Actors Who Actually Died On Set

When an actor dies on the set of a film or television show, the project will forever serve as a memorial to the performer. It was also remain connected to the horrible tragedy that took place. 

Whether these fallen stars were at the height of their fame or had yet to become bona fide screen legends, their unexpected deaths took many forms: an undiagnosed medical condition, a stunt gone wrong, or an unforeseen freak accident that nobody could have seen coming. Regardless of the cause, these celebrity losses are always tragic, leaving the actors' peers and legions of fans with heavy hearts. While they will all be missed and their talents will be remembered, their untimely deaths sometimes become immortalized, morphing into tales of Hollywood mythology that will be studied for years to come.

Let's take a look at some of the actors who sadly met their end at work, either during the middle of filming or at the hospital after an on-set incident. From silent film stars of the '20s, to beloved comedy stars from the '70s, to the son of Hollywood royalty in the '00s, here are a few actors who tragically died on set.

Jon-Erik Hexum

Jon-Erik Hexum's death will go down as one of the most unnecessary in Hollywood history. While experiencing long shooting delays during the filming the CBS action series, Cover Up, on Oct. 12, 1984, 26-year-old Hexum, who played a Green Beret-turned-model, tried to lighten the mood — with fatal results. Grabbing a .44 Magnum pistol loaded with blanks, the up-and-coming actor put the prop to his head and reportedly quipped to his co-workers (via Entertainment Weekly), "Can you believe this crap?" Hexum pulled the trigger, and the force of the blast drove a quarter-sized bone fragment into his brain. He was pronounced brain dead six days later.

As neurosurgeon Dr. David Ditsworth told People, "It caused massive hemorrhaging on the right side, and the blast effect caused disruption of the remainder of the brain. An injury of this magnitude is virtually always fatal." After Hexum succumbed to his injuries, his death was ruled accidental. However, his mother received an undisclosed settlement from Twentieth Century Fox Television and donated several of his organs. But the recipient of Hexum's heart caused a minor controversy. 

According to The New York Times, 36-year-old Michael Washington, who "would have died within weeks" without a new heart, was the owner of a Las Vegas escort service. "The Hexum family didn't really care about all that," Washington explained (via Entertainment Weekly). "What they cared about was giving the organ to help a family, and seeing someone survive. It gave an opportunity for my two kids to still have a father."

Redd Foxx

Legendary comedian Redd Foxx rose to international fame as the outspoken junk dealer Fred Sanford in the groundbreaking '70s sitcom, Sanford and Son. However, he later made a triumphant return to television in the CBS sitcom, The Royal Family, in 1991. 

Perhaps because of his former show's most famous bit — when his character faked a heart attack while saying, "This is the big one!" — Foxx's co-stars believed he wasn't being serious when he became ill on the set of The Royal Family. The series' spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times, "They were rehearsing on the set and clowning around, and Redd was sort of breaking people up when he collapsed. They all thought he was joking around at first, and then they called the paramedics." Foxx had suffered a heart attack and tragically died at the Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (via the Associated Press). He was 68.

CBS attempted to retool the series, which was created and produced by Eddie Murphy for Paramount Pictures Corp., but ratings dropped dramatically without Foxx, and it was ultimately canceled after 15 episodes. ”You lose Redd Foxx and you're losing the heart of the show," Museum of Television and Radio curator David Bushman told The New York Times. Meanwhile, according to AP, company chairman Brandon Tartikoff said, ″Redd Foxx was blessed with the ability to make people laugh and audiences everywhere loved him for it."

Roy Kinnear

While filming scenes for The Last Return of the Three Musketeers in Spain in 1988, comedic actor Roy Kinnear fell off his horse and fractured his pelvis. The British performer was taken to a nearby hospital in Madrid, where he suffered a heart attack brought on by his internal injuries and died the following day (via The New York Times). He was 54.

According to the Independent, Kinnear's widow, Carmel Kinnear, sued the production for damages and was later awarded 650,000 pounds in addition to their legal costs. "I feel justice has been done. Somebody can't just die and we all forget about it," she said after the High Court's ruling. "Nothing will ever make up for the last six years of hell or the rest of our lives without him."

The Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory star's second child, Rory Kinnear, followed in his father's footsteps and became an actor himself, starring in such hits as Skyfall, Black Mirror, and Penny Dreadful. "A sense of humour, perspective, and determination," Rory said of what he learned from his parents while speaking with The Guardian in 2017. "I feel like we all become our parents in some ways, whether or not they are still alive. I have plenty of memories of my father and I was able to, in some ways, continue my relationship with him by watching the stuff he made."

Martha Mansfield

The death of Martha Mansfield remains one of the most bizarre in the annals of tragic Hollywood deaths. On Thanksgiving Day in 1923, the 24-year-old actress was sitting in her car — while still in costume — after filming her scenes for the Civil War romance, The Warrens of Virginia, in San Antonio, Texas. According to The New York Times, a smoker's tossed match landed on her, leading her "billowing hoopskirts and flimsy ruffles" to burst into flames.

Several of the men in the cast rushed to her aid, including her love interest in the film, Wilfred Lytell, who threw his overcoat onto Mansfield and "[saved] her face and neck." Unfortunately, the actress received severe burns over the rest of her body, and she died at a hospital less than 24 hours later. It was never determined who threw the match.

After her death (via The New York Times), Mansfield's estate was appraised at just $2,473. However, she left $22,000 in Liberty bonds and two life insurance policies worth $25,000 each to her mother years prior.

John Ritter

Beloved television and film actor John Ritter died of an aortic dissection at a Burbank, Calif. hospital in 2003 after falling ill on the set of ABC's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (via The New York Times). He was 54.

The son of Tex Ritter, a Western film star and country musician, the actor effortlessly shifted throughout his career between comedies like Problem Child and independent dramas like Sling Blade. However, John Ritter first became a household name in the late '70s playing Jack Tripper, a working-class straight man pretending to be gay for his conservative landlord in order to share an apartment with two women, in the iconic sitcom, Three's Company. In 1984, the performance earned Ritter an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, as well as a Golden Globe.

”John's all about not taking life too seriously,” Ritter's Three's Company co-star, Joyce DeWitt, told People magazine in 2002 (via The New York Times). ”There were days we went home from rehearsal with our cheeks sore from laughing.”

Eric Fleming

While filming a two-part episode for ABC's anthology series, Off to See the Wizard, entitled "High Jungle" in Peru in 1966, actor Eric Fleming — along with his co-star, Nico Minardos — fell into the Huallaga River when their canoe overturned. Minardos managed to swim to safety, but Fleming tragically drowned, according to The New York Times. He was 41. 

Best known for playing trail boss Gil Favor on the legendary CBS western, Rawhide (the television show that made Clint Eastwood a star), Fleming left the series just before the final season. Even with Eastwood as the new lead, the ratings tanked and, according to MeTV, a network executive reportedly ordered the show's cancellation after seeing one episode without Fleming in action. 

Meanwhile, the actor himself claimed he was let go from Rawhide for making too much money. "They fired me because they were paying me a million dollars a year," Fleming told TV Guide (via MeTV) in 1965. In reality, he was making $220,000, so who knows exactly what went down. What we do know is that the actor was taken too soon.

Vic Morrow

Despite boasting an acting career that spanned almost 30 years, Vic Morrow is probably best known for the role that resulted in his horrific death. Playing a racist who is unwillingly sent back in time to experience racism himself in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Morrow — and two Vietnamese child actors — were crushed and killed on set by helicopter after the pilot was temporarily blinded by an explosive charge on the morning of July 23, 1982 (via the Los Angeles Times). Marrow and one of the children were decapitated. He was 53. 

After a nine-month trial that ended in 1987, the film's director, John Landis, and five other men were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter. However, the pilot of the helicopter, Dorcey Wingo, bashed Landis for illegally hiring children. "Why didn't [Landis and the others] just come out and tell me that?" he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Why did they keep it from me?" He added, "Those children shouldn't have been there in the first place."

Jennifer Jason Leigh spoke to The Guardian in 2018 about her famous dad, who had divorced her mother when she was two: "My father was very difficult. We were not close. It's hard. I don't really talk about my father publicly, because there are a lot of people that really love him very, very much — his work as an actor. I don't want to disabuse them [of] their admiration."

Tyrone Power

After bursting onto the scene in 1936's Lloyd's of London, Tyrone Power became a bona fide matinee idol at the age of 22. Power was set to have a long career on the silver screen, but he suffered a massive heart attack in 1958 on the set of Solomon and Sheba immediately after filming a fight scene (via Desert Sun). He died on the way to the hospital at the age of 44.

"He said many times, he became a movie star long before he became an actor," his son, actor Tyrone Power, Jr. — who was born two months after his father's untimely death — told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. "So he sort of hit the jackpot at a very early age and instead of just riding the roller coaster, he kept trying to get better and better and better and really put a lot of work into it. I really respect him for that."

Meanwhile, Power's daughter, Romina (who was just seven when he died), recalled her father's international popularity, as well. "In Italy, he was kind of king of kings," she said. "There was not one time where we wouldn't leave the airport or arrive where there wouldn't be paparazzi."

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee, son of martial artist and cultural icon Bruce Lee, was only four feature films deep into his young career when he landed the leading role in The Crow. The superhero film was a hit at the office and made him an international star, but Lee — whose own father died of a cerebral edema at age 32 — tragically didn't live to see that happen. While filming a scene at approximately 12:30 a.m on March 31, 1993, Lee was accidentally shot in the abdomen with an improperly loaded prop gun by his co-star, Michael Massee, per Entertainment Weekly

Lee was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., but died of an unstoppable internal hemorrhaging following six hours of surgery. He was 28. Lee's untimely death was eventually ruled an accident due to negligence, with District Attorney Jerry Spivey saying (via The New York Times), "There's no indication that I see at all from the investigative report that anyone intentionally hurt Brandon."

To make this story even sadder, Lee was set to marry his longtime girlfriend, Eliza Hutton, on April 17, 1993. And, according to one anonymous crew member, there might have been something to the alleged Crow curse. "Nothing ever seemed to go right," they told Inside Edition. "People have tried to say it was haunted, I don't know about that, but there was definitely some bad vibes on that set."