13 Movie Set Tragedies Hollywood Tried To Cover Up
People die making movies a lot more than you might realize.
Tragedies happen on movie sets more often than studios would like to admit. And sometimes these incidents become high-profile cases, particularly when it involves members of the main cast.
However, there are even more tragedies that didn’t involve the stars of the film, and these stories often get brushed under the rug by studios and media. Here are some you may not have known about:
Gabriella Cedillo, an extra on the film Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), sustained permanent brain damage after the car she was driving for a scene involving a stunt was hit by a large piece of metal.
According to ABC7: “Gabriela Cedillo was just finishing college in September 2010 when the car she was driving in a Transformers 3 scene was struck by a piece of metal. It was attached to a tow cable to flip a stunt car in the westbound lanes of Cline Avenue in Hammond. Instead, the metal bar broke free, and it smashed through her windshield into the right side of her head.”
David Ritchie, a set dresser on the film Jumper (2008), was crushed and killed by frozen sand, earth, and ice that fell from an exterior set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “David Ritchie, 56, a veteran set dresser, was killed instantly, a second man was sent to hospital with serious head and shoulder injuries, while a third man escaped harm. Investigators … found that the sand and earth frozen to the wall for exterior design came unstuck as the set was being torn down and crushed Ritchie, causing his death. The workplace mishap occurred as separate crew members were dismantling the exterior set for shipment to Baja, California, for reshoots of outdoor scenes.”
Olivia Jackson, a stuntwoman, was seriously injured on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) and needed to have her arm amputated.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “While standing in for Milla Jovovich during the 2015 shoot in Cape Town and riding a motorcycle at high speed, Jackson collided with a crane-mounted camera vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. She would spend 17 days in a coma, with her left arm having to be amputated above the elbow. She was also left with a twisted spine, paralysis of the top left quarter of her body including her neck, a dislocated shoulder, a severed thumb, punctured lungs and broken ribs, and still suffers lasting nerve damage and facial scarring.”
In 2020, after a four-year legal battle, Jackson, who can no longer work in her field and continues to suffer from chronic pain, won a court ruling in South Africa that placed blame on the driver of the camera vehicle. However, the victory was bittersweet as, according to the L.A. Times, “Under South African law, her only financial recourse now is with the country’s Road Accident Fund,” which caps compensation for medical expenses and payouts. According to Jackson’s attorney, “That could be less than $15,000 a year.”
Harry O’Connor, a former Navy SEAL and one of Vin Diesel’s stunt doubles in XXX (2002), died while performing a paragliding stunt for the film.
According to Newsweek: “While filming a paragliding scene in Prague, the 45-year-old collided with a pillar of the Palacky Bridge, breaking his neck. He died from his injuries. The fatal accident occurred on O’Connor’s second take of the stunt; his first take was successful and can be seen in the 2002 film.”
Later, director Rob Cohen released the following statement about the terrible accident: “We had 500 stuntmen involved with this picture; 499 didn’t get a scratch. It shows you the lengths to which we will go to bring this kind of intense experience to the viewer. Stuntmen know they are in danger. They make their living through danger. Most of the time, it’s all right. Sometimes, unfortunately, it isn’t.”
Sarah Jones, a camera assistant on the film Midnight Rider (which remains unreleased) was struck and killed by a train on set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “Jones was struck and killed by a train in Wayne County, Georgia, while the Gregg Allman biopic she was working on was filming a dream sequence on the tracks. While the crew scrambled to get out of the way of an oncoming train, they could not remove a prop bed from the tracks in time, and when the train hit it, a part of the bed pushed Jones into the locomotive’s way, a Georgia police investigation revealed. Jones was hit by the train’s fuel tank and died instantly.”
As a result, the film’s director Randall Miller, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served jail time.
Joi “SJ” Harris was killed while performing a stunt on a motorcycle for the film Deadpool 2 (2018).
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “Harris was killed … while performing a stunt that involved riding a high-powered Ducati motorcycle down a ramp laid atop a set of stairs. According to several people who had been working with her in the days leading up to the stunt, Harris was not properly prepared for the stunt. When it came time to do the scene, Harris rode the motorcycle down the stairs but then lost control. The bike, which Harris still clung to, careened across a street and hurled her into a building, killing her instantly.”
20th Century Fox eventually settled out of court with Harris’s family in 2019. Here was Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds’ statement at the time of the accident:
David Holmes, a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe, broke his neck and became paralyzed from the chest down while working on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010).
According to the Mirror: “An explosion that was part of a planned stunt sent Holmes plummeting to the ground, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He was rehearsing a flying sequence using a harness with a planned blast which was supposed to send Holmes ‘jerking back,’ but it went ‘badly wrong’ and he slammed into a wall.”
In 2013, Holmes established Ripple Productions and in 2020, released a podcast called Cunning Stunts, where he teamed up with Daniel Radcliffe to “highlight and pay tribute to the amazing work that [our] Stunt Coordinators and Performers do whilst on set in the name of entertainment.”
Michael Davidson, a firefighter in New York City, died while battling a fire that broke out on the set of Motherless Brooklyn (2019).
According to ABC7: “Michael Davidson, 37, got separated from his fellow firefighters and fought through dense smoke as the air in his tank ran out. He hit the talk button on his radio but never said anything. … The investigation found that plywood walls created as part of the set concealed the size of the fire, and the polyurethane foam used in the set’s upholstery generated large quantities of dense black smoke.”
In 2020, a judge ruled that Davidson’s widow, Eileen Davidson, could file a lawsuit against film company Class 5, Inc. (Edward Norton’s production company) and the building landlord.
An unnamed construction worker was killed working on Blade Runner 2049 (2017) while dismantling a set.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “A 28-year-old Hungarian construction worker was killed on the set of the untitled Blade Runner sequel in Budapest on Aug. 25 (2016). ‘The worker was underneath a platform, upon which the set was constructed, when it suddenly collapsed,’ read a statement by Origo Studios.'”
Deadline also reported: “A spokesman for Alcon Entertainment, which is producing the film, said the local worker was not a member of the film crew but was employed by a subcontractor to tear down the set. The still-unidentified worker was reportedly working under a platform when scaffolding collapsed on top of him.”
The name of the worker and cause of the accident were never publicly revealed.
Another unnamed construction worker was killed on the set of Silence (2016) after a structure collapse.
The accident happened on the backlot of CMPC Studios in Taiwan. And, according to CNN: “A structure on the Taiwan set of [the] Martin Scorsese movie collapsed … killing a studio construction worker and injuring two more, Taipei police said. The workers were repairing a building used for scenery when it collapsed … Two men were hospitalized, one in serious condition.”
This was the statement given by CMPC Studios to the Hollywood Reporter at the time: “Our studio was rented for the use of a production team. The production team has hired contractors to build sets, and the construction has led to an accident, injuring the contractors. The production team immediately reported the accident to the emergency services, while our company also gave assistance. Our company and the production team had reached an agreement for the production team to be held responsible for the health and safety of the personnel of the studio and the set.”
Mike Huber, a crew member working on G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) died while working on a high-powered scissor lift that tipped over.
According to Cinema Blend: “The unidentified worker was operating a high-powered scissor lift as he helped to tear down a set when, according to reports, the machine tipped over and the man sustained fatal injuries.”
In a statement, Paramount Studios said, “Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with the [crew member’s] family at this time.”
Joe Watts, a stuntman on F9 (2021), had to be put into a medically induced coma after a serious accident while filming.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “The accident – described as a ‘serious head injury’ after a major fall – saw the production shut down at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden Studios as paramedics and air ambulances were called. “
It was reported by Surrey Live in 2020 that Watts “has since had to learn to speak again after suffering a horrific fractured skull and brain damage when he fell onto a concrete floor from around 25 feet,” but is still suffering from the injury and has to take on “multiple rehabilitation sessions with a neuropsychologist, physiotherapist, and occupational therapist among others.”
Finally, cinematographer Chan Kwok-hung was killed on the film set of the Jackie Chan film Skiptrace (2016) after a boat capsized.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: “Hong Kong police said the vessel capsized 100 feet from the shore, with seven crew members able to swim back to the shore after the accident. Tragically, Chan Kwok-hung did not make it, and was found unconscious and later declared dead at North Lantau Hospital.”
At the time, Tenky Tin Kai-man, chairman of the Movie Production Executives Association (of Hong Kong) said his association was working on raising money for Chan Kwok-hung’s family.