Random Facts About … People Who Die in Movies — Die for Real

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When we opened our internet tubes this week, there was still a lot of talk about the Oct. 23, 2021, death on the set of “Rust,” a western starring Alec Baldwin, who was also a producer on the movie. Somehow, a gun was loaded with real ammunition so when Baldwin pulled the trigger on a revolver supposedly empty or loaded with blanks, he for-real shot Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer, and the director, Joel Souza. Hutchins died. 

The online movie website, The Wrap, explained that Hutchins’ death was not a total outlier, with 43 people having died on U.S. movie sets from 1990 to 2016. And this doesn’t count more than 150 “life-changing” injuries on movie sets in that period. Hutchins’ death, which occurred last year, isn’t included in the total either. 

Unlike the “Rust” case, sometimes even a gun loaded with blanks can be lethal. On the set of “Cover Up” in 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum, bored with delays in filming, held a gun filled with blanks to his head and, as a joke, pulled the trigger. The blank had enough power to kill Hexum. On the set of the 1993 “The Crow,” Brandon Lee, son of the martial arts icon Bruce Lee, was shot with a blank that propelled a metal fragment stuck in the barrel. The fragment hit Brandon Lee in the abdomen and, after six hours of emergency surgery, he died. 

In another online article, The Wrap said there is, unfortunately, inconsistency regarding how firearms on movie sets are referred to. A “prop gun” can be a nonfunctional, theatrical prop that is unable to fire projectiles of any kind, real bullets or blanks. But real guns firing blanks are also referred to as prop guns. Adding to the potentially deadly confusion, “live” rounds have been applied to both real bullets and to blanks. 

Here’s how that confusion can play out in real life: According to the New York Times, the gun on the “Rust” set was referred to as a “prop” that was also declared a “cold gun,” supposedly meaning the weapon did not have any “live” rounds in it. What’s a “prop” and what’s a “live” round? Exactly. 

But it’s not just guns that kill people on movie sets. A locomotive killed Sarah Jones, who was working as a camera assistant on “Midnight Rider” in 2014. And a crashing helicopter killed three actors on the set of “Twilight Zone: the Movie” in 1982. A pyrotechnic explosion caused the helicopter to crash, killing actor-director Vic Morrow and two child actors, 7-year-old Myca Dinh Le and 6-year-old Renee ShinYe Chen. In the scene, the Morrow character was running while carrying both children. 

Old-timers tell those who are newcomers to firearms, “Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill.” That advice obviously cannot apply to shoot-‘em-up-bang movie sets — but it still makes sense.

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