So, apparently you share my interest in celebrity deaths. Good, then I don’t have to feel so weird about it. There have been many stories and books written about the most infamous Hollywood mysteries and scandals. Most notable among them is Hollywood Babylon and its sequel. Many of those stories have since been disproved or debunked but they still make great legends. I am more intrigued by the sometimes lesser known stories of celebrities who died as victims of irony, coincidence, or just bad timing. Uh-oh, I think I might have just made it weird again. Let me give you a few examples.
One of the strangest and most famous coincidental deaths was between Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon. There were several small similarities between their tragic circumstances. They both died suddenly as young men, they were both working on their fifth feature film at the time and they both achieved their greatest fame after their deaths. But there were even larger connections that turned their true story into an urban legend.
After Bruce Lee died, the producers of the film he was making decided to rewrite the story to salvage the footage they already had of him. The story they came up with was about an actor who is shooting a scene for a movie where his character gets shot with a gun. In the movie, a real bullet is intentionally placed in that gun and almost kills his character. Brandon Lee suspiciously died while shooting a scene for a movie where his character gets shot with a gun. In real life, a real bullet was accidentally placed in that gun and actually killed him. The plot of Brandon’s last movie was about his character’s ghost coming back to get revenge on those who were responsible for his death. The plot of Bruce’s last movie was about his character coming back to get revenge on those who were responsible for his death. These creepy coincidences give new meaning to the expression, "Like father, like son."
An interesting side note to this story is that both of these movies needed to hire stand-ins for their deceased stars in order to complete filming. In Brandon’s movie, The Crow, this was done seamlessly. In Bruce’s movie, Game of Death, this was done so sloppily it bordered on racism. The producers must have figured that “they all look alike” because they used an Asian stuntman who bore only the slightest resemblance to Bruce. They didn’t even bother to shoot around his face half the time. Click on the picture below and check out this funny scene from the film where they cut back and forth from Bruce and his (I hesitate to use the word) double.
Game of Death fight scene:
Some celebrities have had the bad luck to pass away at the same time as a bigger star. This always makes me think how ticked-off they would have been if they knew. These are people who spent most of their lives in the pursuit of fame. If they were looking down from heaven and saw that somebody stole their last moment in the spotlight, they’d probably be really pissed. Assuming you can get pissed in heaven. Which you probably can’t. Because that would be weird.
There are many examples of celebrities who had to posthumously compete for our attention. Like when Jimmy Stewart's death trumped
Robert Mitchum's, Robin Williams' demise eclipsed Lauren Bacall's and Mother Teresa's passing was overshadowed by Princess Di's. (In hindsight, that nickname really was a bad choice.)
The example I remember best was when poor Farrah Fawcett died. She didn’t even get a whole day to herself before Michael Jackson upstaged her. Under almost any other circumstances, Farrah’s untimely death would have dominated the headlines. She was a pop culture icon in the '70s and her erratic behavior and tumultuous personal life kept her in the gossip columns long after. Michael died on the same day but he’d been a star since the '60s and was the King of Pop since the '80s. His weird behavior and scandalous personal life constantly made international headlines. It’s sad that it had to become a competition for coverage between the two of them, but it did and Michael won. He was a much bigger star and was even more bat-shit crazy.
Then there are performers who died in the line of duty. Redd Foxx was a successful stand-up comedian who became a TV star on the series Sanford & Son. One of the catch phrases he popularized on that show was part of a re-occurring bit where he pretended to be having a heart attack by clutching his chest and calling out to his deceased wife, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” Years later, while rehearsing on the set of another sitcom, Redd was struck by an actual heart attack. Unfortunately, no one there took it seriously at first until someone finally realized he wasn’t joking and they were all laughing at a man who was dying. That must have been an awkward moment.
Which brings me to, what I consider to be, the ultimate final curtain. Dick Shawn was the definitive “off-the-wall” comedian. He is most remembered for his supporting roles in movies like, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the original version of The Producers. While he was never a huge star, I was always a huge fan. Dick pushed the boundaries of comedy and his audiences never knew what to expect. There was nobody else quite like him. I saw him perform live only once in the mid 80's, in the latter part of his career. He took the stage to thunderous applause and strolled from side to side as he milked it for all it was worth. He waited for the applause to completely subside, which probably took several minutes. A beat after the sound of the last clap faded, he abruptly vomited all over the stage. It wasn’t real vomit, of course, it was actually Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup that he held in his mouth the entire time. Funny side note; I was on a first date with a girl who did not find this funny at all. Okay, so he wasn’t for everyone. That was part of what made him so great.
He was only 57 years old when he performed for the last time. As the story goes, he was doing a bit about the end of the world when he had a heart attack and collapsed on stage. Unfortunately, given his unique brand of humor, no one took it seriously at first. They all laughed. Supposedly, he laid there for a full five minutes before the laughter eventually died down (so to speak) and a doctor came to the stage and started performing CPR. At this point, the audience didn’t know what to think. An announcement was made and everyone was asked to leave the theater. Many of the attendees that night went home not realizing that they had just watched Dick Shawn literally die on stage. Many of them didn’t find out what had actually happened until they read about it in the newspaper the next day.
There is a poetic justice to his death that I find astounding. A man, who spent his life working to make people laugh, died in front of an audience while he was making them laugh. I always wondered what was going through his mind in those final moments. Could he have possibly been at peace, accepting that this was his time and this was the perfect way for him to go? Like a cowboy dying with his boots on or a soldier giving his life for his country? Or was he freaking out as he tried to signal for help thinking, “No! Wait! I’m really dying here! Stop laughing and call an ambulance! What a bunch of schmucks!” While we will never know, I choose to think it was the former.
Since celebrities usually live differently than the rest of us, it only makes sense that they should sometimes die differently, too. For their fans who need closure, it can be important to put their passing into perspective. Just like we are fascinated by how they lived, it’s only natural to be fascinated by how they died. Especially when they do it in such weird ways.
Start writing your post here. You can insert images and videos by clicking on the icons above.