The showbiz world has witnessed some rather strange and unexplained deaths over the years. Here’s a look at 13 celebrities whose tragic passings opened up a Pandora’s box of conspiracy theories.
13. Andy Kaufman
Renowned for his elaborate and increasingly bizarre pranks, it’s perhaps little surprise that comedian Andy Kaufman’s death in 1984 was viewed by some as his biggest hoax. The SNL alum and Taxi star was diagnosed with a rare type of lung cancer shortly before he turned 35; he passed away just six months later. But Kaufman’s previous proclamation about wanting to fake his own death before returning 20 years later has had the rumor mill in overdrive ever since.
Despite Kaufman’s last girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, confirming that she witnessed the star’s death, there continues to be firm reassurances that he’s alive. Most recently, a woman purporting to be his daughter took to the stage at a comedy club in New York and told the audience that Kaufman was, indeed, alive. The stunt was later revealed to be a hoax.
12. David Carradine
Martial arts star David Carradine was found dead in his Bangkok hotel room in 2009, aged 72. The actor – who was in Thailand to shoot horse racing drama Stretch – was discovered hanging naked by a rope, leading police to believe he’d committed suicide. But following two autopsies, the dangerous sexual practice of autoerotic asphyxiation was recorded as the accidental cause of death. One of Carradine’s four ex-wives, however, believed differently.
Despite discussing Carradine’s dark sexual interests in a 2010 memoir, Marina Anderson argued that her ex-husband was murdered, a claim backed up by Carradine’s long-time friend Guthrie Thomas. He asserted, “No one ties both of their hands behind their back previous to taking one’s own life. There had to be a second individual on the scene.”
11. Kurt Cobain
Few celebrity deaths have sparked more rumors than Kurt Cobain’s. Just two months after a failed suicide attempt, the famously troubled Nirvana frontman was found dead at his Lake Washington Boulevard home in 1994. The most famous member of the 27 Club was deemed to have killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head, but speculation has continued to mount about a more sinister scenario.
The amount of heroin found in his system led one doctor to claim that Cobain wouldn’t have been in the functioning state required to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, the lack of his fingerprints on the weapon and doubts over the validity of his suicide note have left many believing that the grunge icon was, in fact, murdered.
10. Pat Tillman
Arizona Cardinals star Pat Tillman made the unusual decision to give up his career in the NFL and join the United States Army in light of the 9/11 terror attacks. And it was a move that ended in tragedy when, in 2004, he became the first professional footballer to lose his life in combat since the Buffalo Bills’ Bob Kalsu in the Vietnam War 34 years previously. However, the circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death in the Afghanistan mountains remain murky.
The Army initially reported that enemy forces had shot Tillman during an ambush. But, alongside members of the Bush administration, they were then accused of covering up what really happened when the Pentagon revealed that the 27-year-old had died as the result of a friendly fire incident.
9. Bob Crane
Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane had received such a brutal, and fatal, beating in 1978 that police officers hardly recognized him when they showed up at the scene. The actor had been bludgeoned to death in his bed by a camera tripod at his Scottsdale apartment, but it took 14 years for the main suspect, Crane’s long-time friend John Carpenter, to face any charges.
Carpenter was tried for first-degree murder when the case re-opened in the early 1990s, but was later acquitted due to inconclusive evidence. His defense team argued that one of the many women Crane had videotaped having sex with could have been responsible, while Crane’s son Robert claimed that his father’s second wife Patricia Olson may have played a part as well.
8. Brandon Lee
Comic book adaptation The Crow was supposed to be the film that established the career of Brandon Lee, son of marital arts legend Bruce. Instead, it was the film that ended his life, when he was fatally shot on set by a pistol that mistakenly contained real bullets. And while it appears to have been a tragic incident, the circumstances surrounding Bruce’s death have inevitably inspired much speculation over his son’s untimely demise.
Bruce Lee had also died in mysterious circumstances 20 years previously when he suffered an allergic reaction to a tranquilizer. A curse on the Lee family and the involvement of the Triads are just two of the conspiracy theories that have been bandied about for the father-son pair’s premature deaths.
7. Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood’s mysterious death in 1981 has raised numerous questions over the years, all of which remain unanswered. The Hollywood actress was initially ruled to have accidentally drowned while boating off Santa Catalina Island with husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken. But the “accidental” part was removed from her cause of death by coroners when the case was reopened in 2011.
One of the reasons for this amendment was boat captain Dennis Davern’s changed testimony, in which he stated that Wood and Wagner had fought on the evening of her death and pointed the finger squarely at the Hart to Hart star. A report also found that bruises found on Wood’s body could also have been sustained before she fell into the water.
6. Jack Nance
With the actor renowned for his work with David Lynch, the story of Jack Nance’s death could easily have been taken from one of the cult auteur’s mind-bending films. The Eraserhead lead was found dead from a subdural hematoma at his South Pasadena apartment in 1996, the day after telling friends that he’d fought with several youths outside a Winchell’s Donuts store.
However, staff at the restaurant claimed that they didn’t see anything on the morning of the apparent fight, and with little other information to go on, his attackers were never found. Some believe that Nance, who had a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of his death, had instead drunkenly hit his head and concocted the story of his donut shop brawl.
5. Brittany Murphy
The film world was left stunned in 2009 when Clueless star Brittany Murphy passed away at her Los Angeles home aged just 32. A coroner’s report stated that the actress had died from pneumonia, with multiple drug intoxication and iron-deficiency anemia also contributing factors. Things then took a turn for the mysterious when Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, lost his life in similar circumstances just five months later.
After initially dismissing the LA County Department of Health’s claims that toxic mold was to blame as nonsense, Murphy’s mother Sharon then went on to file a malpractice lawsuit against the attorneys who had advised her on the matter. Murphy’s father Angelo Bertolotti then commissioned an independent lab report, which suggested that the pair had been deliberately poisoned.
4. Michael Hutchence
The tragedy that has continued to surround Paula Yates’ nearest and dearest began in 1997 when her partner Michael Hutchence was found dead in his room at The Ritz-Carlton in Sydney. An autopsy stated that the charismatic INXS frontman had taken his own life while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. However, Yates – who, like her daughter Peaches Geldof, later died of an accidental heroin overdose – repeatedly dismissed the report.
Indeed, in 1999 the outspoken British TV personality argued that Hutchence might have died accidentally as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation. According to Yates, the Australian star had previously discussed attempting the sexual practice and claimed that he would never have deliberately left her and their young daughter Tiger Lily behind.
3. Marilyn Monroe
On August 5, 1962, Hollywood awoke to the shocking news that one of its biggest stars, Marilyn Monroe, was dead. The silver-screen icon had died of an apparent overdose of prescription drugs in her LA bedroom, at only 36 years old. And yet in the 50 years since her passing was ruled a “probable suicide,” conspiracy theories have not let up, with many claiming that the evidence surrounding her death points to homicide instead.
The murder theorists point to the fact that, despite the high level of drugs in Monroe’s system, no tablets were actually found in her stomach. What’s more, despite the actress’ own physicians testifying that she was frequently depressed, others have combed through therapy tapes and a magazine interview and suggested that it seems she was in a positive frame of mind not long before she died. In fact, speculation about the “true” circumstances surrounding Monroe’s passing eventually became so prevalent that in 1982 a criminal investigation was ordered into her death. And although that concluded that nothing was amiss, more than half a century later the Monroe mystery lives on.
2. Brian Jones
In July 1969 the body of legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones was found in the pool at his English villa. The 27-year-old musician had a long and well-documented history of substance abuse, and both alcohol and drugs were found at the scene, suggesting that Jones may have drowned while incapacitated. But while the coroner duly ruled his passing a death by misadventure, allegations of murder persisted. And the finger was primarily pointed at Frank Thorogood, a builder who had been working at Jones’ home before he died.
In 2008 British investigative journalist Scott Jones publicly called for the Brian Jones case to be reopened, after he claimed to have found new evidence suggesting Thorogood had a hand in Jones’ death. Ultimately, however, authorities decided against reopening the investigation. But rumors persisted, and it was even reported that Thorogood had admitted to the murder just before he died. This conspiracy theory was further bolstered in 2013, when the girlfriend who had discovered Jones’ body told the Daily Mirror that the Rolling Stone had in fact died in a fight with the builder – and that it had all been hushed up for the sake of the band’s reputation.
1. Princess Diana
In August 1997 Princess Diana and her partner Dodi Fayed died when their Mercedes crashed in Paris’ Pont de l’Alma tunnel, following a high-speed chase with the paparazzi. An inquest in 2008 ruled that the couple had killed unlawfully in an accident primarily caused by press vehicles and their driver Henri Paul, who had been under the influence. And yet others – most notably Dodi’s father Mohamed Al-Fayed – have maintained that, in fact, the two were assassinated.
Some, including Fayed, even claim that Paul had secret service connections: among them an ex-MI6 agent, who went so far as to sensationally allege in 1998 that both the driver and one of Diana’s bodyguards had links to British intelligence factions. Others have pointed out that the chauffeur did not appear at all intoxicated on CCTV footage nor, rather inexplicably, did any of the in excess of 14 CCTV devices operating in the Parisian tunnel at the time of the crash catch the accident on camera. In addition, a white car actually collided with the Mercedes before it crashed – but both the vehicle and its driver remain unidentified to this day.