Claim: Several actors have kicked the bucket in front of an audience.
Long part of the canon of contemporary lore is the tale of
an unfortunate actor who expires on stage, his adoring audience unaware of his sudden deceasement because they think his collapse part of the show — while they clap and cheer at the brilliance of his death scene performance, unknown to them he is gasping his last.
What follows is a quick romp through a growing list of those who died in the blaze of the footlights or on camera, or who were rumored to have met the Grim Reaper while treading the boards. At least one thespian death actually does match the legend (see if you can find it).
Sports figures are not included in this compilation, even though a great many of them have expired while doing their thing as the public watched.
This French playwright and actor-manager collapsed during the fourth performance of his newly penned Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). Overwhelmed by a coughing fit, he was carried to his home in the Rue de Richelieu, Paris, where he died.
This Austrian conductor died in Munich at the age of 55 while conducting
During a radio show (a round table discussion with four others on Hitlerism), Woolcott suffered a heart attack at
Rhythm and blues recording star Johnny Ace died during a show he was giving in Houston, but did so offstage. During a five minute break, the singer was amusing himself with a game of Russian Roulette (one bullet in the chamber). He lost.
Tyrone Power suffered a heart attack during the filming of a fencing scene in Solomon and Sheba in Madrid, Spain. He died only minutes after being loaded into an ambulance.
As famed comedian Parkyakarkus, Harry Einstein expired while performing at a Friars Club roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He collapsed onto Milton Berle’s shoulder.
Chief conductor at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, van Beinum was taken ill after rehearsing the first two movements of a Brahms symphony, and died immediately after stepping off the podium aged 58.
Just after he completed his second-act aria in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Warren plunged face-forward onto the stage. The curtain was rung down, and it was announced a half hour later the singer had died of a massive stroke.
This aviation pioneer and legendary movie stunt pilot died in Yuma, Arizona, during the filming of The Flight Of The Phoenix. As three motion picture cameras ground away, his plane hit a small sand dune, overturned and disintegrated. Though semi-retired from stunt work, Mantz was covering for his partner, Frank Tallman, who’d six weeks earlier broken his leg pushing his son’s
This famous actor and singer suffered a fatal stroke while performing onstage at the Doral Country Club in Miami at age 65. He died in hospital the next day.
This 60-year-old conductor died at the National Theatre in Munich while leading Tristan and Isolde.
While playing the lead in Macbeth at the Crawford Livingston Theatre in
In a New York Times Magazine interview, this 72-year-old longevity guru announced, “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver.” A guest on the Dick Cavett Show the next day, while Cavett was discussing politics with journalist Pete Hamill, Rodale’s head dropped to his chest and he was heard to let out what sounded like a snore. “Are we boring you,
The lead guitarist of the Glasgow band Stone the Crows died after being electrocuted onstage at Swansea’s Top Rank Ballroom.
Best known as “Granny” on TV’s Beverly Hillbillies, this spritely 71-year-old suffered a stroke while performing in the Broadway musical Pippin and died six weeks later.
This 59-year-old expired of a heart attack while conducting Bach’s Come, Sweet Death at the Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. It was his first and last performance of that piece.
After surprisingly opening her morning community affairs talk show with a newscast, this 30-year-old reporter announced, “In keeping with
Best known for his Carry On roles, the grand old man of dirty laughter collapsed onstage at the Sunderland Empire during a performance of The Mating Game and died in hospital shortly thereafter. He’d suffered a heart attack.
This 83-year-old actor suffered a heart attack during a
This famed aerialist died at age 73 while attempting to walk a wire suspended
While attempting to film war destruction in Nicaragua, this ABC television news correspondent and his interpreter, Juan Espinosa, were executed by a National Guard soldier. Surviving members of the ABC crew managed to catch the murder on tape, and the footage was later shown on news broadcasts.
This 48-year-old actor suffered a heart attack during a New York City performance of Peter Pan.
In Hollywood’s most infamous on-set tragedy, Vic Morrow and two child actors in Twilight Zone, The Movie were killed when struck by a helicopter during the late-night filming of a mock Vietnam battle scene in Valencia, California. All exposed film was immediately seized, but some eventually made its way into the 1992 compilation film Death
Eight years after collapsing on stage during a performance and slipping into a coma, this singer died. He’d been felled in Cherry Hill, N.J. on
Known as the fez-wearing magician whose tricks always seemed to go wrong, this British comedian suffered a heart attack during a televised performance. Given the usual nature of his act, the audience took some time to realize that this really wasn’t part of it. He died later in hospital.
This half of Britain’s Morecambe and Wise comedy team died in hospital the day after suffering a heart attack during a curtain call of a performance in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He was 58 years old.
Hexum died of a gunshot wound after he accidentally shot himself in the head with a .44-caliber magnum pistol loaded with blanks while on the set of the TV series Cover-Up. Wadding from the blank cartridge had been driven into his skull. Hexum was replaced in the series by Antony Hamilton, but the show didn’t last all that long, running only from
The Sankai Juku Dance Company of Toyko had been performing The Dance Of Birth And Death on the side of Seattle’s Mutual Life building when Takada’s rope broke and he plunged six stories to his death. The film of his demise was shown on the nightly news.
Millions heard the final broadcast of this traffic reporter for WNBC radio in New York City as the helicopter she was in crashed into the Hudson River. She died on the way to the hospital. The pilot survived. This was Dornacker’s second helicopter crash that year.
After singing several choruses of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” during a performance of The Drunkard, this 60-year-old actress collapsed on stage for her scripted death scene and suffered an unscripted fatal heart attack. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.
This Cincinnati reporter for radio station WKRC was killed along with the pilot in the crash of the station’s helicopter. She was not broadcasting at the time.
This Pennsylvania state treasurer staged the best-known televised suicide. About to be sentenced on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury, and racketeering for taking a $300,000 kickback on a state computer contract, Dwyer convened a press conference in his office. While the film rolled, he handed out a twenty-page press statement, made a few remarks, then placed the barrel of a
While giving a comedy performance at the UC San Diego campus, Shawn fell and struck his head on the stage. The comedian lay there for nearly five minutes before the audience realized it was not part of his act and an ambulance was called. He died forty-five minutes later in hospital, apparently of a heart attack.
This jazz saxophonist died of heart attack after collapsing onstage while giving a performance at Donte’s in North Hollywood. According to another member of the quartet, Marsh “just slipped off his stool.” He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Thrill seekers on “haunted hayride” in New Jersey got more of a thrill than they’d bargained for when it was discovered the teen playing the part of the hanged man was the real thing. The stunt had gone fatally wrong.
This North Carolina 15-year-old who’d been staging a gallows scene at a Halloween party accidentally hanged himself when the noose somehow tightened.
An amateur magician and resident of Fresno, California, Burrus came up with an escape stunt that would have done his idol Houdini proud — he’d be bound, confined in a plastic coffin, then buried under seven tons of soil and concrete. Handcuffed and chained, he was lowered into the hole. Assistants shoveled three feet of soil onto the casket, then a truck poured concrete into the hole. As they were topping up the cement, the level suddenly dropped eighteen inches. Fifteen minutes of excavating later, rescuers reached Burrus, but it was too late — he’d been crushed.
Actor/comedian Redd Foxx underwent a heart attack on the set of The Royal Family, a new sitcom he was to appear in. Best known for his curmudgeonly role in Sanford and Son, this time it really was the big one, Elizabeth.
A stunt gone wrong during the filming of The Crow cost the son of Bruce Lee his life. A blank fired from a
Rumor to the contrary, footage of Lee’s fatal accident is not included in The Crow.
While filming a segment for BBC’s 999 (a show which dramatically reconstructs real-life narrow escapes), this veteran stuntman died when his main parachute and two reserves failed to open.
This popular radio host suffered a fatal heart attack while broadcasting popular music on WHLI in Garden City, Long Island. Though he was rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival. The song playing at the time of his heart attack was I’m in the Mood For Love.
This drummer for the group Big Sugar died mid-number while performing in Waterloo, Iowa. He was 36.
Better known as Country Dick Montana of the underground rock band The Beat Farmers, McLain expired on stage of a heart attack during a sold out performance at the Longhorn Saloon in Whistler, B.C.
During the filming of a Mountain Dew commercial, this sky surfer’s parachute failed to open and he plunged to his death. Despite rumors to the contrary, though the finished commercial contains some footage of Harris, none comes from his final jump.
This 63-year-old tenor died onstage at New York’s Metropolitan Opera immediately after delivering the line: “Too bad you can only live so long” in Janacek’s The Makropulos Case. It was the first performance and Versalle, who was playing the legal clerk Vitek alongside Jessye Norman, climbed a
While performing at Yokohama’s Blues Cafe, this 61-year-old rhythm and blues legend suffered a heart attack. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Performing at a Minneapolis fund raiser, Tiny Tim cut short his rendition of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.” Turning to leave the stage, he was felled by a heart attack and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
This 63-year-old British magician died on stage during a charity show in Sheffield, Yorks.
Playing Judas in a Greek production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Wheeler’s performance was supposed to conclude with Judas hanging himself, a stunt he’d successfully negotiated
During a live show, this Brazilian radio presenter and local politician was shot dead by a gunman who burst into the studio. He was hit by
This professional wrestler lost his life when he fell from a height of
Lead singer of the Boston-based rock band Morphine, 47-year-old Mark Sandman collapsed on stage during a concert in Rome. He had suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
This jazz saxophonist and composer suffered a heart attack and collapsed after taping four songs that Friday evening for The Saturday Early Show on CBS. He died in hospital in New York City.
While putting on a magic show for a group of hospital patients at Tokoroa Hospital in
Another actor playing Judas mistakenly hanged himself in Camerata Nuova, a town
This principal trumpet player with the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra collapsed of a heart attack on stage just after performing a solo and died in hospital.
This 54-year-old conductor collapsed and died of a heart attack in Berlin while conducting perhaps the most emotionally charged scene in Verdi’s Aida.
During the taping of the TV sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, the 54-year-old actor was stricken by a previously undiagnosed heart problem. He died in hospital later that night.
‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott, formerly of the metal act Pantera, was shot by a jilted fan while performing with his new group, Damageplan.
Barbara “curtain call” Mikkelson
Last updated: 20 January 2007