Special Report

37 Violent Celebrity Deaths

Michael Ochs Archives / Moviepix via Getty Images

It’s shocking and oftentimes life-changing when a family member or close friend dies violently. For a celebrity, dying a violent death can be the awful price to pay for fame.

To assemble a list of famous people who died violently, 24/7 Tempo reviewed information from Biography, Newsweek, Encyclopedia Britannica, and other media sources. Politicians, royalty, and celebrities whose bodies were never found were excluded, as were people who became famous for the way they were killed rather than for their pre-death accomplishments. 

Many of the celebrities on this list were victims of gun violence. Others were beaten, stabbed. or strangled to death. Still other famous individuals were killed in plane crashes or car accidents. 

Among the many disturbing aspects of these celebrity tragedies is that so many died so young. The youngest on the list was 10-year-old actress Judith Barsi, who was murdered by her abusive father. Other famous people who died before they were 30 years old include singers Aaliyah and Selena and actress Dorothy Stratten. (These are 30 famous people died on their birthdays.)  

Singer Christina Grimmie, musician John Lennon, and actress Rebecca Schaeffer were shot by obsessive fans. Silent-movie star Ramon Novarro, “Boyz N Hood” actor Lloyd Avery II, and French actress Marie Trintignant were beaten to death. Actresses Dominique Dunn and Karyn Kupcinet died by strangulation at the start of their respective careers. Actors Sharon Tate, Sal Mineo, and David Huffman were stabbed to death. (Here is a list of 30 famous musicians who were murdered.)

Click here to see 37 violent celebrity deaths

Celebrities who met their fates in transit included humorist Will Rogers, actress Carole Lombard, and singer Buddy Holly who died in plane crashes. Car accidents claimed the lives of actors James Dean and Jayne Mansfield.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Will Rogers
> Death date: Aug. 15, 1935
> Cause of death: Plane crash

America’s most famous humorist, Rogers was a vaudeville performer, cowboy, silent-film actor, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. An advocate of aviation, Rogers flew with noted aviator Wiley Post to Alaska seeking story ideas for his column. Post’s Lockheed Orion-Explorer crashed about 15 outside of Point Barrow.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Carole Lombard
> Death date: Jan. 6, 1942
> Cause of death: Plane crash

Carole Lombard was famous for starring in screwball comedies in the 1930s and 1940s. Among her more notable movies were the “Twentieth Century” and her Oscar-nominated appearance in “My Man Godfrey.” She was returning to California after appearing at a war bond rally in her home state of Indiana when her plane crashed outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. All aboard perished.

James Dean
> Death date: Sept. 30, 1955
> Cause of death: Car crash

James Dean personified youth’s resistance to authority in film roles such as “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant.” His meteoric career was cut short when the Porsche Spyder he was driving hit another car on a road Cholame, California, and Dean, 24, was killed. The nature of his death combined with his onscreen brooding persona, made him into a cult figure.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer
> Death date: Jan. 21, 1959
> Cause of death: Shooting

One of the stars of the beloved Our Gang comedy shorts in the 1930s, Switzer stayed in motion pictures after he aged out of children’s comedies, but found limited film work and had to take odd jobs. He was shot to death over a money dispute.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Buddy Holly
> Death date: Feb. 3, 1959
> Cause of death: Plane crash

A pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll from Lubbock, Texas, Holly and his band, the Crickets, topped the charts with the single “That’ll Be the Day” and had a No. 3 with “Peggy Sue.” Before their appearance in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed in a cornfield five miles northwest of Mason City killing the 22-year-old Holly, the pilot, and musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Karyn Kupcinet
> Death date: Nov. 28, 1963
> Cause of death: Strangulation

Karyn Kupcinet, the daughter of respected Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet and his wife, Essee, was a 22-year-old actress trying to build a career in Hollywood in late 1963. She appeared on the television series “Death Valley Days,” “Hawaiian Eye,” and “The Donna Reed Show.” The younger Kupcinet was found strangled to death in her apartment on Thanksgiving Day. The crime remains unsolved.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Sam Cooke
> Death date: Dec. 11, 1964
> Cause of death: Shooting

One of the singers who popularized soul music, Sam Cooke wrote and performed such hits as “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away,” as well as the civil rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke was shot to death in Los Angeles by the manager of the motel where he was staying. The manager claimed self-defense.

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

Jayne Mansfield
>Death date: June 29, 1967
>Cause of death: Car crash

Jayne Mansfield was a sex symbol of the 1950s and 1960s known for publicity stunts that featured her figure. She appeared in the films “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and “Playgirl After Dark,” among others. On the way to a television interview in New Orleans, Mansfield, her driver, and her boyfriend were killed when their car slammed into a stopped truck. Three of her children sitting in the back suffered slight injuries but survived. One of the children is “Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Ramon Novarro
> Death date: Oct. 30, 1968
> Cause of death: Beating

Ramon Novarro was a silent-film star whose Latin looks got him inevitably compared with Rudolph Valentino. His most famous role was the title character in “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.” His career faded in the 1930s as talking motion pictures took over the industry. A long battle with alcoholism also hurt his career. He was beaten to death by two hustlers who broke into his home believing he had thousands of dollars stashed away.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Moviepix via Getty Images

Sharon Tate
> Death date: Aug. 9, 1969
> Cause of death: Stabbing

After making appearances in Italian films, Sharon Tate came to Hollywood and appeared in television series such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” She achieved American film stardom with her role in “Valley of the Dolls” in 1967. Two years later, the 26-year-old actress, married to director Roman Polanski and pregnant with her first child, was murdered along with four others by three followers of Charles Manson.

Pier Paolo Pasolini
> Death date: Nov. 2, 1975
> Cause of death: Run over

Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian filmmaker who was killed by his driver, who rebuffed Pasolini’s sexual advances, beat him with a wooden leg of a table, and then drove over him with a car. The movie “Pasolini,” starring Willem Dafoe and directed by Abel Ferrara, deals with the director’s last day of his life.

Sal Mineo
> Death date: Feb. 12, 1976
> Cause of death: Stabbing

Sal Mineo grew up tough in the Bronx, but managed to forge an acting career that included Oscar-nominated roles in the films “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Exodus.” Mineo also appeared in crime-themed television series such as “Ellery Queen,” “Police Story,” “Columbo,” and “Harry O.” As he was returning home from a play rehearsal in Los Angeles, he was attacked and stabbed to death by a stranger.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Danny Lockin
> Death date: Aug. 21, 1977
> Cause of death: Stabbing

Actor and dancer Danny Lockin is best known for his appearance in the film musicals “Gypsy” and “Hello, Dolly!” and stage versions of “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music.” Lockin was stabbed over 100 times by a man he met at a bar in California.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

John Lennon
> Death date: Dec. 8, 1980
> Cause of death: Shooting

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the most successful songwriting team in the 1960s when The Beatles dominated the pop music scene. After a fitful solo career and a turbulent private life, Lennon appeared to have found his artistic footing and domestic tranquility before Mark David Chapman shot him outside his apartment in New York City

Dorothy Stratten
> Death date: Aug. 14, 1980
> Cause of death: Shooting

Canadian-born Dorothy Stratten was discovered at a Vancouver Dairy Queen by promoter Paul Snider who convinced her to pose for Playboy, after which her career took off. Stratten married Snider but fell in love with director Peter Bogdanovich while making the film “Galaxina.” Snider, overcome by jealousy, shot Stratten to death and then committed suicide. Stratten’s brief life has been the subject of books and movies, including the film “Star 80.”

Dominique Dunne
> Death date: Oct 30, 1982
> Cause of death: Strangulation

Dominique Dunne, daughter of actor and writer Dominick Dunne and niece of author Joan Didion, gained fame as the oldest daughter in the horror film “Poltergeist.” She became involved in an abusive relationship with John Thomas Sweeney, the chef at the popular Los Angeles restaurant Ma Maison. After she tried breaking up with him, he went to her house, dragged her outside, and strangled her, leaving her brain-dead. Dunn was put on life support and died five days later.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Marvin Gaye
> Death date: April 1, 1984
> Cause of death: Shooting

Marvin Gaye recorded some of soul music’s greatest songs, such as “Can I Get a Witness,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” the politically themed “What’s Going On,” and the love anthem “Let’s Get It on.” Gaye had problems with substance abuse and depression for much of his life. After his last tour, he moved in with parents. He and his father fought often and finally his father shot him to death during an altercation.

Alan Berg
> Death date: June 18, 1984
> Cause of death: Shooting

Outspoken liberal talk-show host Alan Berg, whose Denver-based radio show gained a large following in the early 1980s and provoked many death threats, was gunned down in his driveway in Colorado. Three suspects in Berg’s murder – including one who was a leader of a neo-Nazi organization called The Order – were arrested about a year later. One suspect, Bruce Pierce, was convicted of shooting Berg. Berg’s story inspired the Oliver Stone film “Talk Radio.”

Source: Courtesy of Prism Entertainment Corporation

David Huffman
> Death date: Feb. 27, 1985
> Cause of death: Stabbing

Actor David Huffman, who appeared in the movies “F.I.S.T.” and “The Onion Field,” was stabbed to death by Genaro Samano Villanueva when Huffman tried to stop him from burglarizing a motorhome in a canyon of Balboa Park in San Diego. Huffman was appearing in the stage production ″Of Mice And Men″ at the Old Globe Theater in the park.

Susan Cabot
> Death date: Dec. 10, 1986
> Cause of death: Beating

Susan Cabot appeared in Westerns in the 1950s such as “Tomahawk,” “Ride Clear of Diablo,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Fort Massacre.” She had a difficult relationship with her son, who had dwarfism. The medications he took to boost his growth took a mental toll on him, and he beat her to death, claiming self-defense.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Judith Barsi
> Death date: July 25, 1988
> Cause of death: Shooting

Child actress Judith Barsi (“The Land Before Time,” “All Dogs Go to Heaven”) never got a chance to be a grown-up star. Her verbally and physically abusive come alcoholic father murdered the 10-year-old and her mother before committing suicide.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Rebecca Schaeffer
> Death date: July 18, 1989
> Cause of death: Shooting

Rebecca Schaeffer was a teen model and actress who appeared on the soap opera “One Life to Live” and co-starred with Pam Dawber in the TV sitcom “My Sister Sam.” Schaeffer was stalked by a mentally unstable man named Robert John Bardo, who found her address through a detective agency and shot her to death. The slaying of Schaeffer led to the passage of legislation in California and other states and municipalities aimed at preventing stalking.

Source: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Andrés Escobar
> Death date: July 2, 1994
> Cause of death: Shooting

Colombian soccer player Andrés Escobar, nicknamed “the gentleman of football,” scored an own goal for the United States during the 1994 World Cup tournament in Colombia’s 2-1 loss that in effect eliminated the team from the competition. After he returned to Colombia, drug dealers shot the 27-year-old Escobar to death outside a nightclub in Medellín. The nation and the soccer world were outraged. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people attended Escobar’s funeral.

Source: L. Busacca / Contributor / Getty Images

Selena
> Death date: March 31, 1995
> Cause of death: Shooting

Selena, born Selena Quintanilla Perez, was known as the the “undisputed queen of Tejano music,” a style of Mexican-American music. The 23-year-old star was shot to death by Yolanda Saldivar, who claimed to be her biggest fan and was the president of her fan club. Her open casket was viewed by as many as 60,000 at an auditorium in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Source: Archive Photos / Moviepix via Getty Images

Tupac Shakur
> Death date: Sept. 13, 1996
> Cause of death: Shooting

Tupac Shakur, the hip-hop star from New York City, was gunned down in Las Vegas in a drive-by shooting. Shakur’s death was a tragic episode in the “East Coast vs. West Coast” feud that was detailed in the 2002 documentary “Biggie and Tupac.” Films such as “Tupac: Resurrection” have brought his music to fans who were too young to have seen him.

Notorious B.I.G.
> Death date: March 9, 1997
> Cause of death: Shooting

Gangsta rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G., was slain in a car in Los Angeles, in another murder that was thought to be connected to the war between rap music artists from the East and West coasts. His slaying occurred six months after rapper Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Wallace’s death came weeks before his album “Life After Death,” was scheduled to be released.

Source: Leonardo Cendamo / Contributor / Getty Images

Gianni Versace
> Death date: July 15, 1997
> Cause of death: Shooting

Famed Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot to death outside his Miami home by Andrew Cunanan, who had killed four people beginning in the spring of 1997 before murdering Versace. Just over a week after Versace’s murder, Cunanan was found dead on a houseboat in Miami, apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Phil Hartman
> Death date: May 28, 1998
> Cause of death: Shooting

“Saturday Night Live” alum Phil Hartman was shot to death at his Los Angeles home by his third wife, Brynn Omdahl, who then turned the gun on herself. Omdahl, who had been an aspiring model, reportedly had a quick temper and for much of her adult life battled alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Aaliyah
> Death date: Aug. 25, 2001
> Cause of death: Plane crash

Aaliyah was an R&B singer who signed her first recording contract at age 12. She scored five top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including the No. 1 “Try Again.” Aaliyah was branching out into movies and was scheduled to appear in sequels to the mega-hit sci-fi thriller “The Matrix.” She had a legion of fans and her death at age 22 elevated her to cult status.

Source: Matthew Peyton / Getty Images

Jam Master Jay
> Death date: Oct. 30, 2002
> Cause of death: Shooting

Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizell, was a member of the pioneering rapp group Run-D.M.C. Their 1987 release “King of Rock” was hip-hop’s first platinum album. Jay was gunned down in his studio in the Hollis section of Queens. The case had been unsolved for almost two decades until August 2020, when federal prosecutors charged Karl Jordan Jr. and Ronald Washington with the murder, saying the killing was in retribution for a cocaine deal gone bad.

Marie Trintignant
> Death date: Aug. 1, 2003
> Cause of death: Beating

Marie Trintignant came from one of French cinema’s best-known film families and appeared in 30 movies, such as “Une Affaire de Femme” and “Betty.” The 41-year-old mother of four was allegedly beaten into a coma by her boyfriend, French rock star Bertrand Cantat, while they were in Vilnius, Lithuania, and she died in a clinic in Neuilly, France. Cantat was sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released after four years and returned to recording music.

Source: Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty Images

Dimebag Darrell
> Death date: Dec. 8, 2004
> Cause of death: Shooting

Heavy metal guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three other people were killed by a fan, former Columbus police officer Nathan Gale, during a show by Abbott’s band Damageplan at a Columbus nightclub. Gale allegedly blamed Abbott for breaking up his former band, Pantera, a year earlier. Gale was himself killed by a police officer.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Lloyd Avery II
> Death date: Sept. 5, 2005
> Cause of death: Beating and strangulation

Life imitated art for Lloyd Avery II. He played a triggerman in the John Singleton film “Boyz N the Hood.” Shortly after the movie came out, Avery descended into a life of crime and ended up in Pelican Bay State Prison after he was convicted of murder. Avery was beaten and strangled by his cellmate.

Adrienne Shelly
> Death date: Nov. 1, 2006
> Cause of death: Hanging

Actress Adrienne Shelly appeared in independent films such as in “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust” before turning to writing and directing movies. She was found hanging at her Greenwich Village apartment in an apparent suicide. Her family and the police had their doubts, especially after the police found an unexplained footprint in her bathroom. That footprint belonged to a construction worker who investigators said confessed to the killing.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Cristie Schoen Codd
> Death date: March 12, 2015
> Cause of death: Dismemberment

Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd, her husband, and their unborn child were killed at their North Carolina home. The killer was Robert Jason Owens, a home contractor who worked for the Codds. He had car trouble and allegedly accidentally ran them both over. He tried to cover up the accident by dismembering and burning their bodies. An investigation at their home turned up the family’s remains. Owens was sentenced to up to 74.5 years in prison without possibility of parole.

Source: Vivien Killilea / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Christina Grimmie
> Death date: June 10, 2016
> Cause of death: Shooting

Christina Grimmie, a singer on the television performance show “The Voice,” was shot to death during a performance in Orlando by Kevin Loibl, who was obsessed with her. According to a CNN story, Cory Dennington, a friend of Loibl’s, reported that Loibl watched everything about the 22-year-old Grimmie on YouTube and monitored her social media accounts. After shooting Grimmie, Loibl shot himself.

Source: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Nipsey Hussle
> Death date: March 31, 2019
> Cause of death: Shooting

Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was a hip-hop artist and entrepreneur who preached Black community empowerment. He released his major label debut, “Victory Lap,” in 2018. The Grammy-nominated Hussle was shot 11 times by gang member Eric R. Holder Jr. at Hussle’s Los Angeles clothing store after the two had a conversation in which Hussle said there were rumors that Holder had snitched to the police.

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