37 actors who almost died on set

Many famous stars have had their lives endangered while shooting a film or TV show – Jacob Stolworthy looks at some of the scariest instances

Monday 27 May 2024 15:32
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Actors might appear to have the ideal job, but it doesn't come without its dangers.

Maintaining safety on the set of films and TV shows might be a primary concern when cameras begin rolling, but with many variables to control, there are times when control is lost, leaving actors with close calls or life-threatening injuries.

Tragically, there is a long history of people dying on film sets, whether it be actors (The Crow star Brandon Lee in 1993), stunt performers (The Walking Dead's John Bernecker in 2017) or emergency service workers assigned to oversee certain sets (firefighter Lieutenant Michael Davison died in 2018 when a fire broke out on the set of Edward Norton film Motherless Brooklyn).

But, there have also been plenty of times where world-famous stars have either been the victims of stunts-gone-wrong or, in the case of Aaron Paul and Uma Thurman, cheated death in an extremely lucky way.

Scroll through the below gallery to find out which actors almost died on set of their films or television shows.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron attempted to perform a backflip for 2005 action film Aeon Flux but was “almost paralysed” for her efforts. She landed on her neck and the extent of her injuries saw production on the film shut down for eight weeks.

Charlize Theron had a near miss on ‘Aeon Flux’
Charlize Theron had a near miss on ‘Aeon Flux’ (AFP via Getty Images)

Ed Harris

It's been rumoured for decades that Ed Harris punched James Cameron in the face while filming the watery 1989 drama The Abyss, but here's reportedly why: Cameron failed to tell Harris that his oxygen tank would run out before cameras stopped rolling on a particular scene, leaving the actor gasping for air.

Martin Sheen

At the time of filming Apocalypse Now in 1979, Martin Sheen was drinking heavily and using drugs - so much so that, unbeknownst to the crew or his director Francis Ford Coppola, he had a heart attack in the middle of the jungle. Sheen was forced to crawl for approximately half a mile before finding somebody who could treat him.

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan fractured his skull after falling 25 feet
Jackie Chan fractured his skull after falling 25 feet (Getty Images for The Red Sea Int)

Jackie Chan is famous for many things and performing his own stunts is one of them. This has left him with his fair share of injuries in the past, some of which came on the set of 1986 action comedy Armour of God. The actor, attempting to slide down a tree, fractured his skull after falling 25 feet and hitting his head on a rock. Chan was immediately rushed into surgery and, to this day, he has a hole in his skull that he covers with a plastic plug.

Michael J Fox

Michael J Fox famously came close to dying on the set of Back to the Future Part III in 1990. It was during a scene in which his character, Marty McFly, is hanged by the neck - something the crew permitted Fox to act out himself on the condition that he knew exactly where to place his hand when the noose was around his neck. Fox miscalculated, choking himself before passing out and was cut down after someone realised the actor was close to death.

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The kids in The Brady Bunch

The child stars of ‘The Brady Bunch’ almost died during a rollercoaster scene
The child stars of ‘The Brady Bunch’ almost died during a rollercoaster scene (ABC)

While filming a 1973 episode of The Brady Bunch titled “The Cincinnati Kids”, the child stars of the hit TV show reportedly almost got caught up in a horrendous incident. As they were about to shoot a scene riding a rollercoaster - fit with a camera mounted to the front of the carriage - Mike Brady actor Robert Reed insisted crew carry out a test run. It's a good job he did - when the rollercoaster was in motion, the camera came loose and flew into the position the kids' heads would been had they been on board.

Aaron Paul

Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul cheated death while filming the first season of Breaking Bad in 2008. Having asked for permission to move positions for a scene, the actor was left shaken after a boulder fell off the roof of a nearby RV directly onto the spot where he had just been standing.

Halle Berry

Halle Berry whacked her head while shooting a fight scene
Halle Berry whacked her head while shooting a fight scene (Getty Images for Fast Company)

Halle Berry was filming a fight scene on the set of 2013 thriller The Call when she whacked her head on the concrete floor and knocked herself clean out. Fortunately, she had a speedy recovery.

Tom Hanks

After suffering a minor cut to his leg on the set of 2000 drama Cast Away, Tom Hanks ended up contracting a potentially deadly staph infection and found himself hospitalised for three days. If untreated, the infection can prove fatal.

Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler had a close call while filming 2012 film Chasing Mavericks at a Northern California surfing spot renowned for its dangerous waters. The actor was knocked off his paddle by a powerful wave and submerged underwater until someone eventually came to his aid.

Elisabeth Sladen

Doctor Who legend Elisabeth Sladen had a near-miss while filming the original series' four-part serial “Revenge of the Cybermen”, which aired in 1975. After driving a boat into a whirlpool, she was forced to dive into the water after the boat lost control. Stuntman Terry Walsh came to her rescue.

Tom Cruise

Emily Bunt and Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’
Emily Bunt and Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (3 Arts Entertainment/Kobal/Shutterstock)

In the words of Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow co-star Emily Blunt, speaking on US chat show Conan, about a car chase scene the duo filmed in 2014: “I hear Tom under his breath as I approach the right-hand turn, going 'Brake, brake, brake. Oh God. Brake, brake, brake. Brake it hard.' I left it too late, and drove us into a tree. I almost killed Tom Cruise.”

John Hurt

British actor John Hurt was under so much prosthetic playing Joseph Merick in David Lynch's 1980 historical drama The Elephant Man that he almost suffocated. He was told to remain upright while wearing the makeup and would continually forget, almost losing his life in the process.

Jason Statham

(PA)

British action hero Jason Statham escaped death on the set of 2014 action sequel The Expendables 3 after the brakes on a truck he was driving stopped working. He had no choice but to jump from the moving three-tonne vehicle seconds before it went into the Black Sea.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis went into full “method actor” mode for his role as Buffalo Bill in Martin Scorsese's 2002 period drama Gangs of New York - so much so that he contracted pneumonia after refusing to wear clothes that didn't exist in the 19th century. In fact, he was so dedicated to the role that he reportedly refused medicine that didn't exist at the time of his character, but acquiesced when he was told by medics he could die if he didn't.

Bob Denver

Bob Denver, who played the titular Gilligan on 1960s TV series Gilligan’s Island, found himself in mortal danger after getting trapped inside a hut with a lion that pounced on him. In a lucky twist of fate, his mauling was prevented when the bed the lion was perched on broke, distracting the creature and leaving enough time for the lion's trainer to tackle it to the ground.

Kristen Chenoweth

Krsten Chenoweth had a nasty accident during her first day on the set of ‘The Good Wife’
Krsten Chenoweth had a nasty accident during her first day on the set of ‘The Good Wife’ (Invision)

Kristen Chenoweth was cast in legal TV drama The Good Wife for its fourth season in 2013, but on her first day on set, a light fixture fell and hit her in the face. She was rushed to hospital having had her skull fractured, nose broken and teeth cracked, not to mention injuries to her spine and ribs. Chenoweth decided not to return to the show save for a cameo appearance in a later episode.

Lorenza Izzo

Lorenza Izzo almost drowned while filming an escape attempt scene on the set of Eli Roth's 2013 horror film The Green Inferno. She was pushed downstream and the film's crew didn't realise her screams for help were real until it was almost too late. Roth reportedly used some of this footage in the finished film.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1'
Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' (Lionsgate)

Oscar-winning star Jennifer Lawrence was required to run through a tunnel on the set of 2012 young-adult novel adaptation The Hunger Games. However, a malfunction with a fog machine saw the enclosed area fill with so much smoke that Lawrence had to escape and came dangerously close to suffocating.

Tom Cruise

Performing his own stunts as usual, Tom Cruise found himself in trouble on the set of 2003 film The Last Samurai when a mechanical horse he was required to jump on malfunctioned, leaving a blade held by his co-star Hiroyuki Sanada inches away from his neck.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp was thrown from a horse on the set of Disney adventure The Lone Ranger (2013) and saw his life flash before his eyes after it proceeded to trample on him. Fortunately, it left him with mere bruises.

Johnny Depp with his horse in ‘The Lone Ranger’
Johnny Depp with his horse in ‘The Lone Ranger’ (Moviestore/Shutterstock)

Matthew Fox

While filming the last ever episode of Lost in 2010, Matthew Fox - who played Jack Shephard - was almost stabbed by a knife after a retractable one was replaced by a real one. The plan was to use the real knife for a fight sequence, right up until the moment of penetration as a collapsible one looked too fake. Somehow, the knives weren't swapped and Fox was saved by protective padding he'd put on at the very last minute.

Dylan O'Brien

Dylan O’Brien in ‘the Maze Runner'
Dylan O’Brien in ‘the Maze Runner' (Fox)

Dylan O'Brien nearly met his maker on the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. During a stunt that required him to jump from the top of one car to another, the actor was dragged under the vehicle and suffered lacerations and fractures to his cheekbones and orbital sockets. His injuries were so serious that the film was delayed for an entire year and was eventually released in 2018.

Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser nearly died on the set of The Mummy in 1999 due to an incident that saw a hanging scene go terribly wrong. According to his co-star Rachel Weisz, the actor stopped breathing and was in need of resuscitation as a result.

Isla Fisher

Isla Fisher got stuck in a water thank for a scene in the 2013 heist thriller Now You See Me, with fellow cast members believing her screams to be the actions of her character. Luckily, she was pulled out - after a terrifying three minutes.

Jim Caviezel

Jim Caviezel in ‘The Passin of the Christ’
Jim Caviezel in ‘The Passin of the Christ’ (Moviestore/Shutterstock)

Jim Caviezel had a tough time of it on the set of Mel Gibson's controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ. Due to the intense filming conditions, he suffered from pneumonia, hypothermia and a lung infection - and even survived getting struck by lightning while filming the Sermon on the Mount scene. “I was lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Caviezel, who also dislocated his shoulder on set.

Jackie Chan

As ever, Jackie Chan performed his own stunts for the first of his popular Hong King action series Police Story (1985). However, the climactic scene in the mall saw him crack two vertebrae, dislocate his pelvis and burn his hands in one moment that required him to slide down a pole from a large height.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

While filming high-octane thriller Premium Rush (2012), Joseph Gordon-Levitt collided with a taxi, leaving him in need of more than 30 stitches.

Dominic Purcell

Prison Break actor Dominic Purcell suffered a broken nose and head injury when an iron bar fell on his head while filming the revival series in 2016. He required 150 stitches.

Craig Charles

(Handout/PA Wire)

While filming the Red Dwarf episode “Backwards” in 1989, Craig Charles shot a scene that saw him walk out of a lake in reverse. Terrifyingly, the actor - who had weights in his pockets to stop him from floating - got his foot stuck and was held underwater until a rescue team saw him struggling.

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone has had many close shaves throughout his career, but the most life-threatening came while filming 1985 sequel Rocky IV. He asked his co-star Dolph Lundgren to “knock him out” and the resulting punch was so heavy that Stallone's rib cage was pushed into his chest, causing his heart to be compressed due to the swelling of his pericardial sac. He spent nine days in intensive care.

George Clooney

George Cloney
George Cloney (2023 Invision)

George Clooney's character was getting beaten up for a scene in 2005 drama Syriana when the actor ended up with an injury that bruised his brain. A chair the actor was tied to was pushed over and Clooney was left with chronic headaches that he eventually had healed in surgery.

Gunnar Hansen

Icelandic-born American star Gunnar Hansen was chasing his co-stars with a real chainsaw while filming 1974 horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when he almost died. One day, he slipped in mud and sent the running chainsaw flying into the air - when it landed, it was inches from his head.

Jaime Alexander

Jaime Alexander was filming 2012 sequel Thor: The Dark World when she slipped and fell on a metal staircase, luckily avoiding paralysis. Her injuries consisted of slipping a disc in her thoracic spine and chipping 11 of her vertebrae as well as dislocating her shoulder and tearing a rhomboid muscle. Alexander made it back to set a month later.

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet got dragged under water while filming ‘Titanic’
Kate Winslet got dragged under water while filming ‘Titanic’ (20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock)

During one of the more intense scenes in 1997 blockbuster Titanic, actors Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were running away from a large wave when Winslet's dress got caught on a grate and dragged her down. She was held underwater until she managed to break free.

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, was meant to disappear through a trap door in a cloud of smoke caused by fiery jets, but a malfunction saw the door failed to open leaving Hamilton with second and third-degree burns on her face and hands.

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