When it comes to tragedy striking a film, 1973’s The Exorcist is one movie that usually comes to mind. During production, an astonishing nine people who were associated with the film lost their lives soon after.
But what about the film where two actors were decapitated by the blades of a crashing helicopter during shooting?
Let's take a look at the tragedies that befell certain cast and crew members during filming while on set.
1. 'The Crow' (1994)
Death: Brandon Lee
Probably one of the most infamous on-set deaths has to be that of Brandon Lee during the filming of 1994’s The Crow. The scene involved Lee’s character (Eric Draven) walking into his apartment, where he witnesses the rape of his fiancée. After this, Lee’s character and his fiancée were to be shot and killed by the perpetrators.
On March 31, 1993, at the North Carolina Film Studios in Wilmington NC, the latter part of the scene was being filmed. There were eight days left before shooting of the film was to be completed, but Brandon Lee would end up dead.
Michael Massee (The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), (who played the villain 'Funboy') pointed the prop gun at Lee and fired it as planned. However, the bullet dislodged from a replica round that was stuck in the barrel of the handgun. The bullet had gone unnoticed prior to the gun being loaded with a blank cartridge. When the blank was fired, the bullet was also fired and ended up striking Lee in the stomach. He underwent 6 hours of surgery, but to no avail.
Following his untimely death, a stunt double, Chad Stahelski (The Expendables 2 (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), RED 2 (2013), The Wolverine (2013) stood in for Lee in some scenes. In order for the film to be finished, special effects were added to composite Lee’s face onto Stahelski’s.
The bullet that was lodged in the prop gun was given to the police as evidence by the Special Effects Department, as was the video footage of his death. The shooting was ruled an accident.
2. 'Enter The Dragon' (1973)
Death: Bruce Lee
On May 10, 1973, Bruce Lee was doing dubbing work for Enter the Dragon (1973) at Golden Harvest Studios. After collapsing in the bathroom, he was taken to the Hong Kong Baptist Hospital where he was treated by doctors. He later died of cerebral edema (brain swelling) and it was officially recorded as "Death by Misadventure."
However, many theories exist over whether this was the true reason for Lee’s death, or whether something else may have been a contributing factor.
In South-East Asia, a popular theory was that Bruce Lee confronted Diki Zulkarnain, a Silat exponent when he was visiting Indonesia. Even though Lee would win the fight, Zulkarnain viewed Lee to be conceited and big-headed. He went on to say that he had used covert mantras during their fight which resulted in internal damages occurring to Lee. These wounds continued to trouble lee until his unexpected death as a result of the blows he received from the fight.
A separate theory speculates that he may have died due to an allergic reaction to marijuana, a substance that he took in purified resin form. Many people have found this theory contentious, but it was confirmed that the coroner had discovered hints of this during the autopsy.
3. 'Top Gun' (1986)
Death: Art Scholl
Art Scholl was a renowned aerobatic pilot known for his work on Blue Thunder (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). In 1985, he was asked to perform some in-flight camera work for the film, Top Gun (1986) which involved him doing a flat spin (a spin in which an aircraft descends in tight circles while remaining almost horizontal).
Planning to film the stunt via an on-board camera, Scholl entered the spin, but was powerless in his ability to recover from it, and the plane crashed. The Pitts S-2 went down in the Pacific ocean, off the coast of Southern California.
The reason behind this tragic accident has never been discovered.
4. 'The Return of the Musketeers' (1989)
Death: Roy Kinnear
On the 19th of September, 1988, actor Roy Kinnear (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) was shooting The Return of the Musketeers (1989) in Toledo, Spain. During filming, he was thrown from a horse and subsequently broke his pelvis, suffering internal bleeding in the process.
His injuries were so bad that he died of a heart attack the following day in a Madrid Hospital at the age of 54. Richard Lester, the director of 1989's The Return of the Musketeers decided to retire from the industry as a direct result of the tragedy.
Following his death, the family of Kinnear launched legal proceedings against the production company, as well as the director. It wasn’t until 1991 that they received a £650,000 ($970,000) settlement.
He is buried in East Sheen Cemetery in Richmond, London.
5. 'Troy' 2004
Death: George Camilleri
During the production of the $180 million-budget film Troy (2004), George Camilleri, a keen body builder, broke his leg while filming in Ghajn Tuffieha, Malta. While in the hospital, Camilleri was operated on, and later discharged on crutches on June 6. Nine days later, he was readmitted suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath and died 2 days later of pulmonary thromboembolism which led to a heart failure.
Part of the report into his death stated that:
Pulmonary thromboembolism is not an uncommon complication following trauma, fracture of the lower leg, surgery to the lower limb and immobility.
The inquiry revealed that Camilleri had no previous medical problems and was only taking pain killers when he was admitted to hospital.
The investigation into the death concluded that Mr. Camilleri had failed to follow the instructions given to him by the assistant stunt coordinator, Mr. Eastwood.
6. 'xXx' (2002)
Death: Harry L. O’Connor
Vin Diesel's 2002 film, xXx was hit by tragedy when the actor's stunt double was killed during filming.
Harry L. O’Connor (The Perfect Storm (2000), Charlie's Angels (2000) was shooting a scene where he was meant to descend down a sharp incline where he would eventually land on a submarine. However, he was unable to descend fast enough and ended up hitting a bridge at high speed. He died instantly.
Several notes have been made about the accounts, including;
I think it is notable for the list that Diesel's stuntman had already done the stunt successfully before he was killed. He felt that it wasn't good enough, that he hadn't got close enough to the bridge (for suspense purposes) and asked the director if he could do it again. It was during this second take that he was killed. I believe, as a side note, that his family had arrived in Prague just before the accident to watch his stunt and were present during his death.
The tragedy was caught on film, but director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious (2001) opted to include the shot in the film, with the final seconds edited out — out of respects for O’Connor’s final act.
7. 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' (1983)
Deaths: Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6)
The last entry on this list involves the deaths of not one, not two, but three actors. During the shooting of a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears (1976) and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) perished after an accident involving a helicopter being used in the film.
Pyrotechnics that were being used at the time were set off, coming into contact with the helicopter that was only flying at 25 feet (8 meters).
As the pyrotechnics went off, they severed the tail rotor, causing the helicopter to spin out of control and crash. Morrow and Le were decapitated by the blades and Chen was crushed to death when the helicopter hit the ground. Despite the crash, everyone on board the helicopter miraculously survived, sustaining only minor injuries.
This tragedy resulted in changes in regulation regarding children working on film sets, not only during the night, but also when special effects-heavy scenes are being filmed. The accident was also responsible for Hollywood deciding to avoid using helicopter-related stunts for several years, until the 1990s when CGI came into effect.
Director John Landis (Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) along with four others, were subsequently charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter as a result of unlawful hiring of the two child actors.
During the trial, the court was shown footage of the incident, after which the jury concluded that Landis could not have thought that there could have been any possible danger.
The conclusion of the trial resulted in all four defendants being found not guilty.