Life sometimes seems as though it’s loaded with chilling coincidences that could only emanate from some kind of “curse” handed down on unsuspecting victims—no matter how rich, powerful, and/or famous they may appear.
With that in mind, nowhere does such apparent hexing loom so hauntingly as it does in massive show business misfortune and top-tier celebrity tragedies.
So don your most powerful charms and recite whatever protection spells you can, and join us we explore the eeriest and most inexplicable curses to ever haunt Hollywood and petrify popular culture.
Death Haunts The Dark Knight
The 2008 Batman saga The Dark Knight is not only the most acclaimed superhero movie of all time, it’s also the single comic book film most surrounded by unexpected tragedies.
First, in the course of filming, stuntman Conway Wickliffe, 41, died. Heath Ledger, who would redefine his career in his Oscar-winning role as The Joker, succumbed suddenly to a drug addiction he’d kept hidden just a few months before The Dark Knight’s release. A month after the film opened, co-star Morgan Freeman was traveling in a car that flipped over on a Mississippi Highway.
Most horrific, of course, was the mass shooting perpetrated at a midnight opening show of the movie’s 2012 follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises.
A Pox on Poltergeist
Poltergeist is one of the best-loved fright franchises in all of cinema. It’s also one of the most plagued by weird fatalities.
Just five months after the first film opened, Dominique Dunn, who played the teen daughter, was strangled to death by her boyfriend. She was only 22.
Julian Beck, who created a horror villain for the ages as Reverend Henry Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died from stomach cancer at 60 before the movie even came out.
In 1988, Heather O’Rourke, who played series icon Carol-Anne, died at just age 12 from a misdiagnosed intestinal ailment.
Richard Lawson, battled evil as a one of the paranormal experts in the original Poltergeist, just barely survived a plane crash in 1992 that killed 27 others.
Finally (so far), in 2009 an ex-convict slaughtered cast member Lou Perryman, 67, with an axe in the actor’s own home.
The Man of Steel seems to be a super-magnet when it comes to misery and misfortune on a mighty scale.
To begin with, teenaged Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold all future rights to the character and his universe (the details of which were also theirs), and thus never properly benefitted from their world-changing work. Only fan outcry got them a stipend from DC Comics, the empire of which was built upon Superman, much later in their lives.
The actors who have most notably taken on the character have suffered even worse fates. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV, committed suicide in 1959 at age 44, although speculation has long persisted that perhaps his death involved some other foul play. Christopher Reeve, star of the Superman movies, fell from a horse in 1994 and became quadriplegic. He died 12 years later, at 52.
The Superman curse is thought to have spread to other actors who were simply around the character, including Marlon Brando, who played Superman’s father and died just four months before Christopher Reeve; Margot Kidder, who famously portrayed Lois Lane in the movies, suffered from mental illness and public breakdowns; and Richard Pryor, who co-starred in Superman III, immediately went into career decline and announced three years later he’d been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Even Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher, took her own tragic turn. Although she did not smoke, Dana died at 44 in 2006 from lung cancer.
Like Father, Like Son, Like Scary: Bruce and Brandon Lee
Martial arts superstar Bruce Lee notoriously fell victim to “death by misadventure” in 1973. He was 32, at the peak of his career, and poised for Hollywood superstardom, dying just six days before the premiere of his first mainstream blockbuster, Enter the Dragon.
20 years later, Brandon Lee—Bruce’s son—died from a prop gun mishap on a movie set. As with his father, Brandon’s star was rocketing toward huge success and his first major Hollywood production, The Crow, would be released after his death.
The coincidence of these dual tragedies is unnerving enough. It gets weirder, though.
Bruce Lee’s second posthumously released film, Game of Death (1978), depicts the star surviving a gunshot wound on the set of a film.
The 1993 biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story contains a scene of the action sensation dreaming about a demon that only stops pursuing him once it turns its attention to Bruce’s young son. Brandon died while Dragon was in post-production.
The Ominous Omen
The Omen scarily depicts the unleashing of the Antichrist upon humanity, and it’s also rumored to have let loose quite a devilish air of evil on its cast and creators.
During filming, star Gregory Peck and screenwriter David Seltzer flew on two separate plans that were dramatically struck by lighting. Executive Producer Mace Neufeld was also on board a third plane that just barely missed severe lightning damage. A fourth plane, used to get aerial footage, crashed while rented out to another client, killing everyone on board.
The IRA bombed director Richard Donner’s hotel. A lion mauled an animal handler after The Omen’s zoo scene. Dogs attacked other animal handlers during a cemetery shoot. Gregory Peck’s son committed suicide. On the very first day of filming, several crew members got banged up in a head-on car crash.
The eeriest Omen-related occurrence, though, happened the following year when special effects director John Richardson and his assistant Liz Moore—who created The Omen’s notorious beheading scene—suffered a car wreck in which Moore was decapitated. On top of that, the accident took place on Friday the 13th.
James Dean’s Deadly Porsche
Hollywood icon James Dean died on September 30, 1955 after his Porsche Spyder, nicknamed “Little Bastard,” slammed head on into another vehicle. Dean’s passenger and the other driver walked away from the debris. With that, a show business legend—and curse—was born.
Master car customizer George Barris purchased Little Bastard after the wreck. The Porsche immediately fell on top of one of Barris’s mechanics, breaking the man’s legs.
During an amateur race at the Pomona Fair Grounds in 1956, two physicians, each driving cars that contained parts from Little Bastard, suffered crashes. One hit a tree and was killed. The other, whose car rolled over, suffered serious long-term injuries.
In 1960, someone (or something) stole Little Bastard and the car has been unaccounted for, ever since. Watch out on those California roads!
Atuk Attacks: Hollywood’s Most Sinister Script
Atuk is the name of a screenplay about an Inuit warrior from Alaska (the title character) who must cope with suddenly being transplanted to New York City. Every actor who has attempted to take on the larger-than-life role ended up dying young and tragically.
First, Saturday Night Live star John Belushi was up for the part when he overdosed in 1982. Six years later, screaming comic Sam Kinison actually began shooting the movie before he stormed off the set and shut down production. Kinison died in a car accident in 1992.
The Atuk script next made its way to John Candy in 1993. Within a year, Candy succumbed to ongoing health issues. Finally, Chris Farley agreed to don the furs as Atuk, but he, too, OD’d in 1997. Adding strangeness to the Farley connection is that Phil Hartman was slated to co-star, shortly before his wife murdered him in 1998.
The Plague of Posing for Playboy
In 2016, Playboy magazine ceased publishing nude photos of female models. What had been the periodical’s main attraction for decades apparently no longer sold copies, but the subject of “the Playboy curse” will endure forever.
A total of 25 celebrated Playboy posers have died before age 50, and many under unusual circumstances. The hex begins with the very first “Playmate,” Hollywood superstar supreme Marilyn Monroe, who overdosed in 1962, setting off conspiracy theories that continue to arose suspicion.
Among the other most famous centerfolds taken down before 50 are Eisenhower bombshell Jayne Mansfield, who died in a 1967 car wreck after cavorting with the Church of Satan; Eve Meyer, a 1955 model, who was one of 550 killed in by two planes colliding in 1977; 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, whose head was blown off with a shotgun by her ex-husband who then violated her corpse; and Anna Nicole Smith, who finally overdosed on drugs at 34 in 2007 after an ongoing public meltdown.
Still, there are more. Tonya Crews, Carol Willis, and 1970 Playmate of the Year Claudia Jennings were all killed by auto wrecks while still in their twenties. Willy Rey OD’d at 23 in 1973; Elisa Bridges followed sad suit at 28 in 2002. Ellen Maligo, who appeared in the magazine as Star Stowe, was murdered in Florida in 1997.
Perhaps Playboy knew what it was doing when it discontinued naked pictures….
The Kennedy Curse
While the United States officially has no royal family, we do have the Kennedys. And, as with kings and queens and nobility from time immemorial, our most publicly celebrated bloodline is rife with weird tragedies.
Most famously, President John F. Kennedy was slain by an endlessly debated assassin’s bullets in 1963. His brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, was assassinated five years later while campaigning for president. Younger sibling Teddy Kennedy, who considered going for the top office several times, never made it at least in part because of a tragedy on Chappaquiddick Island in which the car he was driving crashed off a bridge, killing passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Teddy left the scene of the accident and didn’t report it for nine hours.
Death and destruction seems to have hunted down the family since then. Edward Kennedy, Jr.—Teddy’s son—lost a leg to cancer at age 12. Michael Kennedy, Robert’s son, died at 39 as a result of a freak skiing accident. John F. Kennedy, Jr. died at 38 after a plane he was piloting to his cousin’s wedding crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The 27 Club
Music superstars who die too young and too often by self-destructive means tend to do so at age 27. It’s true and it’s uncanny.
In 1938, blues giant Robert Johnson, long rumored to have cut a deal with the devil for his superhuman musical abilities, died from uncertain circumstances and unofficially opened the crypt door to The 27 Club. Pop and rock stars have been marching into it ever since.
Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones drowned in 1969. He was 27. Between September 1970 and July 1971, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all died from chemical overindulgence. Each of those geniuses was age 27.
Two of the most important superstars and visionaries of modern music also did themselves in at 27: Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in 1994 and peerless singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse in 2011.
Among the other members of The 27 Club are the Grateful Dead’s Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (1973), Badfinger leader Pete Ham (1975), Big Star’s Chris Bell (1978), Minutemen guitarist and vocalist D. Boon (1985), Gits singer Mia Zapata (1993), and Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff (1994).
If you’re a music sensation and you make it to 28, well, at least you can rest a little bit easier. For now….
And let’s not forget all the weird stuff that goes down at the Grammys…