Celebrities who survived brushes with death

Celebrities just seem to have an air of immortality about them. Perhaps it's because they possess almost-otherworldly talents and good looks, or perhaps it's because they somehow rose up from the human herd and made their dreams come true, or maybe it's because the art they make lives forever. No matter the reason, it often feels like the rich and famous are downright invincible. 

They're obviously not, of course, and yet many stars have even stared down death and lived to tell the tale.

Ryan Reynolds

If you're planning on going skydiving anytime soon, you might not want to hear about Ryan Reynolds' horrifying experience when he was just 19 years old. 

"I'm on my 13th jump, lucky number 13, my 'chute opened and what happened was they call it a bag of garbage, which is not a good sound," he said on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (via SF Gate) in 2013. "…It was just making me spin out of control and almost making me unconscious." 

Fortunately, after a bit of hesitation, Reynolds says he finally pulled the backup parachute, but even that wasn't enough to guarantee his safety. "You can't steer the reserve 'chute … so I landed like seven or eight miles away from the actual drop zone," he said. "I was sure I was going to land in power lines and I thought, 'What a way to go: you survive a grand malfunction skydiving to burn to death.'" 

Hmm. Maybe that's where he found the confidence to play Deadpool.

Orlando Bloom

Speaking to Men's Health (via Us Weekly) in 2011, Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom revealed that a three-story fall left him paralyzed for four days when he was just 21 years old. 

Bloom said he was trying to scale a drainpipe to climb on a rooftop terrace with friends when he fell. The actor underwent multiple rounds of surgery and 18 months of physical rehab. Reflecting on the dilemma years later, Bloom said, "Fear is not a friend of mine. But it's something to have a healthy awareness of. I can't stop living. It would ruin my creativity, the person I am."

Tracy Morgan

30 Rock star Tracy Morgan suffered life-threatening injuries and was in a coma for two weeks after a truck crashed into his limo van on the New Jersey Turnpike in June 2014. His friend and fellow passenger, James McNair, was killed in the accident and three others were injured. 

A year after the car crash, Morgan spoke to the Today show about the tragic incident and his recovery, saying through tears, "I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I'm in front of you. I can't believe I'm just here, and just seeing the tragedy that happened. It touches me." 

In a subsequent interview with Complex, Morgan described his experience being in a coma, claiming he "went to the other side" in the process. "This is not something I'm making up," Morgan said. "Do you know what God said to me? He said, 'Your room ain't ready. I still got something for you to do.' And here I am, doing an interview with you."

Jane Seymour

Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman star Jane Seymour fell victim to an ironic twist of fate when treatment for a very bad cold nearly killed her. 

In an interview with the Sunday Express (via Contact Music), Seymour said the cold, which she caught while filming the '80s flick Onassis in Spain, sent her to the doctor, whom she said prescribed a shot of antibiotics. "Unfortunately, the nurse put a massive dose into a vein and I went into anaphylactic shock," she said. Seymour says she was quickly resuscitated. However, she recalled a period in which she says she left her body. "I clearly saw this man screaming on the telephone and my naked body lying on the bed with syringes in my backside," she said.

Mariska Hargitay

At age 3, Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay was in a car accident that killed her mother, Jayne Mansfield, in 1967. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hargitay survived, but still has a zig-zag scar on her head. 

Decades later, Hargitay discussed her mother's death with Redbook magazine, saying, "Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul. But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today." On an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, Hargitay also said it helped her find belief in God. "I believe that there are no accidents, and I believe that God has a plan, and I have a very deep belief in God," she said. "I think he's a whole lot smarter than me, so although I don't understand it, I do trust it. I've learned to make peace with what is … You have to accept what is."


In 2009, Eminem released Relapse, his first album in five years. The title was not a reference to the rapper "relapsing" into the world of hip-hop, but rather, an explicit admission of a years-long struggle with a drug problem that just about ended his life. 

After falling off the sobriety wagon, the man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers took a bunch of pills given to him by an "acquaintance" and almost died from an overdose. A doctor told him he'd taken methadone, a powerful drug used clinically to help heroin users cope with addiction. 

"Had I know it was methadone, I probably wouldn't have taken it," Eminem told Vibe (via MTV News). "My doctor told me the amount of methadone I'd taken was equivalent to shooting up four bags of heroin. Even when they told me I almost died, it didn't click."

Joaquin Phoenix

Within the span of one week in early 2006, Joaquin Phoenix experienced one of the best and worst things to ever happen in his life. 

A few days before he earned an Academy Award nomination for his remarkable portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, Phoenix was involved in a terrible car accident in Los Angeles. According to the Los Angeles Times, while driving on a curvy road in Laurel Canyon, the brakes on Phoenix's car reportedly gave out and the actor swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle, flipping his own car. The actor was still conscious, although horribly shaken up, as he lay in the wreckage. That's when he heard a quiet rapping on the passenger-side window. He looked up, and there was, of all people, acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog, creator of dark masterpieces such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Grizzly Man. 

"There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax,'" Phoenix recalled. "I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!' There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice." 

Herzog, who reportedly lived near the scene of the accident, helped Phoenix out of the automobile. "I got out of the car and I said, 'Thank you,'" Phoenix said. "And he was gone."

Kanye West

Kanye West loves to talk. He never seems to stop talking. That's all well and good because he's a brilliant rapper, but it's a little ironic considering that his big musical debut in 2004 was "Through the Wire," a song he recorded with his jaw wired shut. 

The song recounts a 2002 head-on car collision that nearly killed the rapper. "I looked at this accident as God saying, 'I'm about to hand you the world,'" West told Yahoo! Music. Despite coming out of it alive, West did suffer permanent effects. "My face looks crazy to me now," Yeezus said. "You can't even see my bottom teeth when I talk. You always see the top teeth and that's not how I used to be."

Sarah Silverman

At the end of the day, a comedian's real job to try to make sense of life and the universe for the rest of us, while somehow making us smile. In 2016, Sarah Silverman used social media to attempt to explain how she nearly died from a "freak case of epiglottitis." 

Silverman reported that she took a trip to the ICU to treat what she hoped was just a severely sore throat. Instead, doctors diagnosed her with epiglottitis, a potentially fatal condition in which the epiglottis, the cartilage flap that covers the windpipe and lets air in, swells to such a degree that breathing becomes impaired. "When I woke up 5 days later I didn't remember anything," she wrote on Facebook. Silverman said she owes her life to the medical staff that treated her. 

"There's something that happens when three people you're so close to die within a year and then YOU almost die but don't. (That was me. I'm the one that didn't die.)" she wrote. "It's a strange dichotomy between, 'Why me?' and the other, 'Why me?'" 

Ellie Goulding

The angelically-voiced English singer of "Love Me Like You Do" saw her life nearly come to an end at age 29 in 2016. Goulding was on a European tour and traveling across the snowy, remote Norwegian countryside with photographer Conor McDonnell in a two-cabin belt wagon — a heavy-duty, snow-and-ice-worthy vehicle that looks like a tank, seeing as how it uses belts instead of wheels. The wagon was rolling along … until it wasn't anymore.

The vehicle broke through the icy layer atop a lake in the middle of the night. Goulding and McDonnell had to climb out through the roof before the wagon sunk into the lake icy lake. McDonnell said he and Goulding weren't even going to tell the general public about their brush with death, until they realized that "it's too mad of a story not to tell."

Travis Barker

In the late '90s and early 2000s, lightning-fast drummer Travis Barker was a member of wildly popular pop-punk band Blink-182 when he almost joined the tragic pantheon of rock stars cut down in their prime (Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, most of Lynyrd Skynyrd) by a plane crash. 

According to ABC News, Barker performed at a free concert in Columbia, S.C., then boarded a Learjet in September 2008. The jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing four people, including the pilot. Barker, along with fellow passenger Adam Goldstein (a.k.a. DJ AM), survived with critical injuries. Nearly two-thirds of Barker's body was burned in the crash. He spent four months in burn centers and suffered through 27 surgeries, reported ABC News

Tragically, about a year later, Goldstein died of a reported drug overdose.

Gary Busey

Gary Busey is a longtime motorcycle enthusiast. According to the Los Angeles Times, he loved to ride around the Los Angeles area on his Harley-Davidson, but he also hated wearing a helmet while he did so. In November 1988, Busey even attended a benefit in North Hollywood to raise money to hire lobbyists to fight a California state law requiring riders to wear helmets. Just a few weeks later, Busey was riding his Harley in Culver City, Calif. when he lost control. 

"He was thrown off, and the back of his head struck the curb," a police spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. Busey wasn't wearing a helmet, of course. He suffered severe trauma to his head and underwent emergency neurosurgery. Four weeks later, Busey woke up from a coma and began the long road to recovery. 

"Doctors subsequently told Busey that had he arrived [at the hospital] even three minutes later, he would not have survived," reported USA Today. He now preaches a very different message: "I want people to understand that life is very important. And that if you're riding a motorcycle, skateboard, or bicycle without a helmet, you're challenging the face of death."

Owen Wilson

Actor Owen Wilson often plays affable, easygoing, and light-hearted characters onscreen, but behind the scenes, he has grappled with severe depression. According to People, the Rushmore co-writer and Wedding Crashers star slit his wrists at his Santa Monica, Calif. home in 2007. His younger brother and frequent collaborator, Luke Wilson, discovered Owen and rushed him to the hospital.

When asked to weigh in on what could have prompted Owen to attempt suicide, a friend told People, "It would be irresponsible to say it was any single thing. People are complicated." And so is depression.

Sharon Stone

Actress Sharon Stone was one of the biggest sirens of the '90s. After Basic Instinct, Sliver, and The Professional, most people with a pulse either wanted to be with Stone, or they wanted to be like Stone. The movie star always exuded an unflappable confidence, but all the sense of self in the world won't prepare a person for the sudden loss of just about everything. 

In 2001, Stone felt a pain in her brain so severe that she sought medical attention, convinced that she'd suffered a brain hemorrhage, reported The Huffington Post. The problem turned out to be a deadly aneurysm that wreaked havoc on her brain. 

"I had to learn to walk, hear, write, talk, remember, and everything all over again," she told Oprah's Master Class. Obviously, the incident didn't take her life, though it sure felt that way at times. Stone's condition reportedly wrecked her career and marriage, and even cost her custody of her child. "You know, death isn't all it's cracked up to be," the actress told the program, and yet, "Everything got rich for me through this experience. Everything got better for me through this experience."

Leonardo DiCaprio

The world's childhood crush has almost died several times, like when he got mauled by a bear. Okay, that happened in The Revenant, but DiCaprio can lend some verisimilitude to his death-defying performances thanks to a near-fatal experience during one of his globetrotting adventures. 

DiCaprio told Wired that while he was diving in South Africa using an underwater cage, a great white shark got trapped in the enclosure. "They leave the tops open and you have a regulator line running to the surface. Then they chum the water with tuna. A wave came and the tuna sort of flipped up into the air. A shark jumped up and grabbed the tuna, and half its body landed inside the cage with me," he said. "I sort of fell down to the bottom and tried to lie flat." That was a smart move because that's when the shark reportedly started snapping its jaws at DiCaprio. The shark's aggressive undulations ultimately resulted in the animal flipping itself out of the cage. "I have it on video," DiCaprio said. "It's insane."

What else is insane? This tale about the time DiCaprio thought he'd died and gone to heaven: "I was on a plane to Russia, and the engine exploded," the Oscar winner told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres in January 2016. "I was looking out the window and the entire engine just turned into a fireball." DiCaprio went on to say that the whole thing happened so quickly, he actually thought he had died. "I was the only person there that seemed to see this, but it was a flaming fireball" he said. "I kind of felt like I had already died and gone to heaven because no one said anything." Fortunately for everyone on board, the plane landed safely. However, DiCaprio quipped that the tragedies continued even after the flight had ended. "All of our tires exploded and there was a hundred different ambulances there and it was on CNN," he said. "That was another bummer."