Michael Massee was filming one of the final scenes of The Crow with Brandon Lee when a prop gun he was using fired a bullet fragment — leaving his co-star dead at the age of just 28.
Michael Massee pulled the trigger. And the man on the other side of the film set collapsed. That’s what was supposed to happen — the two actors were filming a death scene for The Crow in 1993 — but it quickly became clear that the actor that Massee shot, Brandon Lee, was not pretending to be injured.
Something had gone very wrong.
Though the gun that Massee fired was supposed to be safe, it contained a tiny fragment of a bullet — possibly from a dummy round — that embedded itself in Lee’s torso. Lee, the son of martial artist Bruce Lee, died that night. And Michael Massee was forced to live with the consequences ever since.
“What happened to Brandon was a tragic accident,” Massee said in an interview years later. “I don’t think you ever get over something like that.”
This is the story of Michael Massee, the actor best known for his role in the horrific accidental death of Brandon Lee.
Michael Massee Before The Crow
Born on September 1, 1952, in Kansas City, Missouri, Michael Groo Massee spent most of his childhood in Paris, France. After high school, however, Massee returned to the United States.
Somewhere along the way, Massee was bit by the acting bug. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Hunter College, Massee then went on to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.
He was just starting his career as a film actor — The New York Times reports he had only two film roles under his belt by then — when he was cast in The Crow, a dark superhero film that also starred Brandon Lee.
Massee had a small but important part. He would play “Funboy,” a gang member who murders Brandon Lee’s character, Eric Draven. It would forever define Michael Massee’s life.
Brandon Lee’s Death On The Set Of The Crow
On March 30, 1993, Michael Massee and Brandon Lee prepared to film a scene for The Crow that they’d rehearsed a number of times before. It was an important scene and the catalyst for the rest of the plot. Massee’s character shoots and kills Lee’s character and sets up Lee’s rebirth as “The Crow.”
By that time, filming of the movie was almost done — which was a relief for many involved as several bizarre accidents had plagued the set. As The New York Times reported, a disgruntled employee had driven through the studio’s plaster shop, a construction worker had accidentally impaled his own hand with a screwdriver, a storm had damaged the sets, and one of the film’s publicists was injured in a car accident.
Now, there were just a few things left to film, including Lee’s death scene.
In the scene, Lee was supposed to walk through a doorway holding a bag of groceries. Michael Massee, standing 15 feet away, would fire five shots at Lee using a gun filled with blanks. Lee would then activate “squibs” in his bag, which would “bleed” and make it seem like Lee had been actually shot.
But that’s not how things went.
As planned, Massee raised his gun. As planned, he pulled the trigger.
What Massee didn’t know — what no one knew — was that his prop gun contained a piece of a dummy bullet from a previous scene. When Massee fired, a fragment of the dummy shell exploded from the mouth of the gun.
The fragment hit Lee in the torso and severed two of his arteries. Lee collapsed. Just like he was supposed to.
Indeed, no one understood what had happened at first. The 75 to 100 people watching the scene didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until Lee failed to get up.
“It didn’t really appear to the people on the set like anything was wrong,” an eyewitness recalled.
Lee was rushed to the hospital, where doctors tried to stop the bleeding and save his life. But despite their efforts — and the 60 pints of blood transfused into his body — Brandon Lee died at 1:04 p.m. on March 31 at the age of 28.
Under the fog of tragedy, the film was released in May 1994 and became something of a cult classic. But Michael Massee allegedly never watched The Crow. And he would not speak of what happened during filming until 2005.
Michael Massee After Brandon Lee’s Death
In the aftermath of Brandon Lee’s death, Michael Massee withdrew from the acting world. He suffered from nightmares, moved back to New York, and took a long sabbatical to deal with the trauma of the shooting.
Eventually, Massee made his return to Hollywood. He became a well-regarded character actor, performing in stints on TV shows like 24, Rizzoli & Isles, The X-Files, Alias, Supernatural, House, Criminal Minds, and others. Massee also continued acting in films, appearing in Seven (1995), Catwoman (2004), and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
But Massee never forgot what happened on the set of The Crow. And in 2005, he addressed it for the first time in an interview with Extra.
“What happened to Brandon was a tragic accident,” Massee said. “It’s something that I’m going to live with… it’s not that I’ve been avoiding talking about it, it doesn’t seem to me to be relevant to anybody else except the people that were involved.”
Massee continued: “I just took a year off and I went back to New York and didn’t do anything. I didn’t work… It absolutely wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t even supposed to be handling the gun until we started shooting the scene and the director changed it.”
Michael Massee died on Oct. 20, 2016, from stomach cancer at the age of 64. When he died, obituaries naturally referred to what had happened 23 years earlier on the set of The Crow. But Massee’s fellow actors also posted their own goodbyes and tributes, ensuring that Massee was remembered as more than just the man who accidentally killed Brandon Lee.
“My heart is heavy to hear of his passing,” Massee’s Rizzoli & Isles co-star Angie Harmon wrote on Twitter. “He was IMMENSELY talented & had the kindest soul. I am privileged to have known him.”
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