They say there’s no business like show business. But when your job involves playing it cool around pyrotechnics, pulling off death-defying stunts, or getting shot at with bullets you can only hope are fake, things can go wrong. In fact, a movie set can even turn deadly. Sometimes the blame lies with negligent producers, sometimes it’s technical effects gone awry, and sometimes the fault lies with the deceased themselves—as in the case of Jon-Erik Hexum, who shot himself with a blank while playing a game of Russian roulette. Here are eighteen people whose lives were tragically cut short while working in or around a movie set.
While on the set of the CBS television series Cover Up, rising TV star and model Jon-Erik Hexum put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger—but this was no suicide.
Apparently bored during a filming delay, Hexum decided to play a game of Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum handgun loaded with one blank. Hexum reportedly didn’t realize that blanks can cause serious, fatal injuries if fired from close range. When he pulled the trigger, he had a one-in-six chance of surviving the incident. Hexum’s joke was actually deadly serious.
Unfortunately, the chambered blank aligned with the firing pin, sending a wad of paper into the side of his head with the impact of a bullet. He was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead. Six days after the incident, he was removed from life support.
The son of Bruce Lee, Brandon was on the path to uphold his father’s legacy as a talented actor and superb martial artist. His rise to fame was tragically cut short, however, on the set of his seminal film The Crow.
Like Jon-Erik Hexum, Lee was killed by a blank. This time, though, the gun was fired at the actor from a safe distance. Lee was killed by something called a squib load, which is a bullet or bullet fragment lodged in the barrel of a gun. The special effects team were unaware that the gun used to shoot Lee had a squib load in the barrel, so when the blank was fired it pushed the lodged bullet out of the firearm with virtually the same force as a regular bullet.
Lee was hit in the abdomen and died a few hours later.
Although he didn’t technically die on set, Bruce Lee was actively working on a film at the moment of his collapse from a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain.
While dubbing some tracks for his classic film Enter the Dragon, Lee collapsed in the studio and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors were able to get the swelling under control and Lee survived the incident.
Unfortunately, he would die a few weeks later after having an allergic reaction to the now discontinued pain-killing medication Equagesic. The reaction caused his brain to swell again, but doctors couldn’t save Lee’s life this time.
He was having a meeting about his upcoming film, Game of Death, when he died.