Sex, drugs, affairs, death and fights all sound like scenes you might find in a Hollywood movie, but they’re actually all real-life events that have happened on the sets of some of the biggest movies ever made.
Cast and crew members have been involved in and even witnessed some on-set events so tragic that you’ll wonder how they ever got over it.
Some secrets couldn’t be kept, whilst some accidents were unexpected and heartbreaking. Either way, this list contains some of the worst things to ever happen on set in Hollywood history, and they will most definitely change your perspective of your favourite films.
We’re still not over the Star Trek fraud at 13!
The radioactive set that gave John Wayne and 90 other crew members cancer.
John Wayne worked alongside a cast and crew of more than 220 people to film the movie The Conqueror in 1956. The set was near a nuclear bomb test site, but it wasn’t until 91 people who worked on the set had contracted cancer by the early 1940’s that people started to suspect something. 46 deaths were recorded, and John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell all ended up with cancer. From a group that size, it would be ordinary for 30 of the to get cancer, but this was a much larger scale. Furthermore, producer Howard Hughes thought the movie was so bad that he paid $12 million to buy every copt of the movie before it could be aired. Paramount later reached a deal with Hughes in 1974 to air the movie.
Carrie Fisher’s cocaine addiction
Despite becoming a sex symbol for millions of men, Carrie Fisher struggled with a major cocaine addiction on the set of The Empire Strikes Back. The princess would do lines of coke between takes, and her then-boyfriend Dan Aykroyd was friends with John Belushi (also a drug addict), who told her that her addiction was out of control.
Brandon Lee was killed by a prop .44 Magnum
The filming of The Crow led to some pretty serious incidents, the worst being potentially the most famous on-screen death in Hollywood history. Brandon Lee, son of legendary actor Bruce Lee, was filming a scene for the movie when he was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum. The gun was supposed to be loaded with a full-powder blank which would have caused the actor no harm, however there was already a bullet loaded in the gun. The gun was fired, and the bullet lodged into Lee’s abdomen, causing him to bleed to death. Although the most fatal, this wasn’t the only accident on the set. A carpenter was badly burned from an electrical shock, a prop master found more loaded bullets in prop guns and a worker drove a screwdriver through his own hand.
Action packed drama on the set of Three Kings.
The toxic relationship between David Russell and George Clooney is well known throughout Hollywood after their major falling out. Russell, known for his bad temper and short fuse, was seen yelling at and pushing a young military extra whilst filming Three Kings, so Clooney stepped in to defend the young extra. Russell was clearly up for a fight, and insulted Clooney before head-butting him and hitting him in the neck. Clooney wasn’t about to back down, and beat the director before grabbing him by the throat. The pair finished filming the movie but have not spoken to appeared together since.
Top Gun pilot was killed during a stunt
Renowned pilot Art Scholl was hired for in-flight camera work on the Top Gun set. Scholl agreed to perform a flat spin, but when he entered the dangerous maneuver, he was unable to recover from inside his Pitts S-2 – this caused him to crash into the Pacific Ocean just off the Southern California coast. The iconic movie was appropriately dedicated to his memory.
A helicopter decapitated three actors
Tragedy struck on the filmset of 1983 The Twilight Zone Movie when actor Vic Morrow and two child actors Myca Dinh Le (7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (6) were decapitated by a helicopter blade. The helicopter was flying 25 feet above the filmset and was unable to move away from planned explosions. This caused the helicopter to crash and decapitate Le and Morrow, before crushing Chen to death. Hollywood regulations changed because of this incident, therefore not allowing children to be present during special effects scenes. Steven Spielberg produced the movie, but he immediately ended his friendship with director John Landis after realising that he had not followed proper safety guidelines, which led to the incident.
Vin Diesel’s stuntman was killed instantly
During the filming of a dangerous scene for xXx, Vin Diesel’s stunt double, Harry O’Connor, was supposed to rappel down a parasailing line and land on a submarine. However, when he didn’t rappel quickly enough, he smashed into a bridge at high speed and was killed instantly. Apparently the stuntman asked for a second take as he didn’t think he got close enough to the bridge on the first attempt. Director Rob Cohen decided to keep the scene but cut out the final moments.
Biting, slapping and head-kicking on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane
The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford lasted for decades. The unfriendly behaviour towards one another included biting, slapping and Davis “accidentally” kicking Crawford in the head during a scene on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Crawford wasn’t about to let that slip, and apparently responded by putting weights in her clothing during a scene where Davis dragged her. It didn’t help that Crawford was overlooked when Davis was nominated for Best actress, and she even campaigned against her co-star. Anne Bancroft claimed the top prize, and Crawford pushed past Davis to accept the award for Bancroft, who couldn’t be in attendance.
Bill Murray vs. Lucy Liu
It turns out that not all of Charlie’s Angels love him, or at least Lucy Liu doesn’t. Despite being known in the industry to be great to work with, something about Liu’s acting style rubbed funnyman Bill Murray the wrong way. He actually interrupted a scene to tell Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz how great they were doing, before telling Liu that she couldn’t act. Liu was so furious at the funnyman that she opened up on him with a barrage of slaps and punches – the crew had to separate them as they yelled verbal abuse at one another. The incident meant that Murray was replaced by Bernie Mac in the Charlie’s Angels sequel.
John Belushi’s battle with drug addiction
The Blues Brothers will always be up there with the greatest comedies of all time. Although it is a masterpiece of the genre, it was no easy feat trying to control Belushi’s addiction to cocaine and alcohol. Filming of the movie often fell behind schedule because Belushi couldn’t be located. Director John Landis even recalled the time he flushed a huge pile of cocaine down the toilet in Belushi’s trailer, causing the actor to lash out, then hug him and weep.
Brooke Shields was mature way beyond her years
In 1978, a very young 12-year-old Brooke Shields appeared in the movie Pretty Baby. Audiences were shocked when they realised that the actress got naked for her role. Shields played the young daughter of a prostitute who develops strong feelings for the photographer who takes photos of her mom, which raised a lot of eyebrows. These days directors would attempt to find a very youthful looking 18-year-old to avoid getting into legal issues.
Debra Winger’s hatred took a disgustingly low turn
Actresses Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine despised each other on the set of Terms of Endearment, and this hatred didn’t stop when the filming did. When MacLaine won an Oscar award for the movie, Winger’s bitterness took over and she literally tried to fart in MacLaine’s face – gross.
Star Trek – The Motion Picture fraud
Paramount were so desperate to see Star Trek: A Motion Picture produced that they agreed to pay Robert Abel & Associates $1.6 million to create the visual effects for the movie. Abel later raised his price to $4 million, which eventually turned into a whopping $16 million. Paramount weren’t happy, but they obliged to get the movie finished. Unfortunately, the studio was completely unsatisfied with the poor sample footage, and cut their loses at $6 million. An investigation discovered that Robert Abel was using Paramount Pictures’ money to keep his failing business from falling into insolvency.
Ingrid Bergman’s affair with Roberto Rossellini
As one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood, the press went mad when Ingrid Bergman was exposed for having an affair with director Roberto Rossellini. Both were married to other people, but they fell in love in 1949 when they met on the set of Stromboli. Bergman fell pregnant with Rossellini’s child and her acting career declined after the affair became public.
A fight scene got way too real
Oliver Stone’s 1999 football film Any Given Sunday is a classic, more specifically the fight scene between LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx. Stone was forced to call cut on the staged fight scene after the blows turned real. LL Cool J continued the drama by recording “U Can’t F*** With Me” – a song dedicated to a be dig at Foxx. The pair fought publicly for six years before reconciling during a Miami Heat game. To prove they had made up, Foxx lent vocals to Cool J’s song “Best Dressed,” and the rapper later appeared on Foxx’s “All This Love.”
The Jumper set caused a tragic death
Stars like Samuel L. Jackson starred on the movie Jumper, that featured special effects made using a mixture of frozen sand, earth and ice. David Ritchie was a set dresser that also helped to take down parts of the set. A large chunk of frozen sand and gravel fell from a wall and hit Ritchie, killing him. Three crew members were dismantling the set at the time and witnessed his death.
Kristen Stewart ruined a vampiric love story, and caused a major divorce settlement.
A vampire’s love story came to an end when Kristen Stewart was caught having an affair with married director Rupert Sanders. Stewart and her then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson fell in love whilst filming the Twilight series and even began planning their wedding, until her affair with Sanders was revealed during the filming of Snow White and the Huntsman. Not only did Stewart break the hearts of Pattinson and every Twilight fan, but Sanders had to pay millions of dollars in a divorce settlement.
Lea Michele had Naya Rivera removed
Apparently Glee star Lea Michele would constantly feud with co-star Naya Rivera, and so Michele demanded that Rivera be removed from the show. The directors of the popular Fox TV series wrote Rivera out of Season 5’s last two episodes, and she barely appeared in Season 6. You must really dislike someone to have their job taken away from them.
Patrick Dempsey divorced after on-set affair
There has been a lot of speculation as to why Patrick Dempsey (Mr Dreamy) was removed from “Grey’s Anatomy”. It turns out that the TV show’s worst kept secret was that Dempsey cheated on his wife of 15 years with a much younger staffer. Apparently, Dempsey and the junior staffer would sneak away to his trailer for long periods of time, which definitely suggests something mysterious. Dempsey complained about his character’s storyline, and eventually he was written out of the show.
Native American protests and walkouts on Adam Sandler set
Adam Sandler’s first Netflix original movie The Ridiculous Six was witness to a Native American walkout because of a lack of care and attention to how they were portrayed in the movie. Despite being told that a cultural adviser would be there to ensure that the movie was sensitive to how their cultures were represented, there were allegations that the Native Americans held passive-aggressive protests to some of the scenes. The costumes did not match their specific tribes and the comedy even made fun of their names.