The On-Set Accident That Killed Brandon Lee
Ascendant actor Brandon Lee wanted to be different from his father. Where Bruce Lee had made a name for himself as the lead star of numerous action films, Brandon wanted to star in more serious, dramatic roles.
There’s an unfortunate irony, then, that when he took the lead role in The Crow — an action-packed comic book adaptation — it wound up being his last. Bruce Lee’s death was also at the height of his own career, which only adds another bitter layer to the death of Brandon Lee.
Then, of course, is the final point in the irony triangle — Brandon Lee died while filming a scene in which his character is killed.
The unfortunate accident was the final nail in the coffin for many on set who had said that the film was cursed from the beginning. Indeed, on the first day of shooting, a carpenter working on the production was very nearly electrocuted. Later on, a construction worker accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand. At one point, an agitated sculptor crashed his car through the studio’s backlot.
The incident with Lee, however, was the most grievous.
It was supposed to be a simple scene. The film’s director, Alex Proyas, intended for Lee to walk through a doorway carrying a grocery bag while his costar, Michael Massee, fired blanks at him from 15 feet away.
Lee would then flip a switch fitted to the bag to activate “squibs” — essentially, small fireworks meant to emulate the impact of a gunshot or explosion. The crew had rehearsed the scene several times before without any problems, but when Proyas called action that day, disaster struck.
A dummy bullet had somehow gotten lodged in the Massee’s gun without anyone noticing. When he pulled the trigger to fire at Lee, the dummy bullet dislodged and rocketed towards Lee, striking him in the stomach and severing two arteries.
Lee collapsed on set and was rushed to the hospital, but after a grueling six hours of surgery, he passed away at 1:04 p.m. on March 31, 1993.
The bullet that killed Lee wasn’t real, but the force at which it was fired was comparable to a real bullet’s.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be handling the gun until we started shooting the scene and the director changed it,” Massee said. “I just took a year off and I went back to New York and didn’t do anything. I didn’t work. What happened to Brandon was a tragic accident… I don’t think you ever get over something like that.”
Rumors began to circulate that the footage of Lee’s death was used in the final cut of The Crow. Proyas and the crew have adamantly denied this.
There were also rumors that foul play was involved and Lee’s accident had been intentionally planned by someone on set, but no one has ever been officially held accountable for Lee’s death.
Brandon Lee was set to marry his fiancé Eliza Hutton in Mexico two weeks after the accident. Instead, she sat by his side while the celebrity died in the hospital.