List of entertainers who died during a performance

Through history, many entertainers have died while performing live or while recording a performance.[1] The following list excludes deaths involving stunt persons as they are listed separately.

17th century

  • 1673: Molière, the French actor and playwright, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, died after being seized by a violent coughing fit while playing the title role in his play Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac).[2] However, he did not die on stage as he was able to finish the play, but died a few minutes later at his home. 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.

19th century

  • 1817: An actor known as Mr. Cummins died on stage while playing the part of Dumont in The Tragedy of Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe, at the Leeds Theatre in Hunslet. He died of 'ossification of the heart' (aortic stenosis) on 20 June having uttered his final words from the play "May such befall me at my latest hour ...".[3]
  • 1820: Madame Delinsky, the female half of a magic act, was accidentally shot and killed while performing the "bullet catch" trick. One of the six gunmen mistakenly loaded his rifle with a live bullet.
  • 1829: Sam Patch, an American daredevil, died in Rochester, New York, during a jump into the High Falls of the Genesee River. He had successfully leapt into High Falls one week previously.
  • 1840: Magician Arnold Buck was killed while performing the "bullet catch" trick. The volunteer from the audience was given the gun and a bullet to load onstage; the bullet was a blank, but unbeknownst to Buck, the audience member inserted some nails into the gun barrel.
  • 1872: Lion tamer Thomas Macarte, known as Massarti the Lion Tamer, who had previously lost an arm when attacked by one of the lions, entered the lion's cage for a performance with a travelling menagerie in Bolton market on 3 January. Attacked by the lions, he attempted to fight them off with his sword and a pistol loaded with blanks but they overcame him. Although other members of the show eventually forced the animals back into an inner cage they dragged Macarte with them. Eventually rescued, he died on the way to the hospital.[4]
  • 1873: The actress Matilda Pascaly died from injuries suffered on stage while playing the part of an angel in Don Juan de Maraña. Stagehands mishandled her wires and sent her crashing upside down into a wall.[5]
  • 1882: The actress Annie Von Behren died during a performance of Si Slocum at Cincinnati's Coliseum when a firearm wielded by her co-actor, Frank Frayne, accidentally discharged, shooting her in the head.
  • 1888: Frederick Federici had a heart attack as he descended through a trap door just after singing his last note as Mephistopheles in Gounod's opera Faust at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.
  • 1897: Operatic bass Armand Castelmary died onstage at New York's Metropolitan Opera House during a performance of Friedrich von Flotow’s Martha. The audience, believing his collapse to be a stroke of brilliant acting, rewarded him with a loud ovation as the curtain was lowered.

20th century

  • 1904: Emil Hasda, a Polish comic actor, took six curtain calls after a performance in Nimptsch, Poland (at the time part of Germany) on 11 April before shooting himself in the head in front of the audience, apparently because a female member of the company had rejected his marriage proposal.[4]
  • 1911: Sigmund Neuberger, a vaudeville performer known as "The Great Lafayette," died on 9 May in Edinburgh's Empire Palace Theatre while performing his "Lion's Bride" illusion after a stage lamp sparked a fire that killed Neuberger, his double, the lion, and ten other performers.
  • 1912: Theodore Ronald Brailey, Roger Marie Bricoux, John Frederick Preston Clarke, Wallace Hartley, John Law Hume, Georges Alexandre Krins, Percy Cornelius Taylor, and John Wesley Woodward, the eight onboard musicians hired to entertain on the RMS Titanic. The band reportedly continued playing music until the sinking ship's last moments in an effort to calm the passengers.
  • 1918: Chung Ling Soo, magician (real name: William Ellsworth Robinson), died as a result of a bullet catch illusion going wrong on stage.[6]
  • 1924: Jack Pleasants, music hall entertainer, is said to have dropped dead on stage at age 49 during a pantomime performance.
  • 1927: John "Chuck" O'Connor, performer in vaudeville and father of actor Donald O'Connor, died of a heart attack while dancing onstage in their family act.
  • 1930:
    • Escape artist Genesta drowned during his milk-can escape, a stunt associated with Harry Houdini. Unbeknownst to Genesta, his milk can had been dropped, damaging the secret escape hatch and rendering it inoperable. His assistants were unaware of this, and freed him too late.[citation needed]
    • Cinematographer Conrad Wells, director Kenneth Hawks, six other crew members and two pilots were killed in a two-plane collision off the Santa Monica coast while filming aerial scenes for the film Such Men Are Dangerous.[7]
  • 1931: Acrobat Lillian Leitzel died after falling from her rigging during a performance in Copenhagen.
  • 1937: Louis Vierne, a French organist and composer, died while performing his 1750th organ recital on 2 June 1937, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.[8]
  • 1943:
    • Alexander Woollcott suffered a heart attack during a Writers' War Board panel on CBS Radio in which he and four other individuals were having a discussion about Hitler. Listeners were oblivious to the fact that anything was out of the ordinary, although Woollcott had mentioned earlier that he was feeling ill. Several listeners expressed puzzlement that Woollcott, known for being aggressive and talkative, had been unusually quiet.[9] Woollcott was about to continue speaking, stopped and wrote "I am sick" on a notepad. He was helped out of the studio and died in hospital a few hours later.[10][11]
    • Albert Stoessel was conducting an orchestra for the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, when he died of a heart attack on 12 May 1943.
  • 1944:
  • 1951: Concert pianist Simon Barere died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Carnegie Hall while playing Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor.
  • 1955: Actress Isabel Bonner suffered a heart attack while on stage at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, during a performance of The Shrike.[13]
  • 1958:
  • 1960:
    • Actor Louis Jean Heydt died of a heart attack upon conclusion of the first act of the Boston production of There Was a Little Girl, also featuring Jane Fonda.
    • Singer Leonard Warren expired after performing his aria in the second act of the opera La forza del destino at the New York Metropolitan Opera. He was then to perform Don Carlo's act III aria, which begins Morir, tremenda cosa ("to die, a momentous thing"), when he started coughing and gasping. He fell face first to the ground, and it was revealed he had died of a massive heart attack.
  • 1961:
  • 1965: Wagnerian bass-baritone Hermann Uhde died on stage of a heart attack during a performance in Copenhagen's Royal Danish Theatre on 10 October 1965.
  • 1966: Vaudeville doubletalk comedian Al Kelly died immediately following his performance at the Friars Club roast of Joe E. Lewis, after returning to his seat on the dais and during the applause.
  • 1967: Comedian and singer Jodie "Butterbeans" Edwards, the surviving member of the long-running vaudeville duo Butterbeans and Susie, died on 28 October as he walked onstage at the Dorchester Inn, outside Chicago.
  • 1968: Joseph Keilberth, conductor, died in Munich after collapsing while conducting Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in exactly the same place as Felix Mottl had done in 1911.
  • 1969:
    • Professional wrestler Mike DiBiase suffered a heart attack in the ring while wrestling his opponent Man Mountain Mike on 2 July in Lubbock, Texas. CPR was unsuccessful, and an autopsy revealed coronary artery disease. DiBiase was the father of wrestling star Ted DiBiase.
    • Country music star Spade Cooley died from a heart attack while backstage during the intermission of a benefit concert in Oakland, California on 23 November. Cooley was serving a life term in prison for beating his wife to death in front of their daughter, and played the show on a weekend furlough. He was scheduled to be paroled three months later, in February 1970.[16]
    • Performer Kenneth Horne, star of the radio comedy show Round the Horne, died of a heart attack while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers' and Directors' Awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London, moments after the show scriptwriters had received an award and Horne had urged the audience to tune into its next series which had been due to commence shortly.
  • 1970: Actor George Ostroska collapsed from a heart attack at the start of the second act while playing the title role of Macbeth at the Crawford Livingston Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • 1971:
  • 1972:
    • Les Harvey, lead guitarist of the Glasgow rock band Stone the Crows, died after being electrocuted by his microphone while performing at Swansea's Top Rank Ballroom.[1]
    • Jazz musician Lee Morgan was murdered while performing at Slugs' Saloon in New York.
    • Luther Lindsay, one of the first black stars in professional wrestling, died of a heart attack at the end of a match. Lindsay had just delivered his winning move, and died while lying on top of his opponent.
  • 1974: Czech actor Jan Libíček died of kidney failure at the age of 43 on the set of the film How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer.
  • 1974 American TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck, working for WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida; committed suicide on live television. She is the first person to do so.
  • 1975: Predrag Jovičić, vocalist of the Yugoslav rock band San, died from an electric shock during a concert in Čair Hall in Niš.[18]
  • 1976:
  • 1977: Actor Zero Mostel collapsed and died from an aortic aneurysm during the first preview performance of The Merchant, a Broadway-bound adaptation of The Merchant of Venice.
  • 1978:
  • 1980:
    • Jayan, the biggest star in Malayalam cinema, was killed in a helicopter accident while re-filming a stunt for the action movie Kolilakkam. Jayan was hanging onto the helicopter's landing skids when it crashed, and later succumbed to his injuries.
    • Danish actor and comedian Dirch Passer suffered a fatal heart attack backstage immediately prior to going on stage in Tivoli Gardens on 3 September 1980.
  • 1981:
  • 1982:
    • Vic Morrow and two children, My-Ca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6), died in an accident while filming on location for the Twilight Zone: The Movie in Ventura County, California. Morrow, Le, and Chen were filming a scene set during the Vietnam War in which their characters attempt to escape from a pursuing U.S. Army helicopter out of a deserted Vietnamese village. The helicopter was hovering at about 25 feet above them when pyrotechnic explosions damaged it and caused it to crash on top of them, killing all three instantly.[24]
    • Actor and comedian Joe E. Ross suffered a heart attack and died while performing on stage on the evening of 13 August. His wife reportedly collected just half of Ross's fee because he had failed to do a full show.[25]
  • 1983: Musician Reebop Kwaku Baah died of a cerebral haemorrhage while performing in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • 1984:
    • Pianist and singer Tuts Washington died while performing at the World's Fair in New Orleans on August 5, 1984.[26]
    • Actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself with a blank pistol. On 12 October 1984, the cast and crew of the TV series 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 blanks into a .44 Magnum handgun. When the scene did not play as the director wanted, there was a delay in filming. Hexum became restless during the delay and began playing around to lighten the mood. He had apparently unloaded all but one blank round when, at 5:15 p.m., he spun the cylinder and, as if playing Russian roulette, put the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger. The force of the blank round was sufficient to dislodge fragments of his skull, which acted as projectiles in lieu of a bullet loaded in the cartridge. The skull fragments were propelled into his brain.
    • Magician and comedian Tommy Cooper suffered a heart attack during a performance on the London Weekend Television variety show Live From Her Majesty's. Cooper was known for getting his illusions deliberately and comically wrong. After Cooper collapsed, his audience laughed for almost a minute, thinking that his stage character had swooned at the appearance of a pretty magician's assistant (even she thought Cooper was improvising a comic bit). The TV show cut away to an unscheduled break. Efforts to revive Cooper backstage failed, and he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
    • Singer Onie Wheeler died of a massive heart attack while performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.[27]
    • British comedian Eric Morecambe collapsed from a heart attack as he left the stage of the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury following a performance; he died in hospital a few hours later.[28]
    • British actor-comedian Leonard Rossiter died of a heart attack in his dressing room at the Lyric Theatre, London whilst preparing to go on stage during a performance in Joe Orton's play Loot.[29]
  • 1985:
    • Butoh dancer Yoshiyuki Takada was performing The Dance of Birth and Death with a Tokyo artistic troupe, on the side of Seattle's Mutual Life building. His rope broke, and he fell six stories to his death.[30]
    • Italian actor Claudio Cassinelli died on the set of Sergio Martino's Vendetta dal futuro in Page, Arizona. His helicopter crashed against the Navajo Bridge, allegedly due to an error of the pilot, while filming an action scene.
  • 1986:
    • Actor Adolph Caesar died of a heart attack on the set of the film Tough Guys.
    • Stunt performer Dar Robinson died in a motorcycle accident while on the set of Million Dollar Mystery as he attempted a stunt, but ended up accidentally riding off a cliff to his death.
    • Actress Edith Webster died onstage from a heart attack while performing her death scene in the play "The Drunkard," in a lodge in Baltimore. The role called for her to sing "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," and then slump to the floor, which she did.[31]
  • 1987:
    • Saxophonist Warne Marsh collapsed at a Los Angeles jazz club while soloing on the standard "Out of Nowhere".
    • Comedian Dick Shawn died on stage while performing at the University of California, San Diego after suffering a fatal heart attack. He lay motionless on the stage for several minutes, while audience members (thinking it was part of his act) began shouting comments, such as: "Take his wallet" and "How long is this going to go on?". The stage manager came out to check on Shawn several times before realizing it was not part of the show. A doctor was called up from the audience to perform CPR on the comedian until the paramedics arrived. He was later pronounced dead at Scripps Memorial Hospital.[32]
    • British wrestler Mal "King Kong" Kirk died of a pre-existing heart condition after his opponent Big Daddy jumped and landed on him during a match at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.
  • 1988: Ferial Karim, a Lebanese actress, died on stage during a performance, 4 July.
  • 1989: Actor George O'Hanlon died from a stroke during recording sessions for Jetsons: The Movie; the rest of his lines were filled in by Jeff Bergman, who also provided additional lines for Mel Blanc's character, Cosmo Spacely.
  • 1990: Escape artist Joseph "Amazing Joe" Burrus died on Halloween when the glass 'coffin' he was attempting to escape from collapsed under the weight of wet cement poured on top of it.
  • 1991: Actor Redd Foxx suffered a fatal heart attack on the set of the CBS sitcom The Royal Family.[33][34] It was noted that initially cast mates on set thought Foxx was only fooling around after he clutched a chair and fell to the floor, since his character on Sanford and Son often faked heart attacks.[35]
  • 1992:
    • 13 February, Don "Maddog" Wright, jazz clarinetist, died of a heart attack while performing with Greg Brown at The Folkway, a club in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He was 80.
    • 22 February, Polish actor Tadeusz Łomnicki died of a heart attack during one of the last dress rehearsals of Shakespeare's King Lear, in which he was playing the lead role, much awaited by public and critics. The piece was due to be premiered a week later.
    • On 3 May, Indian film actor Alummoodan died of a heart attack while performing at the sets of Adwaitham. He died on the arms of co-star Mohanlal while filming.[36]
    • On 10 May, Jazz/cabaret singer Sylvia Syms died of a heart attack during a set at New York City's Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.[37]
  • 1993:
    • Brandon Lee, son of martial artist Bruce Lee, died while filming the movie The Crow in Wilmington, North Carolina. A prop gun had been squib loaded, causing the blank cartridge to propel the bullet into Lee and kill him. Contrary to urban legend, the footage of his death was not kept in the movie. Instead, they re-shot the scene using a different actor, whose death in the film was by a throwing knife.
    • On 11 June 1993, English comic actor Bernard Bresslaw died of a sudden heart attack in his dressing room at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London, where he was to play Grumio in the New Shakespeare Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew.
    • On 13 December, professional wrestler Larry Cameron died of a heart attack while wrestling a match with Tony St. Clair in Bremen, Germany. He was 41 years old.
  • 1994:
  • 1995:
  • 1996:
    • Actor Ken Steadman was killed in a dune buggy accident while filming in Victorville, California for the television show Sliders.
    • Singer Tiny Tim suffered a fatal heart attack while turning to leave the stage during a benefit concert in Minneapolis.
    • Motocycle daredevil Butch Laswell died in Mesquite, Nevada, attempting to set a new world record by jumping over a 38-foot-high (12 m) pedestrian bridge. While in the air, Laswell was blown off course by crosswinds; pushing him to the left of the landing ramp. He flatlanded and crashed.
    • Turkish singer Zeki Müren died of a heart attack during a live performance on stage.
    • Opera singer Richard Versalle died on stage at the Metropolitan Opera during the company's première performance of The Makropulos Case when he suffered a heart attack while standing on a sliding ladder attached to a file cabinet. He was stricken after singing the line, "Too bad you can live only so long."
    • Guitarist/singer Johnny "Guitar" Watson collapsed and died onstage during a performance in Yokohama, Japan. The cause of death was a heart attack.
  • 1997:
    • Dutchman Coen van Vrijberghe de Coningh died of cardiac arrest during a performance of the television series Flodder. He and another actor drove in a Chevrolet. While jumping onto the hood, he fell and died. The audience thought it was part of the show, but the actors were aware of what had happened.
  • 1998:
    • Paolo "Feiez" Panigada, member of the Italian band Elio e le Storie Tese, died of a brain haemorrhage while performing onstage.
    • English reggae performer Judge Dread died from a heart attack as he walked off stage after performing at The Penny Theatre in Canterbury.[38]
  • 1999:
    • Owen Hart, a Canadian-born professional wrestler for WWF, died during Over the Edge, a pay-per-view event, when performing a stunt. It was planned to have Hart come down from the rafters of the Kemper Arena on a safety harness tied to a rope to make his ring entrance. The safety latch was released and Hart dropped 78 feet (24 m), bouncing chest-first off the top rope resulting in a severed aorta, which caused his lungs to fill with blood.[39]
    • Mark Sandman, bassist and lead vocalist for the band Morphine, collapsed on stage at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Latium, Italy (near Rome) while performing with Morphine. He was pronounced dead of a heart attack.[40]
  • 2000:
    • Actor Renato Di Paolo was portraying Judas in a play outside of Rome on the day before Easter. During the hanging scene he accidentally hanged himself.[41]
    • Saudi Arabian singer Talal Maddah collapsed and died suddenly on Al Meftaha Stage (Arabic: مسرح المفتاحة) in front of his fans just after performing the intro to one of his popular oldie songs. The concert was aired live on Saudi national television.[42]

21st century

See also


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