THEY DIED WITH THEIR MAKEUP ON
SHOWBIZ STARS WHO WENT FROM LIVE TO DEAD
WHILE PERFORMING, OR VERY SHORTLY AFTERWARDS
By Ed Gauthier
Happy Holidays, all. In keeping with a yuletide tradition (a totally fake one that we just made up), we're celebrating Christmas Day by giving you the present of a list of several dozen famous (and semi-famous) folks who have kicked the bucket (and it wasn't even on their bucket list) in front of an audience.
We'll preface this by making you aware at the outset that the common "died later in the hospital" claim is a total lie, told only for insurance purposes, by companies owning the premises where the performer dropped dead as a doornail. That's because said owners can be sued by the stars' estates for wrongful death and a host of other issues if they admit the death happened on their doorstep.
But if they can say the actual demise could have been in an ambulance going to the hospital, or arrival at the hospital, etc., then they can legally wash their hands of it. Anyone collapsing and being unable to be resuscitated there is DEAD at the scene. Lawyers for clients that own the property that the deceased happened to land on don't ever want to admit this, but it's nevertheless true. Over the years, ambulance drivers have loaded hundreds of dead bodies onto their wagons, pretending to handle live ones, but knowing full well they might as well be driving hearses. But medical schools train them all to pretend otherwise.
We've put those parts of such cases in quotes. Now that you know this dirty little secret, let's proceed.
You'll no doubt notice that men far outnumber the women on this list, proving that males are much bigger showoffs, and much more reckless with their health. So now let's go (not live) to the 20th century:
Felix Mottl (July 2, 1911)
This Austrian conductor died in Munich at the age of 55 while conducting Act II of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. First indication that Wagner music would prove to be be very bad luck for Austria and nearby Germany.
Alexander Woolcott (January 23, 1943)
During a radio show (a round table discussion with four others on Hitlerism), Woolcott suffered a heart attack at 7:15 p.m. and later "died in the hospital." Hundreds of people tuned into the show were unaware anything was amiss. Indeed, listeners reported that the writer, known for his incisive and sometimes stinging comments, seemed to have taken less than his usual part in the broadcast.
Johnny Ace (December 25, 1954)
Rhythm and blues recording star Johnny Ace died during a Christmas day show he was giving in Houston, but did so offstage. During a five minute break, the singer was amusing himself with a game of Russian Roulette (one bullet in the chamber). He lost. Or in his case, you might say he got "aced out."
James Dean (September 30, 1955)
Actor James Dean, 24, star of East Of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and Giant, was driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder to an auto rally in Salinas, California when a fatal accident occurred. Around 5:30 p.m., Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wuetherich were driving westbound on Highway 466 (now called State Route 46), when a 1950 Ford Tudor pulled out in front of them.
Donald Turnupseed, 23, who was driving the Ford, had been traveling east on Highway 466 and was attempting to make a left turn onto Highway 41. Unfortunately, Turnupseed had already started to make his turn before he saw the Porsche roaring quickly toward him. Without time to turn, the two cars smashed nearly head-on.
Turnupseed received only minor injuries from the accident. Dean's mechanic was thrown from the Porsche and suffered serious head injuries and a broken leg, but survived the crash. Dean, however, was killed instantly. At the time, Dean was still wearing face makeup because he had just finished shooting his final scenes in Giant the night before.
Tyrone Power (November 15, 1958)
(Click to enlarge.)
Actor Tyrone Power suffered a heart attack during the filming of a fencing scene in Solomon and Sheba in Madrid, Spain. He died "only minutes after being loaded into an ambulance," meaning that he actually died while fencing, not while traveling.
Harry Einstein (November 24, 1958)
A second banana to Eddie Cantor, comic Parkyakarkus (AKA Harry Einstein) expired during Thanksgiving week right after performing at a Friars Club roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He collapsed onto comic Milton Berle's shoulder.
Uncle Miltie no doubt had an appropriate roast gag about someone "dying" onstage - this time literally, but showed rare decorum in not giving voice to it. Instead he just used the even older line of "Is there a doctor in the house?" The audience howled with laughter.
They didn't yet know that Parkyakarkus had died of a heark attackus!
Einstein had four sons, including comedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks, Bob Einstein (a.k.a. Super Dave Osborne) and author Charles Einstein.
Eduard van Beinum (April 13, 1959)
Chief conductor at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, van Beinum, 58, was taken ill after rehearsing the first two movements of a Brahms symphony, and died immediately after stepping off the podium.
Leonard Warren (March 4, 1960)
Just after he completed his second-act aria in Verdi's La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the New York's Metropolitan Opera, legendary baritone Warren plunged face-forward onto the stage. The curtain was rung down, and it was announced a half hour later the singer had died of a massive stroke.
Paul Mantz (July 8, 1965)
This aviation pioneer and legendary movie stunt pilot died in Yuma, Arizona, during the filming of The Flight Of The Phoenix. As three motion picture cameras ground away, his plane hit a small sand dune, overturned and disintegrated. Ironically, although he was already semi-retired from stunt work, Mantz was covering for his partner Frank Tallman, who six weeks earlier had broken his leg while pushing his son's go-cart. Thanks a lot, Frank!
Nelson Eddy (March 6, 1967)
This famous actor and singer, most popularly paired with Jeanette McDonald, suffered a fatal stroke while performing onstage at the Doral Country Club in Miami at age 65. He died in hospital the next day.
Joseph Keilberth (July 20, 1968)
This 60-year-old conductor died at the National Theatre in Munich while leading Tristan and Isolde.
George Ostroska (January 1970)
While playing the lead in Macbeth at the Crawford Livingston Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ostroska dropped dead of a heart attack at the beginning of the second act. He was 32. (He was so unknown that we don't even have a photo of him.)
David Burns (March 12 1971)
This 70-year-old actor died onstage of a heart attack during a pre-Broadway run through of 70 Girls 70 in Philadelphia. At the morgue that night they called him 1 Dead Guy 1.
Jerome Rodale (June 5, 1971)
In a New York Times Magazine interview, this loopy longevity guru announced, "I'm going to live to be 100, unless I'm run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver." A guest on the Dick Cavett Show the next day, while Cavett was discussing politics with journalist Pete Hamill, Rodale's head dropped to his chest and he was heard to let out what sounded like a snore. "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?" asked Cavett. There was no response — Rodale was dead, at age 72.
The show was never broadcast, but maybe it will be out on DVD someday... if the right sugar-crazed exploiting producer runs into it, of course.
(Latest word was that Cavett had the original video stashed in his vault at home.)
Leslie Harvey (May 3, 1972)
Harvey, 27, the lead guitarist of the Glasgow, Scotland band Stone the Crows, died after being electrocuted onstage at Swansea's Top Rank Ballroom. There was one Scot who certainly didn't get off Scot free!
Irene Ryan (April 26, 1973)
Best known as "Granny" on TV's Beverly Hillbillies, this spritely 71-year-old suffered a stroke while performing in the Broadway musical Pippin and died six weeks later.
Carl Barnett (April 23, 1974)
This 59-year-old expired of a heart attack while conducting Bach's Come, Sweet Death at the Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. It was his first and last performance of that piece. "Come, Sweet Death"? Shoulda been careful what you wished for, Carl. (He was another newbie, so no pic available.)
Christine Chubbuck (July 15, 1974)
Some people will do anything for a scoop. When a technical problem interfered with the orderly presentation of a story on her morning news show, this 30-year-old news anchor announced, "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 — attempted suicide."
She then drew a revolver and shot herself in the head. It was reported that Chubbuck expired 14 hours later in the hospital. (In other words, she died live on the air.)
Well, there's one buck that certainly wasn't chubby anymore!
Sidney James (April 26, 1976)
James, 62, was best known for his roles in the British-produced Carry On film comedy series, and was called the grand old man of dirty laughter. He had an addiction to gambling which played a large part in his workaholic schedule, and a subsequent heart attack in 1967.
He was soon back in action, however, playing a hospital patient in Carry On Doctor, able to spend most of the film in bed. But he suffered a second and fatal heart attack, collapsing in 1976 on the Empire theater stage in Sunderland, England. It was during a performance of The Mating Game, and he "died in the hospital" shortly after. That's right, folks - the Carry On guy was carried off!
Cyril Ritchard (December 19, 1977)
This 83-year-old actor suffered a Thanksgiving week heart attack during a November 25, 1977 performance in Chicago of the musical Side By Side, causing him to slip into a coma from which he never recovered. (But he did manage to slip over to the other side.)
Karl Wallenda (March 22, 1978)
This famed aerialist died at age 73 while attempting to walk a wire suspended 123 feet in the air between two hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Certainly not a very good example for his brainwashed wire-walking kids to follow. (And they did.)
Bill Stewart (June 20, 1979)
While attempting to film war destruction in Nicaragua, this ABC television news correspondent and his interpreter, Juan Espinosa, were executed by a member of that country's National Guard. Surviving members of the ABC crew managed to catch the murder on tape, and the footage was later shown on news broadcasts. He also had a gigantic UFO alien type forehead that you could project a movie on, which didn't exactly help calm the natives, either.
Arnold Soboloff (October 28, 1979)
This 48-year-old actor suffered a heart attack during a New York City performance of Peter Pan. Neverland? How about never living, Arnie?
Vic Morrow (July 23, 1982)
In Hollywood's most infamous on-set tragedy, Vic Morrow and two child actors in Twilight Zone, The Movie were killed when struck by a helicopter during the late-night filming of a mock Vietnam battle scene in Valencia, California - you know, where they have the best oranges. All exposed film was immediately seized, but some eventually made its way into the 1992 compilation film Death Scenes 2.
Let it be stated that at the time of the FUBAR in question, the film's genius director, John Landis, was not on set. However, the blowback from this mess was so intense that his very successful career virtually ended that day, much like Morrow's life. Landis has since done a few other things, but merely a faint echo of what could have been.
Jackie Wilson (January 23, 1984)
Eight years after collapsing on stage during a performance and slipping into a coma, this singer died after they finally pulled the life support plug. He'd been felled in Cherry Hill, N.J. on September 25, 1975 while performing with Dick Clark's touring rock-'n'-roll revival. Though Wilson emerged from the actual coma a year later, treatment in medical facilities failed to sufficiently restore his health. An unfair end to a great talent.
Tommy Cooper (April 15, 1984)
Known as the fez-wearing magician whose tricks always seemed to go wrong, this British comedian suffered a heart attack during a televised performance. Given the usual nature of his act, the audience took some time to realize that this really wasn't part of it. He died "later in the hospital." Yep, that one went wrong, alright.
Eric Morecambe (May 29, 1984)
(Ernie Wise shown at right.) The four-eyed half of Britain's comedy duo Morecambe and Wise died "in the hospital" the day after suffering a heart attack during one of his curtain calls after a performance in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He was 58 years old. The greedy bastard shouldn't have taken all those curtain calls, ay wot, old bean? But then he was Morecambe, and not Wise at all.
Jon-Erik Hexum (October 12, 1984)
Hexum died of a gunshot wound after he accidentally shot himself in the head with a .44-caliber magnum pistol loaded with blanks while on the set of the TV series Cover-Up. Wadding from the blank cartridge had been driven into his skull. He was replaced in the series by Antony Hamilton, but the show didn't last all that long, running only from September 22, 1984 to July 6, 1985 before being canceled.
Yoshiuki Takada (September 10, 1985)
The Sankai Juku Dance Company of Toyko had been performing The Dance Of Birth And Death on the side of Seattle's Mutual Life building when Takada's rope broke and he plunged six stories to his doom. Ya, he got the dance of death, to be sure. The film of his demise was shown on the nightly news. That's why wire rigs were invented - to replace fraying ropes. Duh! (A pic of him might well be out there somewhere, but we don't know Japanese - our bad.)
Jane Dornacker (October 22, 1986)
Millions heard the final broadcast of this traffic reporter for WNBC radio in New York City as the helicopter she was in crashed into the Hudson River. She died on the way to the hospital. The pilot survived. This was Dornacker's second helicopter crash that year - and last. The first survived crash is always the warning. If you don't listen and take a nice safe desk job, then you're screwed.
Edith Webster (November 22, 1986)
After singing several choruses of "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" during a performance of The Drunkard, this 60-year-old actress collapsed on stage for her scripted death scene and suffered an unscripted fatal heart attack. She was pronounced "dead at the hospital." Well, she got her wish - aside from goofy lists like this, virtually nobody ever talks about her now that she's gone, or knows who the heck she was. (We can't even find a pic of the old chick.)
Nancy McCormick (November 25, 1986)
This Cincinnati reporter for radio station WKRC (not WKRP) was killed along with the pilot in the crash of the station's helicopter. She was not broadcasting at the time, unlike that New York gal Dornacker. What is it with these faulty helicopters? Someone really needs to look into those! (No photo of, but then radio people usually aren't seen, anyway.)
R. Budd Dwyer (January 22, 1987)
Why the heck didn't he want to spell out his first name? Anyway, this Pennsylvania state treasurer staged the best-known live to dead televised suicide. Found guilty as hell, and about to be sentenced on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and racketeering for taking a $300,000 kickback on a state computer contract, Dwyer convened a press conference in his office.
While the film rolled, he handed out a 20 page press statement, made a few remarks, then placed the barrel of a .357 revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The tape was shown on the nightly news. But think about it - 1980s computers that were pre PC era, and a kickback that was barely over a quarter million bucks? That's right, today that would be considered ancient technology and chump change!
Dick Shawn (April 18, 1987)
SHAWN OF THE DEAD
The delightful Dick Shawn
Would never see the dawn
Of another century's age
Because he croaked onstage
While giving a comedy performance at the UC San Diego campus, Shawn fell and struck his head on the stage. The comedian lay there for nearly five minutes before the audience realized it was not part of his act and an ambulance was called. He died "later in the hospital," of an apparent heart attack. You think? Well, it sure as heck wasn't a head cold!
Warne Marsh (December 18, 1987)
This jazz saxophonist died of a heart attack after collapsing onstage while giving a performance at Donte's in North Hollywood. According to another member of the quartet, Marsh "just slipped off his stool." He was pronounced "dead at the hospital."
Well, things like saxes and trumpets take an insane amount of regular huffing and puffing, and if you're always stuck in smoky nightclubs, don't have great lungs, or are also a smoker yourself, forget it. Better you should take up the bass, man.
Brian Jewell (October 20, 1990)
Thrill-seekers on a "Haunted Hayride" in New Jersey got more of a thrill than they'd bargained for when it was discovered the teen playing the part of the hanged man was the real thing. The stunt had gone fatally wrong. (Local yokel, so no pic.)
William Anthony Odom (October 26, 1990)
This North Carolina 15-year-old who'd been staging a gallows scene at a Halloween party accidentally hanged himself when the noose somehow tightened. Note to dorks like Odom and Jewell - no, there is NOT any such Halloween tradition having anything to do with hanging whatsoever. It's all about costumes and free candy. Get with the program. (Another local yokel, so no pic.)
Joseph Burrus (October 30, 1990)
An amateur magician and resident of Fresno, California, Burrus came up with an escape stunt that would have done his idol Houdini proud — he'd be bound, confined in a plastic coffin, then buried under seven tons of soil and concrete. Handcuffed and chained, he was lowered into the hole. Assistants shoveled three feet of soil onto the casket, then a truck poured concrete into the hole.
As they were topping up the cement, the level suddenly dropped eighteen inches. Fifteen minutes of excavating later, rescuers reached Burrus, but it was too late — he'd been crushed like an eggshell. The future for Burrus - it wasn't plastics. The stunt was broadcast live, and like many of those on this list, can be found on internet video sites. (No photo, unless you want to see a blur encased in plastic and cement.)
Redd Foxx (October 11, 1991)
Actor/comedian Redd Foxx underwent a heart attack on the set of The Royal Family, a new sitcom he was appearing in. Best known for his curmudgeonly role in Sanford And Son, this time it really was the big one, Elizabeth. But it was a duplicate of what Dick Shawn had already pulled off just four years earlier, so it really wasn't very original.
Brandon Lee (March 31, 1993)
A stunt gone wrong during the filming of The Crow cost the son of Bruce Lee his life. A blank fired from a .44 magnum revolver felled him. He died hours later in hospital. The metal tip of one of the dummy bullets had somehow pulled loose from its brass casing. When the dummies were unloaded and replaced with blanks, the metal tip remained behind in the gun's cylinder. As soon as the blank went off, its explosive force propelled the dummy tip through the gun barrel — and into Lee's body.
Rumor to the contrary, footage of Lee's fatal accident is not included in The Crow. So just like Hexum, Lee was killed by "tips from a blank." And all they had to do was use nothing in these guns at all, and with special effects later during editing just make them look and sound like they were shooting. That's always been very simple to accomplish, and certainly never required any complicated CGI magic.
Tip Tipping (February 6, 1993)
While filming a segment for BBC's 999 (a show which dramatically reconstructs real-life narrow escapes), this veteran stuntman died when his main parachute and two reserves failed to open. Here's a tip for all Tip Tipping fans - never trust a parachute - or you'll soon be tipping over. (Sorry, but that dumb name forced us to go there.)
Jack Spector (March 8, 1994)
This popular radio host (no relation to convicted murderer Phil Spector) suffered a fatal heart attack while broadcasting popular music on WHLI in Garden City, Long Island. He was pronounced upon arrival "dead at the hospital." The song playing at the time of his heart attack was I'm In The Mood For Love. Should've instead been something like Our Love Will Last Forever. The Grim Reaper must have slipped up.
Crash Morgan (October 6, 1995)
This drummer for the group Big Sugar died mid-number while performing in Waterloo, Iowa. He was 36. Ya, we get it - he crashed for real. Okay, let's move on. (Oh, ya - no pic, since the guy was a substitute drummer who didn't last long.)
Daniel McLain (November 8, 1995)
Better known as Country Dick Montana of the underground rock band The Beat Farmers, McLain expired on stage of a heart attack during a sold out performance at the Longhorn Saloon in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
Out of respect for McLain, as was also the case with Shawn, we won't insert the usual called-for joke about an old dick going limp onstage. But we will say that hubba-hubba-hubba, Danny boy ain't a happy boy no more!
Rob Harris (December 14, 1995)
During the filming of a Mountain Dew commercial, this sky surfer's parachute failed to open and he plunged to his death. Despite rumors to the contrary, though the finished commercial contains some footage of Harris, none comes from his final jump. (Ya, that's what they all say.)
Meanwhile, remember the Tipping parachute incident just two years before? That's right - never trust a parachute. Man was never meant to fly - in parachutes or helicopters or planes or anything else!
Richard Versalle (January 5, 1996)
This 63-year-old tenor died onstage at New York's Metropolitan Opera immediately after delivering the line: "Too bad you can only live so long" in Janacek's The Makropulos Case.
It was the first performance and Versalle, who was playing the legal clerk Vitek alongside Jessye Norman, climbed a 20 ft ladder to file a legal brief, but had a heart attack and plunged to the ground. (They later had almost the same problem with the accident-plagued Spider-Man musical. Don't ask.) And also get this - that Janacek's opera was about the secret of eternal life!
Johnny "Guitar" Watson (May 17, 1996)
While performing at the Blues Cafe in Yokohama, Japan, this 61-year-old rhythm and blues legend suffered a heart attack. He was pronounced upon arrival "dead at the hospital."
Herbert "Tiny Tim" Khaury (November 30, 1996)
Performing at a Minneapolis fund raiser, Tiny Tim cut short his rendition of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips." Turning to leave the stage, he was felled by a heart attack and was pronounced - you guessed it - upon arrival "dead at the hospital."
Gordon Williams (April 25, 1997)
This 63-year-old British magician died on stage during a charity show in Sheffield, Yorks. Yoiks! (No photo - he was a magician, so he apparently vanished in more ways than one.)
Antony Wheeler (August 17, 1997)
Playing Judas in a Greek production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Wheeler's performance was supposed to conclude with Judas hanging himself, a stunt he'd successfully negotiated 20 previous times. This time he forgot to fasten the rope to his safety harness. Oopsie! (No pic.)
Antario Teodoro Filho (January 2, 1998)
During a live show, this Brazilian radio presenter and local politician was shot dead by a gunman who burst into the studio. He was hit by 10 bullets fired from two revolvers. The murderer must have known he was a really bad shot, so he didn't want to take any chances. Meanwhile, Brazil still sucks, so nobody cares.
Owen Hart (May 23, 1999)
This professional wrestler lost his life when he fell from a height of 90 feet as he was being lowered into the ring for the "Over The Edge" sports entertainment event in Kansas City, Missouri. Yep, he sure went over the edge.
Mark Sandman (July 5, 1999)
Lead singer of the Boston-based rock band Morphine, 47-year-old Mark Sandman collapsed on stage during a concert in Rome. He had suffered a heart attack and was pronounced upon arrival "dead (in the ambulance) on the way to the hospital." (No pic - just a little pile of sand.)
Grover Washington Jr. (December 17, 1999)
This jazz saxophonist and composer suffered a heart attack and collapsed after taping four songs that Friday evening for The Saturday Early Show on CBS. He "died in the hospital" in New York City.
On Saturday morning, they made the gutsy move of explaining what had happened, and then ran the footage anyway. (Witnesses to that Saturday broadcast also include the editor of this very retrospective.)
Ron Watson (March 17, 2000)
While putting on a magic show for a group of hospital patients at Tokoroa Hospital in New Zealand, "Uncle Ron the Magician" collapsed and was pronounced "dead in the hospital" - which was awkward, since this is one rare case when the star was already IN the hospital when he went from healthy to dead, which must have caused a huge insurance nightmare.
As per usual, the patients at first believed his crumpling onstage was part of the act, until he stopped moving for 45 minutes, and was officially declared "Uncle Ron the DEAD Magician." Now he's the "Uncle" in the family that nobody in New Zealand wants to talk about. (No pic.)
Renato Di Paolo (April 22, 2000)
Another actor playing Judas mistakenly hanged himself in Camerata Nuova, a town about 45 miles from Rome. Di Paolo's death was captured on film by someone shooting a video of the outdoor play. (No pic.)
James Tuozzolo (December 31, 2000)
This principal trumpet player with the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra collapsed of a heart attack on stage just after performing a solo, and "died in the hospital." (No pic.)
Giuseppe Sinopoli (April 20, 2001)
This 54-year-old conductor collapsed and died of a heart attack in Berlin while conducting perhaps the most emotionally charged scene in Verdi's Aida. What's with these croaking conductors? They're dropping dead as quick as those helicopter and parachute people!
John Ritter (September 11, 2003)
During the taping of the TV situation comedy 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, the 54-year-old actor was stricken by a previously undiagnosed heart problem. (But frankly, just trying to say the whole stupid long title of that show is enough to give anyone a heart condition!)
Although there was a hospital literally across the street from the studio, the docs couldn't do much for Ritter, and he died later on that night. Actress Amy Yazbeck is his widow, who soon-after sued them for wrongful death, and at press time the case was still pending.
Darrell Abbott (December 9, 2004)
Better known as "Dimebag," formerly of the heavy metal band Pantera, Abbott was shot by a jilted fan while performing with his new group Damageplan. But of course he didn't have a plan for that kind of damage!
(Gotta wonder if the fan's last name was Costello!)
The above material is an old file compiled
from around the web, and whatever happened
after 2004 we have no clue. Maybe someday
we'll actually get around to updating it.