15 Freaky Celebrity Deaths
Death has been called the “great equalizer” because it is the one thing people share regardless of their race, gender, political affiliation, financial status, sexual orientation or any other feature, trait or characteristic that sets them apart.
There is no escape. And death does not discriminate.
If we’re lucky, we will pass away quietly and peacefully in the twilight of our lives, nestled warmly in our beds and surrounded by friends and loved ones. The unfortunate thing is that simple probability makes this “gentle demise” impossible for all of us—some will face a more gruesome and painful end.
And celebrities are no exception.
When it comes to facing death head-on or falling victim to the worst possible crimes imaginable, the rich and famous often steal the show by dying with flair. The circumstances may be unsavory or disturbing, but there is usually some dramatic tale or mystery to entertain and intrigue us long after they’re gone. Case in point: the following celebrity deaths, all of which qualify as unforgettably “freaky” in their own unique ways.
The star of television’s “Hogan’s Heroes”—and a well-known sex addict—was bludgeoned to death in an Arizona motel room in June 1978. His assailant—who was never found—used either a tire iron or camera tripod to bash in Crane’s skull, tied an electric cord around his neck and allegedly ejaculated on the corpse. Needless to say, it likely wasn’t a fan responsible for the gruesome crime.
“The Mexican Spitfire” starred in more than fifty films between 1927 and 1944, was married to “Tarzan” actor Johnny Weissmuller and had a well-known affair with Gary Cooper. At age 36, she was impregnated by actor Harald Maresch and felt ashamed to have a child out of wedlock. Velez decided to end her life and took an overdose of Seconal, a sleeping medication. Unfortunately, the medicine made her nauseous and when she went into the bathroom to vomit, she slipped and fell head-first into the toilet. A maid discovered her body there the next day.
In one of the most bizarre murders in Hollywood history, Mexican leading man Ramon Novarro—the original Ben Hur—died in an extortion attempt by several Chicago hustlers. The men suspected that Novarro had $5000 stashed in his home and meant to rob him, so they suffocated him with an Art Deco dildo he had received from Rudolph Valentino decades earlier. In the end, they stole only $20, making this one of the least lucrative and most bizarre murders in the world of entertainment.
The high-priced actress and model from Denmark—described by many as a “Garbo look-alike”—once dated eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes. When her acting career didn’t take off, Andre did something unthinkable: she used old publicity newspaper clippings to build a funeral pyre in her apartment building and burned herself to death.
Another bizarre Hollywood death involves Vic Morrow, American star of the 1960s television series “Combat!” and father of Carrie Morrow and Jennifer Jason Leigh. On the set of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” a helicopter malfunctioned and came crashing down on Morrow and several others. Sadly, Morrow could not escape and the low-flying helicopter blades decapitated him on the spot. The pilot, Spielberg and producer John Landis were later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, and Morrow’s daughters eventually settled out of court.
The actor best known for playing Alfalfa in “Our Gang” (or the “Little Rascals”) got into a drunken brawl with a hunting buddy over a $50 debt in 1959. Things went bad quickly and Switzer was shot twice in the groin by his “friend.” He died of massive internal bleeding shortly thereafter and, oddly enough, his murder was ruled a justifiable homicide by police!
In the late 1970s, an up-and-coming beauty named Dorothy Stratten became a Playboy Playmate and embarked on what she hoped would be a successful acting career. This future never materialized thanks to her psychotic husband, Paul Snider, who tortured and murdered her in 1980 and even had sex with her corpse—he blew his own head off with a shotgun moments later. Stratten was only 20 years old. Her story was featured in the film “Star 80,” but I warn you it is kind of depressing.
The 1947 case of Elisabeth Short—the so-called “Black Dahlia”—remains unsolved to this day. The aspiring actress was found in the Leimert Park district of downtown Los Angeles, her body mutilated, cut in half at the waist and drained of blood. The corners of Short’s mouth were sliced—creating an effect known as the “Glasgow smile”—and her body had been both cleaned and positioned into an unusual pose. The LAPD has interviewed endless suspects over the years, but none have panned out and for now, the mystery continues.
The 1998 death of Alan Pakula—the American film director behind “Klute,” “All the President’s Men” and “Sophie’s Choice”—could have inspired any of the more recent “Final Destination” movies. While traveling down the Long Island Expressway, the car in front of him hit a metal pipe and sent it flying through Pakula’s windshield. The pipe struck him in the head and killed him instantly, leaving his car to swerve off the road and into a fence. Pakula was 70 years old.
Wildlife expert and head of the Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin, made a name for himself on the Animal Planet hit television series “The Crocodile Hunter.” Irwin was known for taking risks and stirring up controversy, as he did in 2004 when he took his one-month-old son into a crocodile pen during feeding time. Irwin’s final performance came in 2006 while he was filming stingrays in Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. One of the creatures he was observing felt threatened and stabbed Irwin in the chest with its barb. Irwin allegedly pulled the barb out, causing even more damage to his heart and killing him seconds later. At least he died doing what he loved, I guess.
Among the most famous murders in Hollywood is the 1969 slaughter of Sharon Tate by members of Charles Manson’s family. Tate was pregnant at the time, which didn’t stop Manson’s minions from mutilating her and stabbing her sixteen times. Her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, finally got some closure once Manson and his family members were arrested several months later.
The writer and playwright behind “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Tennessee Williams, met his maker at age 71 in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. Williams was using some nose spray—holding the cap between his teeth as he tilted his head back—and accidentally choked to death when the cap fell into his throat. Talk about bad luck.
The Australian musician and lead singer of the band INXS took a path oft taken by rock and roll superstars. Depressed and under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Hutchence used one of his snake skin belts to hang himself in a Sydney hotel in 1997. The strangest thing is that he was kneeling on the ground at the time, meaning he really wanted to die. It was a huge waste of an even-bigger talent.
Star of film and the television series “Kung Fu,” David Carradine died in 2009 in a Bangkok hotel room. At the time of his death, Carradine was wearing fish net stockings and a lady’s wig. He was also hanging in a closet with a rope around his neck, wrists and private parts. Some believe asphyxiation for sexual arousal was to blame; others claim Carradine was killed for investigating secret martial arts societies, a theory that echoes Bruce Lee’s mysterious death. Either way, this was not a pretty way to go.
Once famed host Richard Dawson left the television game show “Family Feud,” producers struggled to find a suitable replacement until Ray Combs arrived in the 1990s. Despite his on-screen popularity, Combs experienced a string of bad luck off-screen. Beginning in 1994, Combs was nearly paralyzed in a car accident; experienced business problems that led to the repossession of his house; separated from his wife; and was admitted to a psychiatric ward. This is where he finally ended his pain by hanging himself in the closet with a bed sheet. Ironically, the very bar in the closet Combs used for support was designed to break away during suicide attempts!
The list of freaky celebrity deaths could go on and on, and more seem to be added to the list each year. If nothing else, this certainly leaves the door open for a follow-up post later. I only hope it’s much later.
Posted on October 7, 2012, in Perspectives, Writing and tagged celebrity, Charles Manson, crime, David Carradine, death, fame and fortune, Hollywood, murder, perspectives, Sharon Tate, Steve Irwin, Steven Spielberg, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.