In Memoriam | The 20 Other Most Surprising Hollywood Deaths Ever

There are Hollywood deaths annually. While we don’t wait on them, we do expect them. And although it is never easy to hear when you’re a fan of the dearly departed, you find solace in knowing he or she lived a full life while still blessing your own with their craft.

We exalt someone’s memory by graciously reflecting upon their career, say they’ll be dearly missed, and Hollywood sees a dramatic spike in movie streamings and TV episode downloads as the throng of fans reflect and remember.

In this tumultuous year of 2020, we have seen this particular circle of life with Joel Schmuacher, Kelly Preston, Fred Willard, Wilford Brimley, Jerry Stiller, and the great Carl Reiner. This even happened for Olivia de Havilland and she was 104!

Then, there are some Hollywood deaths that punch us all in the gut. They are unexpected or involve harrowing circumstances. Those are the ones that keep us reeling, gossiping, talking, and mourning.

Arguably, none more shocking and devastating this year as we experienced when there was the loss of a king in Chadwick Boseman. And the fact that he filmed six movies while undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer made it even more shocking. In fact, his loss has pummeled many communities for decades to come. He will definitely be missed.

To admonish Boseman’s career and admire some stellar heartfelt talent, please note BossLogic’s memoirs on the man and the myth he left behind. Breathtaking vision to create this art.

NOTE: This list is Hollywood–folks who have a SAG card. There are so many “celebrity” mishaps or musicians in the “27 Club.” That said, we don’t mean any disrespect to the memories of Selena, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Biggie Smalls, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, or even Kobe Bryant and Princess Diana. (Yes, we know he has an Oscar.) That said…

Here are the Top 20 Other shocking Hollywood deaths of recent memory.

Starting this list of shocking Hollywood deaths was the most difficult because, regretfully, there are so many.

  • Jayne Mansfield was beheaded.
  • George Reeves–the first-ever Superman–died, maybe by suicide.
  • Freddie Prinze died after shooting himself, 33 hours later.
  • The infamous Sharon Tate murders (and she was nine months pregnant).
  • Brittany Murphy, co-star of 8 Mile with Eminem, died at 33 by a combination of pneumonia, an iron deficiency and drug intoxication. So they say.

And then we come upon a TV star whose murder stunned the wholesome audiences from the 1960s, and we have our beginning of true shocking “Hollywood deaths.”

20. Bob Crane (1928-1978)

Bob Crane mysterious murder was truly shocking among all Hollywood deaths
Source: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

June 29, 1978.

Here is Bob Crane, the quintessential guy from the ’60s — friendly, wholesome, and very Caucasian. Yet, what happened to him stunned an entire nation.

TV was his thing, specifically the monster TV series about WWII refugees in a Nazi concentration camp. Nothing quite says family television like a poke at Hitler 20 years following the empire’s fall, huh? He was the show’s star, among others Richard Dawson, as in star of ‘Family Feud’.

So when June 1978 arrived, America freaked out! The star of Hogan’s Heroes was bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale, Arizona apartment. Following weeks of surreptitious investigation, those adoring fans discovered Crane was a fan of kinky sex–like filmed himself at pansexual orgies.

Turns out one of his partners-in-literal-crime and smut, John Henry Carpenter, fell in love with Colonel Hogan. He is the alleged one who beat the living hell out of Hogan — only one problem, he was found not guilty leaving this case “cold.”

19. Aaliyah (1979-2001)

Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage

August 25, 2001.

This is truly one of R. Kelly’s first abuse victims. Hell, that sick #$*% allegedly bribed her to marry him…when she was 15. Her first album “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” was about as foretelling as it was — considering it was R. Kelly who discovered her, produced that dope album, and actually named the damn thing.

If you’re familiar with the New Jack sounds of ’90s R&B, you know Aaliyah had the swag, vibe, looks, and a voice. And then, one day in August 2001, there was news about a mysterious plane crash. Unlike Kobe’s tragic demise with him and his daughter, there was no immediate network. People were waiting to discover who was on the plane.

Then we discovered, a private plane crashed 200 feet from the end of a runway at Opa-Locka Airport and exploded. On the manifest was Aaliyah, her security guard, and other members of her label. All because the plane was carrying 700 pounds more than it could carry. A tragic accident literally shocked the world. Awful.

18. Heather O’Rourke (1975-1988)

Heather O'Rourke dying at 13 is still one of the worst Hollywood deaths in history.
Source:  MGM, Amblin Entertainment/News Corp Australia

February 1, 1988.

You may not know the name, but you definitely no the movie and her line, “They’re Herrrrre.” Heather O’Rourke was only 12 years old and her mysterious passing is still one of the strangest Hollywood deaths in history of Tinseltown.

Of course, that’s the Poltergeist girl. And Steven Spielberg’s historic film is considered one of “the most cursed” films in Hollywood. That’s not irony. According to people, and Heather’s passing, it could just be fact.

In early 1987, Heather O’Rourke was incorrectly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease by doctors at Kaiser Permanente and was prescribed medications to treat it. A year later, she couldn’t keep a single bite down. That next day, she collapsed on her way to the hospital, which caused her stepfather to call for paramedics. It was cardiac arrest. Heather O’Rourke would die later that day.

Turns out the reason this is among the shocking Hollywood deaths is because the doctor was close. She was misdiagnosed but the cardiac arrest caused by septic shock brought on by the intestinal stenosis from a bowel blockage.

17. River Phoenix (1970-1993)

Credit: Lance Staedler/Vanity Fair

October 31, 1993.

If his last name looks familiar, it should. That’s Joaquin’s older brother, and even he has said, the more talented. What makes his one of the terrible Hollywood deaths in recent memory is that we’ll never know.

We were privileged enough to get a brief glimpse of River’s talent before he was found dead outside of Johnny Depp’s nightclub, The Viper Club, full of heroin and cocaine. He starred in Explorers, My Own Private Idaho, and The Mosquito Coast, but he’s probably most noted for his breakout role in Stand By Me.

And if you want to know why younger brother Joaquin is such a recluse, watching his brother die because of fame and drugs may have something to do with it. Also, he called 911 as a child, and those TMZ-ish tabloid pimps broadcast the calls, which plagued the kid for years.

16. Natalie Wood (1938-1981)

Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

November 29, 1981.

Natalie Wood seemed to have a charmed life. She was successful on and off the stage. Her talent was unmistakable. And her husband was Hollywood leading man, Robert Wagner (yes, Anthony DiNozzo’s dad on NCIS).

Yet, to this day, her death remains a mystery, keeps being re-opened, and was even changed from “accidental drowning” to “undetermined.” Why? Natalie’s sister and the Yacht skipper, among others, believe Robert Wagner killed her and pushed the actress who couldn’t swim overboard off the shore of Catalina Island in the San Francisco Bay.

Unlike many Hollywood deaths, Natalie Wood’s has no closure. And probably never will. Not even guest on the Yacht, Christopher Walken, knows what really happened, which is why investigators will probably never charge Robert Wagner. There are countless stories about that night, but no answers because of them are buried at sea.

15. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Credit: Victoria Will/Invision via Associated Press

February 2, 2014

Talk about a bright light dimming too quickly. As it goes in Hollywood, a famous person is a force on screen because of the demons inside he or she is trying to quell. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was no different.

The Oscar-winning actor had admitted issues with drugs, specifically heroin and pills. In an unmarked apartment in Greenwich Village layed Hoffman on the floor of the away-from-home office. He was found in the apartment by a friend “who had become concerned after being unable to reach him” according to The New York Times.

There, he was found a syringe in his arm and, by his side, an envelope containing heroin. Aside from a throng of fans and professionals who admired him, he behind his longtime partner and three children.

14. Cory Monteith (1982-2013)

Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

July 13, 2017

If you were a fan of FOX’s smash series Glee, you mourned when Cory Monteith’s life was cut tragically short in July 2013. One summer morning in a Vancouver hotel room, life stood still for many fans of the musical dramedy.

While it wasn’t a surprise about why it happened, it was stunning. Monteith was transparent about his addiction and substance abuse struggles and checking himself into rehab multiple times. Nonetheless, when the coroner released the cause of death as an overdose on heroin and alcohol, jaws dropped and tears flowed.

This is one of the Hollywood deaths that particularly struck the younger generation because it seemed to happen to them. It was personal, not only because of what Cory did, but also of who he was.

13. Judy Garland (1922-1969)

Source: Silver Screen Collection via Getty Images

June 22, 1969.

This may one of the shocking Hollywood deaths you didn’t consider, but when Judy Garland was found dead in the town house she and Mickey Deans (her 5th husband) owned in the Belgravia section of London, England, it was felt around the world.

She died at 47 but has been in the hearts and minds of people since she was 13, shortly after she signed a huge contract with MGM and ended up capturing the attention of everyone as ‘Dorothy’ in The Wizard of Oz. It was then when she first starting amphetamines. She used them as “pep pills” for the long shoots she endured in her formative years. She never stopped.

Her obituary from the Los Angeles Times reads the legendary star suffered from “hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous breakdowns, near-fatal drug reactions, overweight, underweight and injuries suffered in falls.” Needless to say, she had a troubled life, as much can be seen from the Oscar-winning biopic taken from the pages of her own daughter, Lorna Luft.

Garland’s other daughter, Liza Minnelli, took after mom in the Broadway department, but very few people have mesmerized Hollywood like Judy Garland.

12. Phil Hartman (1948-1988)

Source: ABC News via Getty Images

May 28, 1998.

If you were a fan of Saturday Night Live in any decade, you know that show has experienced its own horrors from Gilda Rander and Chris Farley to Charles Rocket and the guy we’ll discuss next. It is unfortunate the splendid talent that has passed from this plain from SNL. So sad.

Arguably none more surprising of Hollywood deaths than when we heard about what happened to voice-over master artist and genuine great guy, Phil Hartman. Many believe it was after an alcoholic ravaged fight between him and his wife Brynn, who shot her husband and then turned the gun on herself.

And their two children were home when it happened.

Although it was never really clear why she did it, it was thought Brynn, who was full of alcohol and Zoloft, was jealous of Hartman’s career.

11. John Belushi (1949-1982)

Credit: Peter Sorrell/Universal Pictures

March 5, 1982.

Among the most shocking of Hollywood deaths was the news about the incomparable talent of John Belushi. When you consider a life that was cut way too short because of the indulgences that can come with being famous, John Belushi immediately comes to mind.

Although Belushi had almost innate ability to make forget our problems as John Blutarsky in Animal House or the so great Joliet Jake in The Blues Brothers, this was a man who required cocaine and heroin to run from his own.

Belushi liked to prepare for roles away from home, which is why he a bungalow at the famed Cheateu Marmont in Beverly Hills. Belushi’s fitness trainer and bodyguard was the Kickboxing and Black Belt Hall-of-Famer Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. He’s also the one who found Belushi dead. He went there to deliver a typewriter and tape recorder. He left knowing he had to deliver some of the worst news in entertainment history.

Belushi was there alone.

10. James Dean (1931-1955)

James Dean's death was among the most surprising Hollywood deaths ever
Source: Shutterstock/REX

He was the first teen heartthrob. The man was the sensai of cool. Just look at the dude!

All of Hollywood’s “bad boys” today owe who they are and the crap they try to get away with to James Dean’s view on life surrounding teenage rebellion and hormonal angst. He died in a tragic car accident in 1955. Like the surprising Hollywood death ahead of this, James Dean loved speed.

Following his signature film Rebel Without a Cause, he bought a new Porsche so he could race others. And that’s why he wrapped around another vehicle in Cholame, California. He was only 24 years old. People still mourn and memorialize him today, and to think, he only filmed three movies. That’s called “an icon.”

So when you think of shocking Hollywood deaths, you always come upon the myth of James Dean.

9. Paul Walker (1973-2013)

Paul Walker with his own ’66 Chevelle SS (Credit: William Goodwin)

November 10, 2013

Paul William Walker IV’s star didn’t necessarily shine brighter than other people on this list, but the fashion in which his light was extinguished was dreadfully ironic and shocking.

Enjoy them or not, The Fast and the Furious is one of Hollywood’s most successful cinematic franchises ever earning more than $5.89 billion in ticket sales. Before his untimely death, Paul Walker was the center of the franchise, along with Vin Diesel riding shotgun. Then, one fateful night in Los Angeles, Paul and his friend Roger Rodas left Walker’s charity event Reach Out Worldwide, a fund dedicated to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Presumed to have been street racing, the car wrapped around a light pole and both driver and passenger (Walker) were pronounced dead at the scene. It is sad to think how similar the Hollywood deaths of both Walker and James Dean are similar, which is why they’ll forever be linked.

8. Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

Credit: Mosi Reeves/Rolling Stone

September 13, 1996.

From acting to music, Tupac Amaru Shakur will always be known for his exemplary voice. His lyrics were piercing and he translated those visceral skills to the big screen in movies like Juice, Poetic Justice, and Above the Rim. Whether you are a fan of rap or not (and the 75 million albums he has sold), no one can deny the kind of talent Tupac possessed.

And quite possibly, no one ever will.

To this day, what happened following being outside the MGM Hotel for a Mike Tyson fight has been a source of many conspiracy theories and a few documentaries. He was shot one of 13 times from a drive-by said to be have been led by the Crips gang. Tupac Shakur died six days after. He was only 25.

Forever linked with Tupac was the Notorious BIG. Of course, not only because of their “East Coast vs. West Coast” rap battles, but also Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace was found murdered six months later as a result of a drive-by in LA. Neither crime has ever been solved.

7. Heath Ledger (1979-2008)

Heath Ledger is among the most shocking Hollywood deaths
Source: Spike/Shutterstock

January 22, 2008.

Most of us reading this remember this fateful day when Heath Ledger was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper, Diana Wolozin.

Her name is widely known because of the way she went about getting Ledger help. First, she called Ledger’s friend, actress Mary-Kate Olsen. She called … that’s right… a private security firm. And only then, is when Wolozin called 911.

Like, what in the hell do people think in Hollywood anyway? Two weeks after his death, Heath Ledger’s autopsy read: “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication.” See? “Acute” is a medical and kind way to say: “Really jacked up”. There were effects of six different medications in his body, one of which was oxycodone.

Heath Ledger’s life will always among the most jaw-dropping Hollywood deaths in history.

6. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston's loss is still one of saddest Hollywood deaths ever
Credit: Ken McKay/Rex Features

February 11, 2012.

Even though all her fans worldwide saw the toilet she was swirling in. Not to mention, Bobby Brown barely standing by the flush. When we all heard that the Whitney Houston was found unconscious and submerged in her bathtub in Suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, time stood still.

And this became one of the Hollywood deaths few believed when the news broke.

That angelic voice was already scarred by crack and other inhalants Whitney Houston put in her lungs. But, at least there was still a voice. Now, it was gone and this became one of the saddest Hollywood deaths ever because of all that potential…vanished.

It took more than a month for Los Angeles County coroner’s office to report Houston’s death was caused by drowning and the “effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.”

Yes. Crack definitely is whack. So, so sad!

5. Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Williams was one of the most tragic of Hollywood deaths in recent memory.
Source: HBO Documentary Films/Jigsaw Productions

August 11, 2014

Robin Williams is one of the most tragic Hollywood deaths because of the belief his career was stolen from him before his life did suffered the same fate. The man made a legacy on the acerbic, razor-sharp wit of his and now…it was going to fade slowly thanks to the horrifying diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia.

The man whose utopia was his phantasmal improvisation skills was taken from him, and in a dark moment’s notice, he believed he couldn’t go on. And so, he turned out his light of inspiration forever. There wasn’t one part of the arts that his transformational life didn’t touch.

He was truly one of the greatest talents to ever grace TV screens, the big screens, or the stage, which was his preferred island of paradise. Speaking of which, the lights of Broadway went dark on that dreary evening as a sign of respect. Robin Williams was a cerebral virtuoso. (If you need proof: Watch Aladdin. The guy improvised and impersonated 16 hours of extra dialogue, in addition to that script! Which was written only for him to perform.)

He was the reason people laughed for decades. And now, they haven’t laughed quite the same since.

4. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Source: Sony Records/GRAMMYs

June 25, 2009.

He was the King of Pop. He was also a very troubled, sick, and flawed human being. There are several reasons why this wasn’t the most surprising among Hollywood deaths ever — the downward spiral his life was heading was a stark reminder of what could befall this iconic talent. We all heard of what was happening behind closed doors at Neverland Ranch in Holmby Hills. But no one had any idea it would result in this.

Michael Jackson was only age of 50 when he suffered a cardiac arrest. Yet, that ruling was quickly investigated and relabeled as a homicide by the hands of his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray. The man, who is currently living low after being in the county pokey for manslaughter, gave Michael several helpings of Propofol to help with sleep and anxiety.

Any doctor would know what he gave Michael was enough to put a horse to sleep, but he did it and the musical world hasn’t quite rebounded yet. His music is still heard, sampled, and loved. All the while, fans still wonder “what would have happened if…”

There are countless ifs that take us all down dark alleys. We can only suspect, “What if.”

3. Prince (1958-2016)

Source: Getty Images

April 21, 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson was an enigma wrapped in an iridescent mystery box. Was he an actor or a singer? Is Prince a person or a symbol? And was he straight, gay, or pan? While all those questions existed, one thing was certainly clear — there wasn’t anything that Prince could not do.

He could more than a dozen instruments, and taught himself each of them by ear. Some of his most popular songs, he didn’t even sing (i.e., “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Jungle Love,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me”). He was an accomplished director and actor, most notably in a movie that partly mirrored his life and is easily one of the top three soundtracks of all time: “Purple Rain.”

And then, that glorious music was silenced on an April afternoon in Paisley Park, Chanhassen, Minnesota, where he was known to be secluded for months at a time. A Fentanyl overdose created one of the most unexpected Hollywood deaths and will never turn off this man’s music. In fact, he is rumored to have volumes of songs still in his music box. We can only hope.

Oh yeah, he has the best ever Super Bowl halftime show…and it ain’t even close. (You know a lot of folks who had God make a cameo appearance? No? Okay. Thanks.)

2. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)

Credit: Will Pavia, The New York Times

August 4, 1962.

There was no social media. The Internet didn’t exist. All we had was word-of-mouth and the day people discovered Marilyn Monroe died, there weren’t many words to share at all.

Easily, this was one of the most shocking Hollywood deaths in history. The ills that plague today’s elite were not as widely accessible back then. In the 1950s, when this unknown starlet named Norma Jeane Mortenson graced the big screen, people assumed all was right in her world.

This woman who turned Hollywood upside-down because of how she looked was found naked, lying on her stomach, and surrounded by empty pill bottles with a telephone in one hand. In the months leading up to her demise, she wasn’t seen or heard from in months.

It was her psychiatrist who found Monroe, after busting a window to her house to get to her. She was 36 years old and it was one of the first times Hollywood was forced to mourn one of its own.

1. Elvis (1935-1977)

The most shocking Hollywood death in history
Source: Wikimedia Commons

August 16, 1977.

Trust, this is a day millions of people still can’t get over–and it’s 2020. “The King” was 42 years old and his legacy was ravaged to a party joke–he was found dead, hunched over his lap on the toilet. Yes, “his throne.”

His death was originally reported as a heart attack, but some reports began to leak that perhaps Elvis Presley was hooked on drugs and that may be why he died. (Even though some people still swear they have seen him for decades.) He was royalty–in music, in film, and in life. The man had a life many only dream of having, and yet, even he still needed that something extra money couldn’t buy.

He recorded 600 songs, and never wrote one. Elvis also made 31 films, and never got an Oscar nomination. He was the undisputed “King of Rock and Roll” and yet, the only Grammys he ever won was for singing Gospel music. The man was known around the world, and yet, he never performed outside of North America.

(Fun Fact: His famous leg shaking move that drove all the ladies crazy? It was an accident. He had stage fright his entire life.)

Elvis was everything to everyone. And when he died, Hollywood and the music world both were devastated. And his fans? When you think of Hollywood deaths, think of this. There is a reason Graceland is an entire museum that people camp out in front of — daily. And mourn — nightly.

The King really is dead. Long live the King.

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