Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bizarre Celebrity and Other Deaths

Being famous does not exempt one from the bizarre. If anything the pursuit of fame is its own risk and being famous, and dying unexpectedly, even in a bizarre manner, will forever etch that moment into the annals of history.

What follows are bizarre deaths of celebrities and some deaths that are bizarre in their own right and as such have made the unfortunate soul famous for their death. I will mostly concentrate on accidental deaths. There are a few who died of natural causes, which in and of itself is not bizarre, but the circumstances surrounding their deaths make it bizarre.

Vic Morrow

Perhaps the most famous and grisly of accidental deaths of a celebrity was that of Vic Morrow, one of two stars of the hit TV show Combat and with a respectable acting career following his success on the series. It was during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie early on the morning of July 23, 1982. Morrow and two young children, Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6), were involved in a scene in which Morrow's character was trying to save the children while escaping from an army helicopter. The helicopter flying 24 feet above them was damaged by the pyrotechnic explosions on the ground and lost control, crashing into the three actors, decapitating Morrow and Dihn Le, and crushing Chen to death under one of the helicopter struts.

The Deaths of Morrow, Dihn Le and Chen are the most famous celebrity deaths by helicopter, and the most tragic because of the deaths of the two young children, but not the most bizarre.

Michael Findlay

Michael Findlay is most associated with sexploitation movies. He and wife Roberta Findlay were the most noted producers of sexploitation films and roughies in the mid to late 1960s. In the early 70s they turned their efforts more to horror movies. It was one of their unsuccessful horror movies, Slaughter (1971), that was re-edited with additional footage without their knowledge and re-released in 1976 as the notorious, though bogus, Snuff movie.

Michael Findlay was also a developer of camera equipment and had a keen interest in 3-D filmmaking. He had invented a portable 3-D movie camera and was on his way to France to get the support of backers for his camera. On May 16, 1977, with his 3-D camera in hand he was on the roof of the (then) Pan Am building in New York waiting to board a helicopter to take him and other passengers to the JFK airport.

In the process of taking on 21 passengers, the helicopter's landing support broke causing it to tilt violently and suddenly to one side, the still turning blades dropping and striking Findlay and three other passengers and killing all four, three immediately, including Findlay, and one who later died in the hospital. One of the blades broke loose and went off the roof of the building, falling to the street below and striking and killing a pedestrian. In all, five people were killed in the accident.

Helicopters are not the only dangerous vehicles. Frankly any vehicle is dangerous, but when an intoxicated driver gets behind the wheel of a car, it becomes many times more dangerous.

Margaret Mitchell

Orson Welles once said in a wine commercial that it took ten years for Margaret Mitchell to write Gone with the Wind. Of course the point was that a classic takes time, like a fine wine.

Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell's most noted achievement in writing, and became a noted Hollywood achievement when it was made into the now classic movie. Ironically, she was on her way to a movie when tragedy struck.

It was the evening of August 11, 1949 as she was on her way to see a movie with her husband. She was crossing Peachtree Street in Atlanta when she was struck by a car. The driver of the car, an off-duty taxi driver in his personal car, was originally charged with drunk driving, but the charge was upgraded to involuntary manslaughter when she died five days later due to her injuries. He was sentenced to 18 months for her death but only served 11.

Margaret Mitchell was struck by a vehicle causing the injuries which resulted in her death, but one can also be the driver of the vehicle, and ironically while trying to save lives.

T. E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia)

A colorful figure in history, Thomas Edward Lawrence was most noted for his exploits as a British army officer. He was also a noted archaeologist, writer, and his sexual preference was brought into question during his life and especially after his death, though he was most likely simply asexual.

It was on May 13, 1935 as he was riding his motorcycle he suddenly came upon two boys riding their bicycles, they were previously obscured by a dip in the road. Swerving hard to miss the boys, Lawrence was thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle resulting in a severe head injury. He died six days later on May 19, 1935.

Though Mitchell was killed as a result of someone else's actions, and Lawrence as a result of putting the safety of others first, sometimes one's actions result in one's own death, even if it was still accidental.

Jon-Erik Hexum

Hexum was an up and coming star. He simply was a gorgeous man who modeled and had an acting career having been in the TV show Voyagers! and a regular role in a new series Cover Up in which he played a CIA operative posing as a male model. It was on the set of Cover Up where he accidentally took his own life.

Practicing for an upcoming scene where he was to load blanks into a revolver, Jon-Erik and others were looking forward to wrapping up the day when informed that there would be a delay in filming, making the day longer. Hexum had put one blank into the gun and spun the cylinder of the revolver like in Russian Roulette. With the prop gun in hand, Hexum made a joking comment and as part of the joke he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Whether he had realized there was a blank round in the gun is not known, or if he realized the dangers of a blank round at such close proximity. Blanks are capped with a paper or wax wadding to keep the powder in. At several feet this represents no threat as the wadding falls to the ground and the powder content of a blank is not the same as a live round. But at point blank range it can be dangerous and in Hexum's case the wadding struck his head causing a quarter sized piece of his skull to shatter and sending the pieces into his brain.  Jon-Erik Hexum lingered for 6 days after emergency surgery then was declared brain dead. In an amazing show of humanity and charity, his mother gave permission for him to be kept on life support long enough for his organs to be harvested and even in death Hexum saved the lives of several critically ill patients. He died on October 18, 1984 at the age of 26.

Not even two weeks after the date of Hexum's death is perhaps the most celebrated holiday next to Christmas. That would be Halloween if you don't have a calendar handy.

Harry Houdini and River Phoenix

Harry Houdini and River Phoenix have probably never been compared, rarely ever mentioned in the same breath, and share little if anything in common except that they both died on Halloween.

While being visited by students before a show, Houdini was questioned about his ability to take punches in the stomach without feeling pain. Not being prepared for the student to actually punch him in the stomach, Houdini was hit without bracing himself and was in pain, but went on to perform the show. After the show he was taken to the hospital where it was discovered he suffered from a ruptured appendix; though it has been believed it was a result of the punches from the student, it has also been suggested he already suffered from appendicitis and the punches just aggravated it. Houdini died in the hospital on October 31, 1926 at the age of 52.

River Phoenix had been one of the most promising stars having already been in commercials from the age of 10 and having 24 film and television appearances by the time of his untimely death at only 23 when he collapsed on the sidewalk outside a West Hollywood nightclub and died of drug-induced heart failure on October 31, 1993. He was the eldest brother of several siblings in the acting community including the talented Joaquin Phoenix.

Though mystery surrounded Houdini's life and he found ways to perform the seemingly impossible, even he would have been stumped on how someone could win a horse race, after they died.

Frank Hayes

Hayes had never won a horse race before, and was actually a trainer and stableman who jockeyed on occasion. It was June 4, 1923 and Hayes was riding a 20-1 longshot named Sweet Kiss. An unlikely win, Sweet Kiss won the race by a head. When going to congratulate the jockey on the win, the owner of the horse found him dead in the saddle. Frank Hayes had died of a heart attack midway through the race but his body stayed in the saddle. It was his only win, but he would never know it. It also makes Frank Hayes the only jockey to win a horse race while dead.

Horses are given some strange names, and sometimes with the hope that the name will be lucky. There are times when a name is just unlucky.

Davey Moore and...Davey Moore

Davey Moore, and Davey Moore, were both boxers. One was born November 1, 1933 and the other June 9, 1959. The elder Moore was a world featherweight champion who died as a result of injuries sustained in a fight with Sugar Ramos. The younger Moore was caught off guard when his vehicle began rolling in his driveway. He tried to stop it but was dragged and pinned under it resulting in his death. Both boxers were under 30 at the time of their deaths.

Speaking of being caught off guard, well some people aren't and ultimately are the only devices of their own deaths.

Franz Reichelt and Garry Hoy

Garry Hoy won a Darwin Award for the way he died. Franz Reichelt should have.

Franz Reichelt was a tailor in France, a parachuting pioneer, an inventor, and apparently pretty hard-headed, but it didn't save him. He had designed a wearable outfit that converted into a parachute. He felt his early failures were a result of it not being tested from enough of a height (don't get ahead of me) and finally after several petitions got permission to test his suit from the top of the Eiffel Tower on February 4, 1912. He insisted that he test it himself rather than testing it with a dummy despite protests from friends and authorities. Medical examiners say he died of a heart attack before he hit the ground below.

Garry Hoy was a Toronto attorney who liked to prove to people that the glass walls used in the Toronto-Dominion Center skyscraper were unbreakable. He had done this by throwing his body against the clear glass and succeeded on several occasions to prove his point, except for once and that's all it took to put an end to his proving anything anymore. At a Friday night party in the building Hoy had bounced off the wall once already and decided to do it again, but this last time the frame holding the unbreakable glass broke free leaving him plummeting 24 stories to his death.

If anything these stories tell us is that life can be fragile. It has been said that the difference in being injured and not, having an accident and not is a matter of fractions. A fraction of an inch, a fraction of a second, the difference between something happening or not can be that seemingly insignificant, but suddenly that insignificance becomes the most important and volatile thing. The same can be said of death, but unlike injury death is a one time event. If anything, that insignificant split second should remind each and every one of us just how precious and invaluable life is.

Toxic Fletch

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