Unfortunate Ways Celebs Have Died

Death is sad no matter how it happens, but celebrity deaths are a bit of a different breed. That's because, in many circumstances, there's a slew of speculation before and even after the truth about a star's passing comes to light. Take the shocking death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, for instance. The Lakers legend passed away on Jan. 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, and seven other passengers, leading many to question how the tragedy occurred. From speculation about weather conditions that day to chatter about the pilot's capabilities, this celebrity passing will likely be a topic of conversation for a very long time.

Sadly, Kobe Bryant isn't the only celebrity to lose his life in a devastating manner. From freak on-set accidents to undiagnosed illnesses to alleged overdoses, these stars all met their ends in strange, and often tragic, ways.

David Carradine's death in Thailand raised questions

Actor David Carradine was found dead on June 3, 2009, in his Bangkok, Thailand hotel room at the age of 72. The public initially suspected Carradine died by suicide, as reports indicated that his nude body was found hanging in a closet with a cord around his neck. But rumors eventually shifted to the Kung Fu star possibly dying as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation, which is when a person "strangles or suffocates themselves to heighten sexual arousal and orgasm," according to MedicineNet. Investigators in Thailand told Thai outlet Nation that allegedly "two ropes were tied together" around Carradine's genitals, per E! News. Then, in July 2009, New York-based medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden ruled the death as accidental asphyxiation, per Reuters. At the time of Baden's announcement, he couldn't rule out that autoerotic asphyxiation played a role in the death. The coroner also confirmed Carradine's hands were found tied behind his head.

Still, some have lingering doubts the actor's death was an accident. "I believe he was murdered," Carradine's ex-wife, Marina Anderson, told ABC News. "That's all there is to it." She added about their sex life, "For David to accidentally do it to himself, that's not the act. He never flew solo when we were together. That didn't fit the scenario. David liked participation."

Was Natalie Wood's death really an accident?

Actress Natalie Wood died on Nov. 29, 1981, when she drowned after supposedly falling off the yacht Splendour, where she'd been boating with actor Christopher Walken, her husband Robert Wagner, and boat captain Dennis Davern. Initially, her death was classified as an accidental drowning, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office reopened the case in 2011 after multiple people came forward with "additional information" about the evening in question, per CNN. Then, in 2012, the coroner changed Wood's cause of death to "undetermined," which was allegedly modified in part because "some of the bruises on Wood's body were inconsistent with death by drowning," TMZ reported. The outlet also claimed family members were told "Wood's death was definitely from drowning, but the way she ended up in the water is unclear."

Davern, in particular, has raised questions about the actor's passing, claiming Wagner and Wood got into a bad fight that evening out on the boat's deck. The captain also made a claim about Wagner's actions once his wife went missing, stating on the Today show, "We didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her. I think it was a matter of, 'We're not going to look too hard, we're not going to turn on the searchlight, we're not going to notify anybody right now.'"

Marvin Gaye's dispute with his dad led to tragedy

Marvin Gaye's death was both tragic and terrifying. It all started when, after struggling with substance abuse issues in the 1980s, Gaye moved in with his parents. On April 1, 1984, Gaye got in a heated dispute with his father, Rev. Marvin Gaye Sr., an Apostolic minister, possibly over an insurance document. The altercation turned violent, and Gaye's father shot him multiple times in the chest with a .38 caliber revolver, according to The New York Times.

Gaye's father insisted the shooting was in self-defense, which was seemingly bolstered by police photographs showing "severe bruising" to the reverend's "back and forearms," per the Independent. Furthermore, minister Shelton West claimed Gaye's mother, Alberta Gaye, made a startling claim about the singer's mindset before the murder. "She told me that Marvin intentionally infuriated his father," West alleged, according to the Independent. "She said, 'That made me know that he wanted his daddy to kill him.' To me his father didn't kill him. Marvin committed suicide.”

Gaye's father pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter in September 1984 and was sentenced to five years probation that November. "I'll carry it with me 'til the day I die,'" he said at the hearing. "I'm paying the price." The reverend died in 1998.

Brittany Murphy's early death sparked conspiracies

Actress Brittany Murphy died at the young age of 32 on Dec. 20, 2009. She passed away from pneumonia, anemia, and a lethal combination of medicines, the Los Angeles County coroner confirmed in February 2010, per ABC News. The full autopsy concluded the legal prescription medications were for "treatment of symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection," according to CNN.

When Murphy's husband, Simon Monjack, died of similar causes just five months later, rumors circulated toxic mold might be to blame. Mold wasn't detected in the toxicology reports, however, and an inspection of the house prior to Murphy's death reportedly came back mold-free. "At the time of their death, both of them were in very poor health. I don't think they ate correctly or took care of themselves," Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter said about the odd timing and circumstances.

Drama surrounding Murphy and Monjack's deaths surfaced again in 2013, when the actor's dad, Angelo Bertolotti, suggested the two were poisoned. Bertolotti, who based his claim on a lab report which supposedly found "heavy metals at two to nine times higher than the levels identified by the World Health Organization as being considered 'high'" in Murphy's hair strand, told Good Morning America: "I have a feeling that there was a definite murder situation here. It's poison, yes, I know that." However, an expert in forensic medicine challenged that claim to CNN, calling it "ridiculous" and "baseless."

Elvis Presley's early death possibly could have been avoided

After years of allegedly struggling with substance abuse, the iconic Elvis Presley was found unconscious in the bathroom of his Graceland estate on Aug. 16, 1977. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at age 42. The official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia, meaning his heart was beating irregularly and finally just stopped. However, the toxicology report "identified several pharmaceutical drugs in Presley's system with codeine being ten times the therapeutic level," as HuffPost noted. A toxicologist who reviewed the findings stated, "The strong probability is that these drugs were the major contribution to his demise." Translation: the "Blue Suede Shoes" singer's health issues, coupled with his alleged drug use, was not a healthy combo.

Another possible theory? Elvis died due to chronic constipation, which can be caused by an opioid such as codeine. The musician's longtime pal and physician, Dr. George "Nick" Nichopoulo, told Fox News in 2010 that Presley's colon was "5 to 6 inches in diameter (whereas the normal width is 2 to 3 inches) and instead of being the standard 4 to 5 feet long, his colon was 8 to 9 feet in length."

The legendary singer was apparently considering a colostomy to solve the issue, but his pride supposedly got in the way. "He would get embarrassed, he'd have accidents onstage," Nichopoulo alleged. " ... So if they had done the colostomy then, he'd probably still be here."

Wrestler Owen Hart died in a stunt gone wrong

Former WWF (now WWE) wrestler Owen Hart's death at age 33 was particularly horrific because it happened in front of a live audience. Hart was in character as his silly superhero persona, the Blue Blazer, and was being lowered via harness and grapple into the ring for a match during the Over the Edge event on May 23, 1999. Hart was supposed to be lowered to just above ring level, where he'd get tangled, but land safely on his face for laughs. However, there was nothing funny about what actually went down: while being lowered into the ring, Hart fell 50 or 78 (there are conflicting reports about the distance) feet and hit his head on one of the rope's turnbuckles — a.k.a. a "padded piece of metal that holds the ropes together in each corner of the ring," per CBS News.

Commentator Jim Ross kept it together on the air and was later tasked with informing the crowd Hart had died at the hospital as a result of his injuries. Ross reflected on the tragedy in his now-defunct blog (via The Bleacher Report): "The night Owen died in Kansas City was one of the most traumatic days of my life and that event is nothing more than a blur in my mind." 

Hart's "family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation, Kansas City, and the manufacturer of the harness," and reached an out-of-court settlement in 2000, per CBC.

Actor Jon-Erik Hexum's deadly joke

Up-and-coming actor Jon-Erik Hexum shot himself on Oct. 18, 1984 ... but it's not what it sounds like. The tragedy occurred shortly after the 26-year-old actor's nap during filming delays for his series, Cover Up. When he woke up to learn there'd be more delays, Hexum held his character's blank-filled pistol to his head, reportedly joking to nearby workers, "Can you believe this crap?" and pulled the trigger. "The whole thing was a joke," an actor explained to People. "It was a tragic sight gag — as if to say, 'This screwing about is enough to make you want to end it all.'"

Horrifically, the blank from the .44 Magnum — "the most powerful handgun commercially available," per People — caused a quarter-sized skull fragment to lodge in his brain. "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," neurosurgeon Dr. David Ditsworth told the outlet. Hexum ultimately succumbed to his injuries and his organs were donated to multiple people, including a then-37-year-old man who received his heart, per United Press International.

Steve Irwin was attacked by a 'massive' stingray

Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin died in a freak accident on Sept. 4, 2006, at age 44. The Aussie conservationist was filming a documentary off the coast of northern Australia when a "massive" stingray he had been following in shallow water unexpectedly "started stabbing wildly with its tail, hundreds of strikes in a few seconds," as Irwin's best friend and underwater cameraman, Justin Lyons, recalled to morning show Studio 10. Lyons, who said filming the stingray had been a last-minute decision, didn't realize the gravity of the situation until he panned the camera away and saw Irwin "standing in a huge pool of blood." The father-of-two apparently thought he had been struck in the lungs, not realizing the animal had actually punctured his heart.

Although Lyons and other crew members tried to medically assist Irwin to the best of their abilities, he succumbed to his injuries very quickly. "We're saying to him things like, 'Think of your kids, Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on," the cameraman recalled. "And he just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, 'I'm dying.' And that was the last thing he said."

Stingrays are typically calm creatures, as Lyons described to Studio 10, so his hypothesis is the stingray mistook Irwin's shadow for a tiger shark.

Jeff Buckley lost his life in the Mississippi River

Singer Jeff Buckley died at age 30 on May 29, 1997, in a drowning accident in the Mississippi River outside of Memphis. The "Forget Her" singer and a friend were hanging out at night on the bank of the river "listening to a radio" when Buckley decided to wade into the water for a dip, per Rolling Stone. The friend supposedly warned the California native it might be dangerous to swim due to the river's strong currents, but his warning went unheeded. A tug boat then passed by, creating large waves, which prompted Buckley's pal to check on the radio for fear of it getting wet. When the friend turned back around, the singer was nowhere to be seen.

Sadly, on June 4, 1997, Buckley's body "washed up on shore" in Memphis and was spotted by passengers on "the American Queen riverboat," according to Rolling Stone. An autopsy later determined the singer was sober at the time of death.

In an interview with Bad Feeling Magazine 21 years later, Buckley's former manager, Dave Lory, said his life was headed in a new direction before his passing. "He wanted to buy the car, he wanted to buy the house," the manager explained. "He proposed to his girlfriend, and I think he wanted a life of normalcy."

Sal Mineo was the victim of a robbery gone wrong

Actor Sal Mineo was murdered on Feb. 12, 1976, on his way home from rehearsals for the play, P. S. Your Cat is Dead, per The New York Times. The Rebel Without a Cause star, who lived in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, was reportedly stabbed "near the carport" of his apartment with a "heavy type knife" and "died of a massive hemorrhage due to stab wounds of the chest penetrating the heart," according to the NYT. Witnesses reportedly heard the 37-year-old Mineo cry out, "Help! help! Oh my God!" during the crime.

Convicted felon Lionel Williams was later arrested for the murder and had allegedly bragged to a fellow inmate about killing the actor after being interrupted during a robbery of his apartment. "He said that when Mineo opened the front door, he dashed for the door," Sheriff Roger Dean explained, per the NYT. "A struggle ensued and the two of them fought their way out of the apartment's parking area, where he stabbed Mineo and took off."

Williams was sentenced to "at least 50 years in prison" for the killing and committing 10 robberies, according to the NYT.

Kobe Bryant lost his life in a horrific helicopter accident

Lakers fans were stunned when, on Jan. 26, 2020, 41-year-old Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, were killed in a helicopter crash along with seven other people. Kobe was reportedly en route to a basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Gigi was set to play in a game. Along for the ride was Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, their daughter, Alyssa, assistant girls basketball coach Christina Mauser, and mother-daughter duo Sarah and Payton Chester. The pilot was identified as Ara Zobayan.

It's unclear what caused the crash, although heavy fog that day could have played a role. The Los Angeles Police Department's air support was supposedly grounded because of the weather, per TMZ, and Zobayan "requested special permission to fly through the fog", which means he opted to "fly at a lower altitude and at lower visibility than under normal circumstances," as CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave explained.

It was confirmed by NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy, however, that "the descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute," meaning it was a "high energy impact crash" into the Calabasas hillside. As The Intelligencer's Will Leitch theorized, it's possible Zobayan descended sharply to avoid cloud cover, not realizing his close proximity to the steep terrain below. 

Kobe Byrant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their three surviving daughters.