J. Robert Godbout

J. Robert Godbout
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Freelance writer, classical musician, professional daydreamer. Lost in my own mind, care to join me?

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
JULY 8, 2009 10:10PM

10 Strange Celebrity Deaths

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Let's face it – we are all going to die. For most of us, the way in which we succumb to the eternal slumber will be a non-event. A lengthy illness, a sudden medical malady, or just old age will be the exit for must of us. But, the recent “strange” death of actor David Carradine (who accidentally hanged himself, in an apparent auto-erotic asphyxiation session gone bad) got me thinking about other not so common deaths. Here are 10 well known people who met their end in not so common ways.

#1 Boris Sagal (director): Television and film director Boris Sagal tragically met his demise on May 22, 1981 while on the job. The director was on location, at the Timberland Lodge in Oregon, where production for his movie World War III was taking place. Sagal somehow managed to walk into the spinning tail rotor of a helicopter, nearly decapitating him and killing him instantly. His television and film credits include; The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Sagal is also the father of Married With Children actress Katey Sagal. He is interred at Forrest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA.

#2. Martha Mansfield (actress): The beautiful silent film era actress Martha Mansfield met her end, on November 30, 1923, while filming the movie The Warrens of Virginia. After shooting her scenes, a cast member carelessly threw a match that accidentally struck her civil war costume dress. Unknown to her that she had been struck, she returned to her car where her dress ignited into an inferno - severely burning her and her driver. Despite efforts to save her, the 24 year old died hours later as a result of the burns she suffered. Mansfield is interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY.

#3. Owen Hart (wrestler): Thirty-four year old W.W.F. wrestler Owen Hart (aka “The Blue Blazer”) had the unfortunate experience of an untimely death, on May 23, 1999, at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, MO. In a stunt, during the Pay-Per-View event Over the Edge, viewed by thousands, Hart was to be lowered into the ring from the rafters of the arena at an estimated height of 78 feet. An equipment malfunction resulted in his fall into the ring where he died. Cause of death was internal bleeding due to blunt force trauma. Hart is interred at the Queen Park Cemetery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

#4. Jack Daniel (distiller): While many people have died in various ways as a result of drinking, Mr. Daniel's odd death came when he was stone cold sober. According to Daniel's history, Jack arrived at work early one morning to a locked safe. Frustrated that he could not remember the safe combination, a recurrent problem for Jack, he kicked the safe resulting in a broken toe. As a result, infection set in and blood poisoning soon took his life on October 10, 1911. The distillery likes to remind people that Jack left 2 lessons with his passing; his Tennessee whiskey recipe, and the motto “never go to work early.” Daniel is interred at the Lynchburg Town Cemetery in Lynchburg, TN.

#5. Leo Ryan (congressman): California Congressman Leo Ryan was shot and killed in office on November 18. 1978. Now a typical shooting of someone isn't really a strange way to die, however the circumstances surrounding the shooting is what makes his death strange. Ryan was shot and killed, in an airstrip ambush, while trying to board a plane in Port Kaituma, Guyana, by Peoples Temple cult members acting on orders by their leader, Jim Jones. Ryan had been in Guyana to investigate whether US citizens, who were Peoples Temple members, were being held their against their will. The attack on Ryan, and his entourage, precipitated the mass suicide at Jonestown where 909 followers of Jones died. Congressman Ryan is interred at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, CA.

#6. Tennessee Williams (playwright): It seems the famous American playwright who gave us such classics as; The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is also a member of the strange death club. While in his New York City hotel room on February 24, 1983, Williams was performing a ritual that was all too common for him – applying eye drops. Williams routinely applied eye drops by opening the bottle, placing the cap in his mouth, leaning back, and applying the drops to his eyes. That night however, he choked to death when the bottle cap became lodged in his throat. Williams is interred at the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.

#7. Isadora Duncan (dancer): Thought of by many to be the “mother” of modern dance, Ms. Duncan was known not only for her contributions to the arts but also for her charismatic and over the top lifestyle. No stranger to public drunkenness, scandalous bisexual love affairs, and financial disaster her death would prove to be just as interesting. A fan of long flowing scarves, Ms. Duncan set out for a drive on September 14, 1927, in Nice, France, wearing a long flowing Russian silk scarf. As a back seat passenger in the open car, her free flowing scarf managed to get caught in the rear spoke wheels of the car. The sudden tightening force of the incident threw her from the car into the pavement nearly decapitating her. Duncan was cremated and her ashes are interred at the Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.

#8. Vic Morrow (actor): Staying with the decapitation theme (see Sagal & Duncan) actor Vic Morrow who played in such film and television shows as; The Bad News Bears, Charlies Angles, Magnum PI, and Fantasy Island also met his death by the helicopter's whirling blades of death. On the morning of July 23, 1982 while filming a Vietnam scene, for Twilight Zone – The Movie, Morrow was escaping a pursuing helicopter with two Vietnamese child actors in tow. Multiple pyrotechnic explosions cause the helicopter to lose control and crash onto the three actors, resulting in Morrow and one child being decapitated and the second child fatally injured. Marrow is the father of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. He is interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, CA.

#9. Jon-Erik Hexum (actor): Actor and model Jon-Erik Hexum met his early demise by his own hands. Not suicide, but a tragic work related accident. On October 12, 1984 while on set of his show, Cover Up, Hexum placed a .44 magnum pistol loaded with blanks to his temple and pulled the trigger. What Hexum didn't know was that blanks use paper wadding to keep the bullet's gun powder in its shell. When Hexum pulled the trigger the wadding was propelled with such force that is broke a piece of his skull causing a massive brain hemorrhage. Six days later, on October 18, 1984, he was declared brain dead and many of his organs were harvested for donation. Hexum was cremated and his ashes were scattered in California by his mother.

#10. Christine Chubbuck (news anchor/talk show host): Sarasota news person and talk show host Christine Chubbuck began her WXLT daily talk show, Sun Coast Digest, on July 15, 1974 in a way she had never before – reading news copy. For the first eight minutes of the news cast she covered three national news stories, and a shooting at a local restaurant from the day before. The story of the restaurant shooting experienced technical problems when the film footage jammed and wouldn't run, Chubbuck shrugged it off and replied with the following statement: "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." Chubbuck produced a .38 caliber handgun from her purse and shot herself behind her right ear on live television. She violently fell forward and her body began to twitch. Chubbuck was rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital where she remained in critical condition until her death, 10 hours later. After examining her news copy she read that day on air, it was found that she had a complete script for the days program that included her suicide. Station manager Mike Simmons confirmed she had written something like “TV 40 news personality Christine Chubbuck shot herself in a live broadcast this morning on a Channel 40 talk program. She was rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she remains in critical condition.”Chubbuck was 29 at the time of her death. She was cremated and her ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico.

For these 10 people their deaths were as unique as they were. Do you know of any strange but true deaths? Leave a comment and let me know!

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This was fascinating!
These are all so sad and interesting, particularly M. Mansfield whose dress caught fire. How horrible. I knew about Vic Morrow and Isadora Duncan, but the strangest one (IMO) was the one at Timberline Lodge. How do you walk into a helicopter propeller and not realize it? Thanks. These are really interesting.

As for people I know who have died strange deaths, I didn't know my mother's father because he drove his car into a moving train when my mother was about 8, and died.

This is not as strange as stubbing your toe and dying, but I felt it was twisted and ironic. I know a lady who got breast cancer for which she never received treatment and never told her family members she had been diagnosed. (She wasn't married and lived alone.) She just kept going to work, living her life, getting sicker and sicker until one day she called in sick to work. Her family took her to the hospital and two days later she was dead.
Great piece. "Hogan's Heroes" star and amateur pornographer Bob Crane should probably crack this list somewhere. Here's the piece that I wrote on him for regular Salon way back in 2002. God was it really that long ago that I wrote this thing...
http://dir.salon.com/story/ent/movies/feature/2002/10/21/scotty_crane/index.html

Also another overlooked celebrity death is that of "Dr. Cyclops" star Albert Dekker, which is a dark precursor to the passing of David Carradine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Dekker

Dekker also appeared in "Kiss Me Deadly" and "The Wild Bunch."
Sonny Bono - died when he hit a tree while skiing near South Lake Tahoe

Steve Irwin - suffered a poetic death when he was impaled by a stingray in the heart

Brandon Lee (from the movie The Crow) - "A prop-gun used in an earlier action scene had apparently gotten a bullet lodged in the barrel when a cheaply made, impromptu dummy round came apart. When a blank round was loaded later, nobody noticed the lead stuck in the gun, and the force of the new blank caused the equivalent of a low-powered gunshot in a later scene, which struck Lee in the abdomen. The bullet lodged itself in his spine, and he died in the hospital after hours of surgery."

For more: http://www.manolith.com/2009/06/22/life-drugs-and-asphyxiation/
I remember reading of or hearing of all of these, but seeing them listed has an interesting impact. in 2000, a 45 year-old friend of mine dropped a hair dryer onto her big toe one morning. She went about her daily routine and intermittently complained that her foot really hurt. That afternoon she and her son were loading groceries into the trunk of her car and she dropped to the pavement, dead. Her seemingly minor injury had resulted in a blood clot which caused a massive fatal stroke. Strange exits for famous, infamous and everyday people.
--rated--
In his autobiography, writer/director Preston Sturges relates how it was his mother who gave Isadora Duncan (a good family friend) the scarf in question as a gift.
Here's my contribution, William Goddard of New Mexico A&M, now New Mexico State University. At the time the university had one of the first radio broadcast stations in the state and Goddard, being an electrical engineer, set it up. One wet Christmas eve he dropped by to check on the equipment. Well the combination of his soaked clothes and electricity resulted in his electrocution, smart move for an engineer. He was found the next day. Ironically they named the very building he died in after him.
Lupe Valez ("The Mexican Spitfire") was a relatively minor movie-star in the 40s . No great roles, no memorable parts. She figured she'd be remembered by her death.

She decided to commit suicide, had a last meal of enchiladas and frijoles , gets into full-makeup, perfect hair, beautiful gown, prepares a bier of flowers and satin sheets on the bed.

She swallowed a large quantity of sleeping pills, and and reposes on her bed, undoubtedly thinking just how beautiful she'll be in the paper when they show her body. So romantic.

But her dinner and the sleeping pills work at cross-purposes.

She staggered into the bathroom all drugged up, and passed out in the toilet and drowns submerged in the toilet and her own vomit.

So much for romanticism.
Budd Dwyer, Pennsylvania politician found guilty of receiving bribes shot himself during a televised press conference in 1987. It was inspiration for the Filter song "Hey Man, Nice Shot".

Here's an interesting Wikipedia page of strange deaths.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unusual_deaths
A dear high-school friend of mine went the way of David Carradine.

In his case, he had rigged something up with a weight set/nautilus machine in his home. The setup involved weights pulling on cords, etc. I do not know if the mechanism he rigged up was supposed to do the strangling - or if it was supposed to provide him with a safety release for the strangling. Regardless, he died from suffocation, cock in hand, discovered, naturally, by his mother. What horror.

The official cause of death was "weightlifting accident" to spare his memory and to spare the family embarrassment.

What a waste!
I did not know Tennessee Williams died in such a manner!

The death that always struck me as very sad and horrible was that of David Niven's first wife, Primmie. Oleg Cassini relayed the story in his autobiography as he was there at the time.

Primula, whom he called Primmie,[18] died at age 28, only six weeks after moving to the U.S., of a fractured skull and brain lacerations from an accidental fall in the home of Tyrone Power.

While playing hide and seek, she walked through a door believing it led to a closet. Instead, it led to a stone staircase to the basement.
Harry Houdini - punched in the gut and died of appendicitis.
Skip, you didn't point out that Lupe Velez had been at one time the wife of famous Hollywood Tarzan and former Olympic swimming gold-medal winner Johnny Weismuller.
Amazing. Killed by scarf and eyedrops! Thanks for posting, this is fascinating stuff! Loved it.
Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist was killed in freak accident during Osbourne's Diary of a Madman Tour in 1982. Rhoads and the hairstylist for the band were passengers on small plane in Florida. Apparently Rhoads was into aerial photography. When the pilot saw the band's tour bus rolling down the highway, he decided to play a joke on the band by buzzing the bus. He succeeded twice, but the third time was not a charm. The plane's wing clipped the bus. All three persons on the plane were kill instantly after the plane spun out of control and crashed into a mansion. The bus was shredded to bits, but all the passengers, including Ozzy himself, survived.
Oopps. Screwed up the first sentence of that comment. Should read: Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Randy Rhoads, was killed in freak accident during Osbourne's Diary of a Madman Tour in 1982.
I always remember being fascinated by Isadora Duncan's death when I was a kid (I watched her bio-pic starring Vanessa Redgrave with my mom.) I think it's so sad that Redgrave's daughter has such an unexpected death too. Dying from a fall on a beginner's hill?

And I loved Vic Morrow in Bad News Bears. I have the DVD and watch it with my son all the time.

This isn't a celebrity death, but did you read about that poor woman who missed her flight on the Air France plane that went down last month? And then she died in a car accident the next day. What are the odds of that?
Heres more strange celebrity deaths I read about http://www.manolith.com/2009/06/22/life-drugs-and-asphyxiation/

But that was interesting about Tennessee Williams. I will never apply eye drops that way again! Everyone else I have never even heard of.
Juliet, this simply confirms my longtime belief that when your number's up, your number's up. Ever watch Dead Like Me?
Man you guys have some interesting additions. Let's hope none of us become this interesting!
thank god they're not around to be embarrassed about how they died.
I don't know about the method of death, but I remember one, that was certainly the unluckiest. Remember the name Steven Parent? He was the unfortunate 1st victim of the Manson family murders on Cielo Drive that included Sharon Tate.

Seems poor Steven, who was still in high school I believe, had gone to hang out with the young groundskeeper, a casual friend at best, and try to sell him a radio he had refurbished. Steven was in the process of leaving the property when the "family" dropped down in front on his car and shot him to death. If he had been given about 45 seconds, he would have been on the road and on his way home.
One of Isadora's closest friends was the mother of writer/director Preston Sturges. Fascinating list.