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20 Celebrities Who Died During Performance On Stage

Through history, many entertainers or celebrities have died while performing live or while recording a performance on a stage. This list includes deaths involving stunt persons, actors, singers and comedians from all over the world.

20 Celebrities Who Died During Performance On Stage


20 Celebrities Who Died While Performing On Stage


1. Molière (1622 - 1673) aged 51


Molière

Molière was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and universal literature.

Molière suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, possibly contracted when he was imprisoned for debt as a young man. One of the most famous moments in Molière's life was his last, which became legend: he collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing and haemorrhaging while performing in the last play he had written, which had lavish ballets performed to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and which ironically was entitled Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid). Molière insisted on completing his performance. Afterwards he collapsed again with another, larger haemorrhage before being taken home, where he died a few hours later, without receiving the last rites because two priests refused to visit him while a third arrived too late. The superstition that green brings bad luck to actors is said to originate from the colour of the clothing he was wearing at the time of his death.

2. Chung Ling Soo (1861 – 1918) aged 56


Chung Ling Soo

William Ellsworth Robinson was an American magician who went by the stage name Chung Ling Soo. He is mostly remembered today for his accidental death due to a failed bullet catch trick.

On March 23, 1918, Chung Ling Soo was performing at the Wood Green Empire in London. He performed his act without incident until he got to his famous "Condemned to Death by the Boxers" illusion. That night, as one of his assistants fired the modified gun at him, some of the gunpowder exploded in the gun's chamber, accidentally firing the bullet (loaded only for show by the assistant) into Soo's lung. He fell to the ground and said, "Oh my God. Something's happened. Lower the curtain." This was the only time since adopting his persona that "Chung Ling Soo" had spoken English in public. Soo was taken to Passmore Edwards Cottage Hospital, but died the following morning.

3. Lillian Leitzel (1892 - 1931) aged 39


Lillian Leitzel

Lillian Leitzel was an acrobat and strong woman for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

On February 13, 1931, Lillian fell to the ground from her rigging while performing in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Valencia Music Hall, when the swivel that held the rope in place fractured and snapped. She and Codona had been performing in Europe separately, and he rushed to Copenhagen. After she apparently showed signs of improvement, Codona returned to his company in Berlin. However, she died on February 15, two days after the fall, aged 39. She was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

4. Alexander Woollcott (1887 –  1943) aged 56


Alexander Woollcott

Alexander Humphreys Woollcott was an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an occasional actor and playwright, and a prominent radio personality.

Woollcott was still not saying anything—at great length—when, on January 23, 1943, he appeared on his last radio broadcast, as a participant in a Writers' War Board panel discussion on the CBS Radio program The People's Platform. Marking the tenth anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power, the topic was "Is Germany Incurable?" Panelists included Woollcott, Hunter College president George Shuster, Brooklyn College president Harry Gideonse, and novelists Rex Stout and Marcia Davenport. The program's format began as a dinner party in the studio's private dining room, with the microphones in place. Table talk would lead into a live network radio broadcast, and each panelist would begin with a provocative response to the topic. "The German people are just as responsible for Hitler as the people of Chicago are for the Chicago Tribune," Woollcott stated emphatically, and the panelists noted Woollcott's physical distress. Ten minutes into the broadcast, Woollcott commented that he was feeling ill, but continued his remarks. "It's a fallacy to think that Hitler was the cause of the world's present woes," he said. Woollcott continued, adding "Germany was the cause of Hitler." He said nothing further, but reportedly took a notepad and wrote the words, "I am sick." The radio audience was unaware that Woollcott had suffered a heart attack. He died at New York's Roosevelt Hospital a few hours later, aged 56, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

5. Harry Einstein (1904 – 1958) aged 54


Harry Einstein

Harry Einstein, known professionally as Harry Parke and other pseudonyms, most commonly Parkyakarkus, was an American comedian, writer, and character actor.

Einstein had a long history of heart disease, which eventually began to limit his mobility and stamina. After his TV show was canceled, his appearances were largely confined to Friars' Club roasts. He suffered a fatal heart attack in 1958, at the age of 54, during a roast in honor of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. After Einstein delivered his monologue, emcee Art Linkletter remarked, "Every time he finishes, I ask myself, why isn't he on the air in a prime time?" Einstein turned to Milton Berle, who was seated next to him on the dais, and said, "Yeah, how come?"—then slumped into his lap. Berle's shout of "Is there a doctor in the house?" was initially thought to be a humorous ad lib, but the gravity of the situation quickly became clear. Einstein was carried backstage, where five physicians in attendance (the event was a charity benefit for local hospitals) worked to revive him.

Despite two hours of continuous resuscitation by the physician volunteers and a rescue squad, Einstein was pronounced dead at 1:20 a.m. The news of his death was the Los Angeles Times' front-page headline the following morning.

6. Tyrone Power (1914 – 1958) aged 44

Tyrone Power

Tyrone Edmund Power III was an American film, stage and radio actor. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Power appeared in dozens of films, often in swashbuckler roles or romantic leads.

Grave of Tyrone Power at Hollywood Forever
Grave of Tyrone Power at Hollywood Forever

In September 1958, Power and his wife Deborah went to Madrid and Valdespartera, Spain, to film the epic Solomon and Sheba, to be directed by King Vidor, co-starring Gina Lollobrigida. Power had filmed about 75 percent of his scenes when he was stricken by a massive heart attack while filming a dueling scene with his frequent co-star and friend, George Sanders. A doctor, Juan Olaguíbel, diagnosed Power's death as "fulminant angina pectoris." He died while being transported to the hospital in Madrid on November 15, aged 44.

7. Leonard Warren (1911 – 1960) aged 49


Leonard Warren

Leonard Warren was an American opera singer. A baritone, he was a leading artist for many years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Warren's gravesite in Saint Mary's Cemetery
Warren's gravesite in Saint Mary's Cemetery

Warren's last complete performance was in the title role of Simon Boccanegra on March 1, 1960, at the Met. Three days later, on March 4, during a performance of La forza del destino with Renata Tebaldi as Leonora and Thomas Schippers conducting, Warren suddenly collapsed and died on stage.

8. Iron Mike DiBiase (1923 – 1969) aged 45


Iron Mike DiBiase

Michael DiBiase was an American professional wrestler, also known by his ring name "Iron" Mike DiBiase. The adoptive father of professional wrestler "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, he was married to Ted's mother Helen Hild (also a professional wrestler), and was the grandfather of Mike, Ted Jr., and Brett DiBiase.

DiBiase is one of several professional wrestlers to die during a match. On July 2, 1969, in Lubbock, Texas, DiBiase had a fatal heart attack in the ring during a match with Man Mountain Mike. Harley Race, recognizing a heart attack, performed CPR on DiBiase and then rode in the ambulance with him. DiBiase was pronounced dead at the hospital.

9. Leslie Harvey (1944 – 1972) aged 27


Leslie Harvey

Leslie Cameron Harvey was a guitarist in several Scottish bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably Stone the Crows. He was the brother of Alex Harvey.

Harvey was a co-founder of Stone the Crows in late 1969. It was while on stage with Stone the Crows at Swansea Top Rank in 1972, that he was electrocuted after touching a microphone that was not earth-grounded. It has been incorrectly stated that the incident happened "on a rainy day with puddles on the stage"; however, Swansea Top Rank was an indoor club venue and therefore this was not possible. A roadie attempted to unplug the guitar, but was unsuccessful. Harvey died from his injuries, at age 27.

10. Luther Lindsay (1924 – 1972) aged 47


Luther Lindsay

Luther Jacob Goodall was an American professional football player and wrestler, known by his ring name Luther Lindsay or Lindsey, who competed throughout the United States with the National Wrestling Alliance as well as international promotions such as All Japan Pro Wrestling, Joint Promotions and Stampede Wrestling. One of the first African American wrestlers to become a major star, he was extremely popular in the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic territory.

On the night of February 21, 1972, Lindsay was facing local wrestler Bobby Paul at Park Center in Charlotte. After only ten minutes into the match, Lindsay pinned his opponent with a diving belly-flop. He apparently suffered a fatal heart attack when he made the pin and died on top of his opponent. When Lindsay did not respond to the referee after scoring the pinfall, the police were called. Lindsay was taken back to the dressing room where he was declared dead shortly thereafter. His body was kept at his old alma mater, Hampton Institute, for a week before his burial.

11. Christine Chubbuck (1944 – 1974) aged 29


Christine Chubbuck

Christine Chubbuck was an American television news reporter who worked for WTOG and WXLT-TV in Florida. She is known for being the first person to commit suicide on a live television broadcast.

Chubbuck spoke to her family at length about her struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies, though she did not inform them of her specific intent beforehand. She had attempted to overdose on drugs in 1970 and frequently made reference to that event. She had also been seeing a psychiatrist up until several weeks before her death. Chubbuck's mother chose not to tell station management of her daughter's suicidal tendencies, because she feared Chubbuck would be fired as a result.

Her focus on her lack of intimate relationships is generally considered to be the driving force for her depression; her mother later summarized "her suicide was simply because her personal life was not enough."

According to a 1974 Sally Quinn article in The Washington Post, Chubbuck had an unrequited crush on co-worker George Peter Ryan. She baked him a cake for his birthday and sought his romantic attention, only to find out he was already involved with sports reporter Andrea Kirby. Kirby had been the co-worker closest to Chubbuck, but she was offered a new job in Baltimore, which had further depressed Chubbuck.

Chubbuck's lack of a romantic partner was considered a tangent of her desperate need to have close friends, though co-workers said she tended to be brusque and defensive whenever they made friendly gestures toward her. She was self-deprecating, criticizing herself constantly and rejecting any compliments others paid her.

On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming she had to read a newscast to open Suncoast Digest, something she had never done before. That morning's talk show guest waited across the studio while Chubbuck sat at the news anchor's desk. During the first eight minutes of her program, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a shooting from the previous day at local restaurant Beef & Bottle, at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. The film reel of the restaurant shooting had jammed and would not run, so Chubbuck shrugged it off and said on-camera, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts' and in living color, you are going to see another first—(an) attempted suicide." She drew the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded the broadcast rapidly to black.

Chubbuck was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead 14 hours later. Chubbuck's body was cremated (Cremation is a method of final disposition of a dead body through burning). The funeral ceremony was held on the beach, where her ashes were scattered into the Gulf of Mexico.

12. Karl Wallenda (1905 – 1978) aged 73


Karl Wallenda

Karl Wallenda was a German-American high wire artist and founder of The Flying Wallendas, a daredevil circus act which performed dangerous stunts, often without a safety net.

Despite being involved in several tragedies in his family's acts, Wallenda continued with his stunts. In 1978, at age 73, Wallenda attempted a walk between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a wire stretched 121 ft (37 metres) above the pavement. As a result of high winds and an improperly secured wire, he lost his balance and fell during the attempt. Wallenda was pronounced dead after his body arrived at the hospital. This was not viewed on most television stations, but a film crew from WAPA-TV in San Juan taped the fall with narration by anchorman Guillermo José Torres.

13. Jayan (1939 – 1980) aged 41


Jayan

Krishnan Nair, better known by his stage name Jayan, was an Indian film actor, naval officer, stunt performer and cultural icon of the 1970s.

On 16 November 1980, Jayan died in an accident on the set of the movie Kolilakkam (English: Shockwave). The climactic scene of the movie was being filmed in Sholavaram, near Madras, Tamil Nadu. Jayan always performed his own stunts, and for this movie he was performing a particularly dangerous stunt that involved him boarding an airborne helicopter from a moving motorbike. The shot was accepted by the director in the first take; altogether three shots were filmed.

Jayan
This picture was taken seconds before his death

According to the film's production executive, Jayan insisted on yet another re-take as he was not satisfied with its perfection. During the re-take, the helicopter lost its balance and crashed along with Jayan who was hanging onto the landing skids, and he later succumbed to his injuries.

14. Jon-Erik Hexum (1957 – 1984) aged 26


Jon-Erik Hexum

Jon-Erik Hexum was an American actor, known for his lead roles in the TV series Voyagers! and Cover Up, and his supporting role as Pat Trammell in the biopic The Bear.

On October 12, 1984, the cast and crew of Cover Up were filming the seventh episode of the series, "Golden Opportunity," on Stage 17 of the 20th Century Fox lot. One of the scenes filmed that day called for Hexum's character to load bullets into a .44 Magnum handgun, so he was provided with a functional gun and blanks. When the scene did not play as the director wanted it to in the master shot, there was a delay in filming. Hexum became restless and impatient during the delay and began playing around to lighten the mood. He had unloaded all but one (blank) round, spun it, and—simulating Russian roulette with what he thought was a harmless weapon—he put the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger.

Hexum was rushed to Beverly Hills Medical Center, where he underwent five hours of surgery to repair his wounds. On October 18, six days after the accident, Hexum was declared brain dead. With his mother's permission, his body was flown to San Francisco on life support, where his heart was transplanted into a 36-year-old Las Vegas man at California Pacific Medical Center. Hexum's kidneys and corneas were also donated: One cornea went to a 66-year-old man, the other to a young girl. One of the kidney recipients was a critically ill five-year-old boy, and the other was a 43-year-old grandmother of three who had waited eight years for a kidney. Skin that was donated was used to treat a 3½-year-old boy with third degree burns. Hexum's body was then flown back to Los Angeles. He was cremated at Grandview Crematory in Glendale, California, and a private funeral was held. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, near Malibu, California, by his mother. He left an estate estimated to be worth $255,000.

15. Dar Robinson (1947 – 1986) aged 39


Dar Robinson

Dar Allen Robinson was an American stunt performer and actor. Robinson broke 19 world records and set 21 "world's firsts.

Dar Robinson's stunts were always well planned, and he never broke a bone in his 19-year Hollywood career. On November 21, 1986, on the set of the film Million Dollar Mystery, after the completion of the main stunt, the emergency medical staff was dismissed from the set. While filming a routine high speed run by the camera with a fellow stuntman, Robinson rode his stunt motorcycle past the braking point of a turn and straight off a cliff, to his death.

16. Dick Shawn (1923 – 1987) aged 63


Dick Shawn

Dick Shawn was an American actor and comedian. He played a wide variety of supporting roles and was a prolific character actor.

On April 17, 1987, during a performance at University of California, San Diego's Mandeville Hall—which included his portrayal of a politician reciting such campaign clichés as "If elected, I will not lay down on the job"—Shawn suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed face-down on the stage. The audience initially assumed that it was part of his act; but after he had remained motionless on the stage for several minutes, a stage hand examined him and asked if a physician was present.

After CPR had been initiated, the audience was asked to leave the auditorium, but most remained, still assuming that it was all part of Shawn's act. Many began leaving—still unsure of what they had witnessed—only after paramedics arrived. A notice in the following day's San Diego Union newspaper announced that Shawn had indeed died during the performance.

17. Malcolm Kirk (1935 – 1987) aged 50


Malcolm Kirk

Malcolm Kirk was an English professional wrestler who went by the ring name of "King Kong" Kirk.

On 23 August 1987, Kirk died following a tag team match between Kirk and King Kendo against Big Daddy and Greg Valentine at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth. The match took place as part of a storyline where Kirk was feuding with Big Daddy. He told his wife when he left his house the day he was due to wrestle the match: "I don't want to go, I hate this job". The match lasted for fifteen minutes. The finish of the match was Big Daddy performing his "Big Daddy Splashdown" finisher on Kirk, where he would jump up and land horizontally across his opponent's chest (which is commonly known as a splash), and hold Kirk down for the pinfall. After pinning Kirk to win the match, Big Daddy got up but Kirk remained on the canvass and started to turn purple. Big Daddy noticed there was something wrong and told his cornerman. The promoter Max Crabtree and others got into the ring and attempted CPR. However, because of Kirk's size, they and the St John's Ambulance personnel present were unable to work Kirk's chest. The ring had to be dismantled, with eight men required to get Kirk on a stretcher and into the ambulance but he was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Big Daddy went to a nearby police station accompanied by the promoter Max Crabtree for questioning by police but was not charged with any offence.

18. Brandon Lee (1965 – 1993) aged 28


Brandon Lee

Brandon Bruce Lee was an American actor and martial artist. He was the only son of martial artist and film star Bruce Lee.

On March 30, 1993, Lee was filming a scene in The Crow where his character is shot and killed by thugs. In the scene, Lee's character walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped. Actor Michael Massee's character fires a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver at Lee as he walks into the room. A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges (with no powder or primer) to be loaded in the revolver for a close-up scene. (For film scenes that utilize a revolver where the bullets are visible from the front and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide the realistic appearance of actual rounds.)

Brandon and his father Bruce Lee c. 1966
Brandon and his father Bruce Lee c. 1966

In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be fired at Lee from a distance of 3.6–4.5 meters (12–15 feet), the dummy cartridges were exchanged with blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. However, since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him. He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he underwent six hours of surgery.

Attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead on March 31, 1993 at 1:03 pm.

The graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee
The graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee

19. Papa Wemba (1949 – 2016) aged 66


Papa Wemba

Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, known professionally as Papa Wemba, was a Congolese singer and musician who played Congolese rumba, soukous and ndombolo.

Wemba died at the age of 66 after collapsing on stage in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, during the FEMUA urban music festival on Sunday, 24 April 2016. On Monday, 25 April, it was reported that his widow, Mama-Marie Luzolo Amazone, flew to Abidjan "accompanied by family members and government officials." In Wemba's hometown of Kinshasa, both fellow musicians and fans gathered together as a tribute to his legacy.

20. Bruce Hampton (1947 – 2017) aged 70


Bruce Hampton

Bruce Hampton was an American musician. In the late 1960s he was a founding member of Atlanta, Georgia's avant-garde Hampton Grease Band.

During the encore performance of the show, Hampton suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed on stage. Onlookers and his fellow musicians initially either did not notice that Hampton had collapsed, or thought it was a ruse. As a result, Hampton lay face down at Niederauer's feet, his left arm draped over a stage monitor, as Niederauer soloed on "Turn On Your Love Light". The band played for several minutes before Hampton was taken offstage; he died shortly thereafter at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, Georgia.

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