They say some people live to entertain, and it's a sad fact that some of those people tragically lost their lives in pursuit of making their fans happy. From heart attacks to freak accidents, here's 7 performers and entertainers who died on the job.
1. Sid James
Sid James, star of the Carry On films and one of Britain’s best-loved comedians, met his premature end on stage at the Sunderland Empire in April 1976. Performing in a play called The Mating Season, James suddenly became unresponsive during a scene, but the audience just laughed at his behaviour, thinking it was a gag. In fact, he’d just suffered a heart attack, and when his co-star realised something was wrong, she told the crew to lower the curtain. He was just 62 years old.
2. Brandon Lee
Actor Brandon Lee died young and tragically, just like his father, martial arts legend Bruce Lee. In March 1993, the 28-year-old Lee was filming The Crow, a dark comic-book movie about a man brought back to life by a mysterious crow who seeks vengeance on the men who murdered him. The scene they were filming required another actor to shoot Lee. Sadly no-one realised that there was still a fragment of a bullet inside the gun. Thinking he was only firing blanks, the actor fired at Lee as planned, but the star never got back up, and the rest of the film had to be completed without him.
3. Edith Webster
In 1986, 60-year-old Edith Webster was a relatively unknown actress who had been playing the role of the grandmother in a play called The Drunkard in Baltimore for 8 years. In the show’s second act, she sang Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone before falling to the floor, dead, just like every other performance. Only on 23 November 1986, she really did die! The crowd gave her a huge applause, not realising that the calls for help from the other actors wasn’t part of the show. While she may not have found fame in life, she certainly found it in her bizarre, ironic death.
4. Steve Irwin
People said for years that the terrifying reptiles of his namesake would eventually do away with Australia’s beloved ‘Crocodile Hunter’. But instead of pushing his luck too far with a croc, Irwin tragically lost his life in a freak accident aged just 44. He was filming a documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest in September 2006, when a stingray, normally calm creatures, used its venomous, barbed tail to fatally pierce Irwin’s chest. Revealing footage of his death was controversial, but the legendary wild man always insisted that his crew ALWAYS keep filming regardless of accidents.
5. Tommy Cooper
Iconic comic and magician Tommy Cooper passed away at 63 doing what he loved – making people laugh. On 15 April 1984, Cooper was performing before millions of viewers on the variety show Live From Her Majesty’s, and had just begun his famous ‘magic cloak’ trick. The show’s host, Jimmy Tarbuck, was behind the curtains passing Cooper various props that appeared to emerge magically from the gown. But the pair didn’t get to finish the skit, as Cooper suddenly collapsed to his knees halfway through. He’d had a heart attack – but, thinking it was part of the act, the studio audience roared with laughter until it became clear that something was wrong. Paramedics could revive him, and Tommy Cooper was officially pronounced dead at Westminster Hospital.
6. Owen Hart
Wrestling is known to be staged and choreographed, but it can still be risky and very dangerous. Nothing proves this better than one of the most tragic sports moments of all time – the death of Owen Hart. The wrestler was being lowered into the ring from the rafters of the Kansas City Kemper Arena on 23 May 1999, as part of an elaborate entrance. Hart was supposed act as if he was entangled, release himself from the harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect. It was a stunt he’d done a few times before, but this time he accidentally released himself too early and fell 78 feet, a much greater height than intended, and fell chest first into the ring. Paramedics desperately tried to revive Hart, but his injuries proved fatal, and he died, aged 34, from internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma.
7. Eric Morecombe
As one half of comedy duo Morecombe & Wise, Eric Morecombe was one of Britain’s most adored and respected comedians, and never failed to bring us sunshine. On 27 May 1984 Morecombe was performing on stage at a charity event in Tewkesbury, to raise money for disabled facilities. His wife Joan remembers that he was ‘on top form’ that night. After delivering an outstanding performance to a crowd of 400 people, Morecombe left the stage to make way for a band, but during the musical number he returned to the stage 6 times, pretending to be instruments and generally larking about. When he left the stage for the final time, it proved to be exactly that. He collapsed having suffered a heart attack, his third in 16 years, and was pronounced dead soon after.