I remember when I was about five years old, my mother told me the the Beatles would never play again because John Lennon had been shot. She didn’t know much about the murder, so when I pressed her for details as to how and why he was killed, she just told me that a crazed fan had done it and speculated that it was done during a live performance. I didn’t find out until much later that he was actually shot outside his home.
But the incident got me thinking the past twenty years or so: has there ever been a case where a relatively high-profile performer has been murdered during a live public performance? (Brandon Lee doesn’t count; that was an accident and was done on a closed set.)
Wrong on both accounts, Splanky. Lennon was shot outside his apartment building, The Dakota, after returning from a recording studio where he had been mixing singles from his latest album.
Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix caused when some McGill students met him backstage in his dressing room following a performance in Montreal. Houdini challenged one to punch him as hard as he could in the stomach as a test of strength. Houdini, not fully ready, winced at the blow, and experienced increasing pains that led to his collapse a week later.
The visiting student backstage in Montreal, whose last name was Gordon asked Houdini if he could punch him in the stomach. Harry who was reading his mail and talking to the students at the same time didn’t catch what the kid said. He turned to him and said " Yes, what?’ The kid punched him with alarming speed as soon as he heard “yes…”. Later after Houdini’s death, American police asked the Canadian police to question Gordon. They did so and it was declared an accidental death. Gordon returned to his home in Vancouver and disappeared from history.
Actor/comedian Redd Foxx underwent a heart attack on the set of The Royal Family, a new sitcom he was to appear in. Best known for his curmudgeonly role in Sanford and Son, this time it really was the big one, Elizabeth.
Brandon Lee (died 31 March 1993)
A stunt gone wrong during the filming of The Crow cost the son of Bruce Lee his life. A blank fired from a .44 magnum revolver felled him. He died hours later in hospital. The metal tip of one of the dummy bullets had somehow pulled loose from its brass casing. When the dummies were unloaded and replaced with blanks, the metal tip remained behind in the gun’s cylinder. As soon as the blank went off, its explosive force propelled the dummy tip through the gun barrel – and into Lee’s body.
Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed on the set of the Twilight Zone movie. The director and others were brought up on negligent homicide charges.
Dick Shawn (Sylvester in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and LSD in The Producers) died on stage during a performance. From what I’ve heard tell, his brand of comedy was a bit strange. When he died, the people in the audience cheered, thinking it was part of the act.
Pearl White–the star of the silent movie serial The Perils of Pauline and I believe this was repeated when the woman who was making the film about Pearl White in the late 1960s died during the shoot about Ms. White.
While not exactly “on stage” - They both were on location during a session of shooting.
TV Time, there was no screen biography of Pearl White in the 1960s, although there was a remake of her silent movie The Perils of Pauline in 1967. Perhaps you are thinking of this incident, as reported in White’s biography in the Internet Movie Database: