brutal reminders that Hollywood is not only a land of fantasy but also a place of tragedy.

1. Twilight Zone: The Movie

In 1982, director John Landis was filming a scene that featured actor Vic Morrow and two children Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen running away from a in-flight helicopter. While the pilot was turning, a mortar-effect (a device used to cause a bursting effect on film) went off too early and caused the helicopter to spin out of control. It plummeted to the ground, crashing on top of Morrow and the two child actors, killing all of them instantly.

Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Myca Dinh Le
Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Myca Dinh Le

To make circumstances all the more upsetting, Dinh Le and Chen were hired in direct violation of California's child labor laws, which states that child actors are forbidden from working at night or near explosions. An associate producer went so far as to conceal the children from a fire safety office and a welfare worker, and he told their parents to avoid telling firefighters that children were present. Many crew members testified that Landis was negligent throughout filming and that he shrugged off suggestions to handle the scene more safely by not flying the helicopter so low. He was acquitted on charges of manslaughter, and his career was not significantly affected.

2. Midnight Rider

The film [Midnight Rider](movie:924598) may never see a release date due to a railroad accident that caused the death of one of the crew. On February 20, 2014, the crew was supposedly setting up a scene on tracks when a CSX train shockingly crossed the bridge and killed second camera assistant Sarah Jones. Many people were shocked that tragedies like this are still occurring in this day and age (especially in an industry associated with glitz and glamour). The resulting case has been prolonged bout of opposing sides (producers blame the railroad company, sheriff's office blames the production company), but the investigation continues to treat Jones's untimely death as a negligent homicide. Her family is still working tirelessly to get to the bottom of the incident, but it seems that every step of the way CSX officials are pushing back.

3. The Crow

Many critics of the upcoming [The Crow](movie:27465) remake are fans of the original, viewing it as the last testament to Brandon Lee's talent and potential. While filming the 1994 action film, Lee was supposed to walk into an apartment set and get shot by safe dummy cartridges. Unfortunately, the prop crew, in a time-saving maneuver, crafted their own out of the bullets from live rounds. At the time of the fatal scene, the firearms specialist had already gone home, and the prop assistant did not check all the firearms before handling. As a result, one of the makeshift cartridges was stuck in barrel and fired out at full force, mortally striking Lee.

Despite the fact that he was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery, Lee passed away at the young age of 28. The shooting was later ruled an accident, and the film was ultimately completed and released by Miramax.

4. Ocean's Deadliest

Many people know that Steve Irwin tragically died while handling a stingray, but the fact that he was in the middle of filming at the time is less widespread. In September 2006, Steve Irwin was shooting a documentary called Ocean's Deadliest. When weather brought primary filming to a halt, Irwin decided to use the equipment to record some shallow water footage for his daughter's television show. In the middle of a take, a stingray fatally impaled Irwin's chest with the spine of its tail. The typically docile creature managed to land hundreds of strikes in a matter of seconds, puncturing Irwin's lung. The Crocodile Hunter never made it back to the mainland.

5. The Conqueror

This 1956 epic is known for one of the most outrageous stories in Hollywood history (and this time around, I'm not talking about John Wayne playing the part of Genghis Khan). For The Conqueror's exterior scenes, filmmakers hot on location near St. George, Utah, only 137 miles downwind of a test site for above-ground nuclear weapons. While the principal crew was aware of these nuclear tests, the federal government promised that the airborne effects would have no negative effects on public health. Director Dick Powell was so confident, he even shipped 60 tons of Utah dirt back to Hollywood for more accurate re-shoots.

Yes, that IS John Wayne.
Yes, that IS John Wayne.

By 1981, 91 people of the total cast and crew of 220 were diagnosed with some form of cancer, and 46 had already died of the disease. The casualties included director Powell and star John Wayne. According to a biologist at the University of Utah, these numbers are enough to be classified as an epidemic, and in a group this size, only 30 should have developed cancer. Family members fear that the United States government knew more than they originally let on and didn't do enough to stop the film's production.

Were you surprised by this horrifying history of Hollywood's film set tragedy?


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