Any and all deaths are sad, but celebrity deaths are a bit of a different breed. In many circumstances, there’s a slew of speculation before and sometimes even after the truth about a star’s death comes to light. From freak on-set accidents to undiagnosed illnesses to alleged overdoses, these stars all met their ends in strange, and often tragic, ways.
Actor David Carradine was found dead on December 3, 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand, at the age of 72. The public initially believed Carradine committed suicide, as reports indicated that he was found with a cord around his neck. However, it was later found Carradine hadn’t used the cord to deliberately kill himself, but to temporarily cut off his own air supply to heighten an amorous experience. His cause of death was since ruled as autoerotic asphyxiation.
Actress Natalie Wood died on November 29, 1981, when she drowned after falling off the yacht Splendour, where she’d been partying with actor Christopher Walken and her husband Robert Wagner. Initially, her death was classified as accidental drowning, but authorities reopened the case in 2012 and cited her cause of death as “drowning and other factors.” A source told The National Enquirer, “Cops have taken a new look at Natalie Wood’s autopsy report and concluded specific urine levels in her bladder indicate that she may have already been unconscious when she hit the water. It means her death involved foul play.” Radar Online reports that witnesses and fellow shipmates, including boat captain Dennis Davern, claim that Wood and Wagner were fighting during the cruise, an allegation Wagner—who Radar Online and The National Enquirer report has refused to cooperate with investigators—firmly denies.
Marvin Gaye’s death was both tragic and terrifying. After struggling with substance abuse issues in the 1980s, Gaye moved in with his parents. On April 1, 1984, Gaye got in a heated dispute with his father over a tax document. The altercation turned violent, and Gaye’s father shot him three times in the chest with a revolver Gaye had given to him himself. Gaye’s father would later insist the shooting was in self-defense and was eventually charged with manslaughter.
Actress Brittany Murphy died at the young age of 32 on December 20, 2009. The actress passed away from pneumonia, anemia, and a lethal combination of medicines likely used to treat a respiratory infection. When Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, died of similar causes just five month’s later, the actress’ mother requested to investigate the home they shared for mold. While none was found (and no traces of mold were detected in either Murphy nor Monjack’s autopsies), authorities claimed that the couple’s less-than-desirable living conditions may have played roles in their respective illnesses.
After years of allegedly struggling with substance abuse, Elvis Presley was found unconscious in the bathroom of his Graceland estate on August 16, 1977. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead; many believe he was already dead when he was found. The official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia—his heart was beating irregularly and finally just stopped. However, Presley’s father, Vernon Presley, had his official autopsy report sealed until 2027, 50 years after the King’s death. It’s widely suspected that a cocktail of prescription drugs led to the cardiac arrhythmia, but study done on a hair sample from Presley in September 2015 revealed that the singer suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens heart muscles.
Owen Hart’s death was particularly horrific because it happened in front of a live audience. Hart was in character as his silly superhero character, the Blue Blazer, and was being lowered via harness and grapple into the ring for a match during a WWE (then-WWF) Over the Edge event on May 23, 1999. Hart was supposed to be lowered to just above ring level, where he’d get tangled, but land safely on his face for laughs. However, there was nothing funny about what actually went down: while being lowered into the ring, Hart fell 78 feet chest-first onto the top rope and landed in the ring. Commentator Jim Ross kept it together on the air, telling the television audience, “Owen Hart was going to make a very spectacular, superhero-like entrance from the rafters and something went terribly wrong here…Hart is being attended to by the EMTs. This is not a part of the entertainment here tonight. This is as real as real can be here.” Hart was rushed to the hospital and numerous attempts were made to revive him, but he died from his injuries, though some believe he actually died in the ring.
Jon-Erik Hexum shot himself on October 18, 1984…but it’s not what it sounds like. The 26-year-old actor was napping during filming delays for his series Cover Up. When he woke up to learn there’d be more delays, Hexum held his character’s blank-filled pistol to his head, joking, “Can you believe this crap?” and pulled the trigger. Entertainment Weekly reports, “The impact from the blast fractured his skull, driving a bone fragment the size of a quarter into his brain and causing massive hemorrhaging.” Hexum was rushed to the hospital and underwent five hours of surgery, but couldn’t be saved.
Steve Irwin, the beloved television Crocodile Hunter, died in a freak accident on September 4, 2006. The Aussie conservationist was filming a documentary off the coast of northern Australia when a stingray stung him right in the heart. Stingray attacks are rare and not often fatal, but doctors told ABC News that the positioning of the stingray’s toxic, sharp barbs likely killed Irwin instantly.
Singer Jeff Buckley loved swimming in Wolf River Harbor near Memphis, Tennessee, so at least he went out happy: on May 29, 1997, Buckley took a break from recording to take a dip in the harbor, a slack water channel off of the Mississippi River. Buckley was fully clothed, even down to his boots. A roadie in Buckley’s band, Keith Foti, waited on shore while Buckley swam. When a tugboat passed, Foti left to move some equipment to avoid getting splashed, and when he returned, Buckley had disappeared. Despite immediate rescue efforts, Buckley’s body wasn’t found until June 4. There were no alcohol or drugs in his system and his death was ruled a purely accidental drowning.
Actor Sal Mineo was murdered on February 12, 1976, on his way home from rehearsals for a film. Lionel Ray Williams stabbed Mineo during a random robbery attempt, killing the Oscar nominee who was just 37 years old. Williams didn’t get caught until he was busted for the murder of actress Christa Helm in the same neighborhood exactly one year later. Williams later claimed that he didn’t even know who Mineo was, let alone that he was famous.
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