10 Bizarre Celebrity Deaths

By: Jack Sackman

Nothing seems to capture people’s attention like the death of a well-known celebrity. And when the celebrity dies in a bizarre way or under suspicious circumstances, people pay even more attention. News channels, websites and Twitter feeds go crazy with every development involving a celebrity death. From Princess Diana to Whitney Houston and everyone in-between. People love to follow the reasons why a famous celebrity has died. And with no end in sight to strange celebrity deaths, we look at 10 truly bizarre celebrity deaths that still make people shake their heads to this day.


10. Michael Jackson

Everything about Michael Jackson’s life was pretty bizarre—the Neverland Ranch, complete with an amusement park in the backyard, his monkey companion named “Bubbles,” sleeping in an oxygen tent, purchasing the remains of the Elephant Man, the whole skin whitening thing. We could go on. So it should come as no surprise that Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 at age 50 was as bizarre as everything else associated with the self-proclaimed “King of Pop.” In need of rest and sleep while preparing for a series of comeback concerts, Michael Jackson was given the powerful anesthetic Propofol to help him sleep by his personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray. However, the Propofol proved to be too powerful and it led to Michael Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009. Dr. Conrad Murray was subsequently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011. That the death occurred as Michael Jackson seemed on the cusp of a comeback made the whole affair that much more bizarre.

9. Sonny Bono

The ex-husband of Cher and the writer behind the classic song “I Got You Babe,” became a U.S. Congressman and was leading a successful political career in 1998 when he died after skiing into a tree while on vacation in Lake Tahoe. Age 62 at the time, Sonny Bono seemed perfectly fine when, for no apparent reason, he skied off a trail and into a tree. More strange, Sonny Bono’s wife at the time, Mary Bono, took over his Congressional seat and then blamed the skiing accident on Sonny Bono having an alleged addiction to prescription drugs. However, the coroner found no evidence of any drugs in Sonny Bono’s system at the time of his death.

8. William Holden

Actor William Holden starred is many classic Hollywood movies, including Sunset Boulevard, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild Bunch, The Towering Inferno and Network, to name only a few. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for the 1953 film Stalag 17. He was also a notorious drinker, which contributed to his bizarre death at age 63. On November 12, 1981, William Holden was alone and drunk in his apartment in Santa Monica, California, when he slipped on a rug, cut his forehead on a bedside table and then slowly bled to death. His body was found four days later and the coroner ruled that William Holden could have easily lived had he been sober enough to call for help after cutting his head. In a strange twist, at the time of his death, William Holden was dating actress Stephanie Powers, who then starred on the television show Hart to Hart with actor Robert Wagner. A little more than two weeks after William Holden died, Robert Wagner’s then wife, Natalie Wood, also died under bizarre circumstances after falling off a yacht on November 29, 1981—leaving both stars of Hart to Hart in mourning.

7. Steve Irwin

Known to television audiences as the “The Crocodile Hunter,” Steve Irwin was a larger-than-life wildlife expert from Australia who regularly stuck his face near the jaws of crocodiles, sharks and a host of other dangerous creatures. In fact, getting close to deadly animals in the wild was Steve Irwin’s shtick, and it endeared him to a generation of kids and their parents. So it seemed bizarre when Steve Irwin was killed in 2006 after being stung in the heart by a stingray barb while filming an underwater documentary titled Ocean’s Deadliest. People said the stingray strike was literally a one in a million occurrence that could likely not be replicated again. In fact, Steve Irwin’s death is believed to be the only fatality from a stingray ever captured on video tape. Crikey!


6. Carl Switzer (aka Alfalfa)

As a child, Carl Switzer played the original Alfalfa in the Our Gang short films and later on the Little Rascals television show. The childhood character of Alfalfa is ingrained in people’s memories, and beloved along with other Little Rascals such as Spanky, Porky, Darla and Buckwheat. So it was quite shocking when Carl Switzer was murdered in 1959 at the age of 31. As an adult, Carl Switzer appeared in minor roles in films (he is the guy who opens the gym floor above a swimming pool in It’s A Wonderful Life) and also became a dog breeder and hunting guide. In a bizarre series of events, Carl Switzer was shot to death in the groin on January 21, 1959, over an argument involving $50 that Carl Switzer felt he was owed for training a hunting dog. Weirdly, the man who shot Carl Switzer, Moses Samuel Stiltz, was found not guilty of murder as the shooting took place at Moses Samuel Stiltz’s house and Carl Switzer was considered a trespasser at the time of the shooting. The killing was ruled “self-defence” by a judge. Stranger still, Carl Switzer was killed on the same day that legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille died, and his death received only minor attention in the media.

5. Dar Robinson

Dar Robinson was a legendary stuntman who broke 19 world records and set 21 world’s firsts in stunts, which included jumping off the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, in 1980. Dar Robinson also invented the “Decelerator,” a dragline cable, rather than an airbag, for stunts that involved jumping from high places. The Decelerator allowed cameraman to film a top-down view of a stuntman as he fell without showing an airbag on the ground. Dar Robinson did stunts for hugely popular television shows and movies in the 1970s and 1980s including Magnum Force, Rollerball, The Fall Guy and To Live and Die In L.A. One of the last movies that Dar Robinson worked on was Lethal Weapon, which is dedicated to his memory. And in his entire career, Dar Robinson never broke one bone in his body. So it was bizarre in 1986 when Dar Robinson accidentally drove his motorcycle off a cliff while filming a stunt for the movie Million Dollar Mystery. An inquest into the death ruled that Dar Robinson accidentally hit the motorcycles accelerator rather than the brake, causing it to launch off the cliff.

4. John Denver

He sang sweet songs about Rocky Mountain highs and sunshine on his shoulders, and those sweet melodies made John Denver a leader of the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s. He was also a conservationist and political activist who fought to preserve nature from corporate development. John Denver was also an experienced pilot with nearly 3,000 hours of flight under his belt. So it was bizarre on October 12, 1997, when John Denver flew his personal airplane out over the Pacific Ocean until the fuel ran out and it crashed into the sea, killing him instantly. More bizarre was the fact that John Denver’s pilot’s license was suspended at the time of his death, following a series of drunk driving convictions. With his second marriage on the rocks at the time of his death, there was media speculation that John Denver committed suicide. However, an inquest into his death ruled it an accident and said the fuel in the experimental Rutan Long-EZ aircraft was accidentally discharged by John Denver, who was still learning how to fly the plane at the time he died.

3. Spalding Gray

Although not widely known, Spalding Gray was a character actor and fixture on the New York theater scene in the 1980s and 1990s. He had supporting parts in movies such as The Killing Fields and Beaches. However, Spalding Gray died in a rather bizarre manner. After seeing the Tim Burton film Big Fish with his two sons, Spalding Gray brought his boys home and then took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry where he jumped off the side into New York’s East River and committed suicide on January 11, 2004. Spalding Gray was initially reported missing and was even the subject of an episode of the TV show America’s Most Wanted, before his body was pulled from the East River by two fishermen. No explanation was given for Spalding Gray’s suicide other than that he had been struggling to overcome injuries he suffered in a car crash in Ireland in 2001. People on the Staten Island Ferry who saw the actor just before his death reported that he seemed happy and content.

2. Jeff Buckley

A now legendary singer-songwriter who was viewed in the music press as the next big thing in American rock, Jeff Buckley released only one album before his bizarre death at the young age of 30. The album Grace, released by Jeff Buckley in 1994, is considered one of the best of the rock cannon, and Rolling Stone magazine has labeled Jeff Buckley one of the best singers ever. Sadly, Jeff Buckley died on May 29, 1997, in Memphis, Tennessee, while swimming in a channel of the Mississippi River. While singing the Led Zeppelin song “Whole Lotta Love,” Jeff Buckley jumped into the river wearing all of his clothes and boots. He never emerged, and his body was found in the nearby Wolf River Harbor two days later. No drugs or alcohol were found in Jeff Buckley’s system and his death was ruled an accident. Ironically, Jeff Buckley had arrived in Memphis earlier the day he died to record the follow-up to his only album Grace.


1. Sam Cooke

Another all-time great singer, Sam Cooke is responsible for hit songs such as “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Wonderful World” and “Twisting The Night Away.” In fact, Sam Cooke had thirty Top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964. He even had three Top 40 hits after he died. Unfortunately, Sam Cooke died under truly bizarre circumstances in 1964 at the age of 33. Sam Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles after running into the hotel’s front office stark naked, drunk out of his mind and screaming that his clothes had been stolen. Sam Cooke had apparently checked into the dive motel earlier that evening with a prostitute who stole Sam Cooke’s wallet once he was drunk, as well as most of his clothes, in the belief that it would prevent him from running after her. An inebriated Sam Cooke ran to the motel manager’s office wearing only a sports jacket and one shoe and nothing else. He confronted the manager, named Bertha Franklin, and demanded to know where the woman he was with was located. Bertha Franklin responded by shooting Sam Cooke in the heart. After several inquiries, the shooting was ruled “justifiable homicide.” The last words Sam Cooke uttered: “Lady, you shot me.”