We’ve had more than a few celebrity deaths to contend with over the last couple of years. Talented celebs such as David Bowie, Whitney Houston and Alan Rickman have all passed away relatively recently and their presence on the world stage will be missed for generations to come.
Sometimes the death of a public figure isn’t that shocking, especially when they’ve grown to a ripe old age. But in the past, the world has witnessed some truly surprising celebrity deaths which have sent shock waves throughout the general public.
Often this is because the person in question has been caught up in a terrible accident or even a violent murder, while others have been cruelly snatched away at the height of their fame and success. In the article below, we take a look at 25 celebrity deaths that shocked the world. Scroll down to relive some of the biggest losses to the entertainment industry over the past few decades.
25. Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher was beloved by generations for her iconic portrayal of Princess Leia in Star Wars.
But some people might not realise that she struggled for most of her life with bipolar disorder, as well as a string of addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Fisher wrote about her struggles in many of her books (including Wishful Drinking and Postcards From The Edge) and eventually managed to gain sobriety later in life.
So the world was shocked when Fisher died suddenly at the age of 60 on December 27th, 2016. The actress had been travelling on a plane back to the US when she went into cardiac arrest and passed away shortly after.
Fisher’s family heartache was compounded one day later when Fisher’s famous mother, Debbie Reynolds, died of a stroke at the age of 84.
At the end of 2016, two great legends of the film industry passed away in a matter of mere hours.
24. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana, the grunge rock band.
He rose to prominence in the early 90s for his distinctive voice and controversial songs with titles such as ‘Rape Me’. Nirvana’s album Nevermind was released in 1991 and shot the band to international stardom.
Unfortunately, Cobain struggled to cope with the spotlight and quickly spiralled into a wave of depression and drug addiction.
The singer died of a suicide at the age of 27 in April 1994. He had escaped from a drug addiction facility and his family and friends were unaware of Cobain’s whereabouts.
The singer was eventually found by a repairman visiting Cobain’s Lake Washington Boulevard home.
The Nirvana frontman had shot himself in the head and consequently the music world lost one of its greatest talents.
23. Robin Williams
Robin Williams was a much-loved comedian and actor who starred in a wide range of hit films from Good Will Hunting to Aladdin.
He always had a smile on his face and was known for making entire generations of families buckle up with laughter.
So the world was shocked when Williams’ death was announced in August 2014.
Sadly the troubled star had been struggling with depression for many years. He hung himself after receiving a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.
The Oscar winner was honoured in the world of entertainment shortly after his passing.
At the 66th Primetime Emmy awards, Williams’ good friend Billy Crystal paid tribute to the comedian, calling him “the brightest star in our comedy galaxy”.
22. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson aka the King of Pop led a controversial life in the spotlight.
He was known for his hit songs and groundbreaking music videos, but Jackson also drew a large amount of media spotlight thanks to his bizarre personal habits and lifestyle (just think about his Neverland ranch).
After various legal battles involving allegations of child sexual abuse, Jackson began preparing for his comeback in 2009 with a concert series entitled This Is It.
This made Jackson’s death in June 2009 all the more shocking – tickets had already been sold when the press broke the news that the King of Pop had died at the age of 50 after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Things turned murky when Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s personal physician, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after prescribing the singer a lethal combination of propofol, lorazepam, and midazolam.
In the 12 months after his death, Jackson sold over 35 million records worldwide.
21. Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate was a hugely popular 60s model and actress.
She married director Roman Polanski in 1968 and became pregnant towards the end of that year. While Polanski was finishing up some filming, he asked his friends Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger to stay with his wife at their Benedict Canyon home.
Unfortunately, on the night of August 8th, 1969, Tate and a group of her friends (including Frykowski and Folger) were brutally murdered by Charles Manson and his cult members.
Tate was eight and a half months pregnant at the time. She and her son were fatally stabbed over sixteen times by the murderers in question.
Tate was a hugely popular member of the Hollywood elite and a rising star in the acting world – the brutality of her death sent shockwaves around the world.
Eventually Manson and his co-conspirators were arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
20. River Phoenix
River Phoenix was another budding actor whose life was cut tragically short.
Phoenix had already made a name for himself as a child actor in the classic film Stand By Me, and he had followed up the buzz with appearances in the Indiana Jones franchise, as well as the critically-acclaimed My Own Private Idaho opposite Keanu Reeves.
Unfortunately the actor got caught up in the Hollywood drugs scene and began to struggle with addictions to cocaine and heroin.
Phoenix died outside his friend Johnny Depp’s nightclub, the Viper Room, in October 1993 after ingesting a lethal combination of drugs.
His death was made all the more shocking by the fact that his younger brother Joaquin Phoenix’s 911 calls were released to the press.
River was only 23 years old when he died.
19. Paul Walker
Paul Walker was the star of the Fast and Furious franchise for many years.
However, his sudden and tragic death in the front seat of his luxury sports car shocked the world in November 2013.
Walker had been attending a charity event before he and his friend/business advisor Roger Rodas decided to make their way home.
Rodas was driving his Porsche Carrera GT and Walker was in the passenger seat when the car dramatically collided with a pole.
The crash engulfed the car in flames and killed Walker and Rhodes – both bodies had been so badly burned that they were unrecognisable.
Walker was only 40 years old at the time of his death.
This was truly a tragic loss for Fast and Furious fans everywhere. RIP.
18. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger died suddenly at the height of his fame and the world was forced to mourn a great actor.
Ledger had just finished filming for The Dark Knight and was in the middle of scenes for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he was found dead in his NYC apartment on 22nd January, 2008.
The actor’s cause of death was not immediately known, but it later transpired that Ledger had succumbed to an accidental drug overdose after taking an inordinate amount of prescribed drugs.
His last will and testament was also put under scrutiny, with various family members and friends attempting to gain some part of Ledger’s estate.
Naturally Ledger’s death heavily affected the marketing campaign for The Dark Knight and millions of people went to the cinema to watch his last ever performance in action.
He later received a post humous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his turn as The Joker.
17. Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin was the Crocodile Hunter who turned a whole generation of kids into mini conservationists.
The Aussie zookeeper lived his life with animals, and in the end, it was an animal who brought about Irwin’s death in September 2006.
Irwin was swimming in shallow waters off the coast of Queensland when he decided to film some video footage for his daughter Bindi’s TV show.
The conservationist followed a short-tail stingray in the waters and initially the creature seemed to swim away. However, one eyewitness saw the stingray turn around and thrash Irwin hundreds of time with its barb in only a few seconds.
One of the poisonous barbs pierced Irwin’s heart and he died shortly afterwards of blood loss.
In the video tape, Irwin manages to remove the barb before losing consciousness. Authorities believes this to be the only fatality by a stingray ever captured on video, and believe that the ray responded badly to being ‘boxed in’ by the film crew.
16. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston was the voice of an angel who lived a troubled life.
The Grammy-winning pop diva led a life of drug addiction which eventually affected her astounding musical career. But the world was shocked when Houston eventually succumbed to her demons after recently completing a stay in a rehab centre.
Eyewitnesses report that Houston had appeared ‘dishevelled’ and ‘erratic’ in the days leading up to her untimely death at the age of 48.
Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in February 2012 after consuming cocaine and a number of other drugs, as well as suffering acute affects of heart disease.
Houston’s funeral was held in Newark, New Jersey and was arranged by invitation only. It was supposed to last for two hours but ended up going on for over four hours in total.
Stevie Wonder and Alicia Key were among some of the performers at the service. Houston’s controversial ex-husband Bobby Brown was invited to attend the funeral but left the service shortly after it began.
15. Cory Monteith
Canadian actor Cory Monteith played Finn Hudson in Glee.
Unbeknownst to audiences of the wholesome musical TV series, Monteith had struggled with substance abuse issues since he was only 13 years old. The actor dropped out of school at the age of 16 years old and experienced his first intervention by family and friends at age 19.
But while Monteith’s death by drugs might not have come as a surprise to some of his loved ones, the rest of the world was shocked to hear that the actor had been found dead in his Vancouver hotel room.
The actor had been scheduled to check out of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel on July 13th, 2013, but hotel staff grew concerned when he failed to do so. Eventually staff members entered his room and found Monteith’s lifeless body inside.
Foul play was ruled out and instead an autopsy showed that Monteith’s blood contained a lethal mixture of alcohol and heroin. His death was declared accidental rather than being classed as a suicide attempt.[
Apparently the actor also had traces of codeine and morphine in his system, which would have contributed to the lethal toxicity in his body. The actor was dating Lea Michele at the time, who played his on-screen love interest in Glee. The Glee cast held their own celebration of Cory’s life and he was honoured at the 2013 Grammy and Emmy Awards.
14. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse was one of the most talented (and troubled) singers of her generation.
Her music was beloved by millions of people, but eventually her troubled personal life began to grab the headlines, rather than her unique singing voice. Winehouse famously battled with drug and alcohol abuse throughout much of her career, and it was these issues that eventually led to her shocking death.
Although Winehouse had been to rehab before, her bodyguard noted that in the days before her death, the singer had been mildly intoxicated for much of the time. At 10:00 on July 23rd, 2011, he tried to wake her up but she remained asleep…or so he thought.
At 15:00, the bodyguard went back and noticed that she was in exactly the same position as that morning. He quickly phoned an ambulance after being unable to find a pulse and Winehouse was declared dead at the scene.
In October of that year, the coroner reported that Amy’s blood alcohol level was 416mg per 100ml at the time of her death – more than five times the legal driving limit.
Winehouse was 27 years old when she died, which raised speculation about the curse of the ’27 club’ again. Ironically, before her death Amy had expressed concern about joining the club during the peak of her battles with addiction.
13. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate Hollywood sex symbol.
And her controversial death in 1962 has led to hundreds of conspiracy theories. The blonde bombshell was found dead in her Brentwood home on August 5th, 1962. Monroe was only 36 years old when she passed away from a suspected barbiturate overdose.
Her death was ruled as a ‘probable suicide’ after the actress was found to have swallowed over 40 prescription pills – her doctor later confirmed that Marilyn had suffered several overdoses in the past, many of them deliberate.
However, it wasn’t long before conspiracy theories about her death started to crop up, with many people still convinced to this day that the actress was murdered. One of the most popular theories states that the Kennedys were responsible for her death.
The actress had affairs with both JFK and his younger brother Robert, leading many to believe that the Kennedys were involved in a scheme to ‘induce’ suicide in Marilyn (in order to cover up the scandal).
Another credible theory states that the mafia ordered a hit on the actress – Marilyn had also had affairs with certain high-ranking members of the mob and threatened to talk about things she had seen or heard. In any case, her untimely death was a shock to the rest of the world, who mourned the loss of pop culture’s most famous sex symbol.
12. Brittany Murphy
Actress Brittany Murphy is best-known for her role as Tai Walker in Clueless.
She also appeared in hit films such as 8 Mile and Sin City before her sudden death from pneumonia at the age of 32 years old. The entertainment industry was in shock at the news – while the death was ruled accidental (and apparently caused by severe anemia), Murphy was also found to have been in a weakened state thanks to several prescription medications in her blood system.
Simon Monjack, Murphy’s partner, rang the LA Fire Department on December 20th, 2009 and the actress was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Unfortunately she died of cardiac arrest later that day.
While Murphy’s death was a shock to the world, her passing took a strange twist a few months later. Monjack was later found dead in their home on May 23rd, 2010 – of exactly the same conditions i.e. acute pneumonia and severe anemia.
This then led some family members and authorities to blame the deaths of the couple on toxic mould in their home. Murphy’s father then had an independent investigation carried out and used the results to claim that Murphy’s mother Sharon had deliberately killed their daughter.
Her father Angelo Bertolotti publicly claimed that a toxicology report showed that deliberate poisoning by heavy metals, including antimony and barium, was a possible cause of Brittany Murphy’s death. He then stated that it was Sharon who had carried out the poisoning.
11. Gary Coleman
Gary Coleman was the pint-size actor who played Arnold Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes.
But Coleman’s life reached a very sad end, despite the popularity he gained across America for his portrayal of Arnold. His 4′ 8″ stature meant that Coleman suffered ill health from a very early age.
The condition was due to a kidney disorder, and the actor had two unsuccessful kidney transplants to try and correct the issue. From January 2010 onwards, Coleman began to suffer from seizures.
On May 26th 2010, the actor was sent to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center after falling down the stairs and hitting his head. He was rushed to hospital in critical condition but soon fell unconscious and was put on life support.
Later that day, his ex-wife Shannon Price made the decision to pull Coleman’s life support. The world was shocked at the news of the once-loved actor’s death, but his passing was quickly shrouded in controversy.
Many theories began to float around that Price had pushed the actor down the stairs, and then tried to cover up her actions by taking Coleman off life support. The police investigated this line of enquiry but ultimately ruled it out and called the injury accidental.
10. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose in February 2014.
Despite the fact that Hoffman allegedly ‘knew that he was going to die young’, the rest of the world was surprised to learn that the Capote star had succumbed to drug addiction. The actor was found dead on the floor of his bathroom by a friend.
Doctors later revealed that they had found a mixture of prescription drugs, heroin and cocaine in Hoffman’s blood stream. Coroners ruled that the death was an accidental overdose.
The actor had struggled with drugs as a young adult, but seemed to have overcome his problems and remained sober for many years. Sadly though, the actor relapsed in 2013 and this marked the beginning of a troubled new phase in his life.
Even entertainment industry insiders were shocked at the news, and many film critics described Hoffman’s passing as a considerable loss to the acting profession.
Sadly Hoffman was unable to get his addictions to heroin and cocaine under control, and his body was apparently found with a syringe still sticking out of the actor’s arm. A tragic loss for film lovers everywhere.
9. Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman was a much-loved British actor who famously portrayed Snape in the Harry Potter franchise.
He was also known for his roles in films such as Love Actually and Sense and Sensibility, as well as his television and theatre work. Sadly in 2016, the acting world lost one of its bright lights when the media reported that Rickman had passed away.
The actor died of a minor stroke after already being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had kept his diagnosis, and the fact that it was terminal, out of the press – and only shared it with his closest friends.
This meant that his death came as a shock to both his fans and his many acquaintances, and devestated Harry Potter fans worldwide.
After his death, tributes began to be placed at King’s Cross Railay Station, under the sign that marked where 9 and 3/4 should have been.
His death came when he was just 69, and has been widely compared to the loss of David Bowie, who died just four days earlier at the same age.
8. David Bowie
Musicians have a reputation for dying tragically young, and when you look at it that way, Bowie had a long and fulfilling life.
With that said, his death still sent shockwaves around the world, even with all the contingencies that Bowie himself had put in place.
Bowie, like Rickman, had received a cancer diagnosis that he had kept secret, leading him to increase the amount of art he made while he still had time to make it.
In the last years of his life, he wrote songs for the Spongebob Squarepants Broadway musical, opened his own musical, wrote songs for movies, and even created a whole album designed to help fans understand his passing.
He created Blackstar as a way to let fans know what he was dealing with, and it was released on his 69th birthday. He died just two days later, when the story of his illness and the album were finally shared with fans.
Tributes flooded in from almost every musician and actor in the UK, and Bowie became the most listened to artist that day. Then, a year later on his 70th birthday, a posthumous EP was released featuring songs that Bowie believed he’d have more time to work on.
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and several other members of her recorded company boarded a plane at the Marsh Harbour Airport in Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to the Opa-locka Airport in Florida.
Their plane crashed 200 feet from the end of the runway and exploded, subsequently killing all those on board (Aaliyah’s security guard Scott Gallin survived the crash, but died on the way to the hospital).
The report on the crash determined that the plane was carrying 700 pounds more than it could carry.
Originally, Aaliyah and her crew were scheduled to leave on the 26th, but finished filming her video for “Rock the Boat” earlier and wanted to leave as quickly as they could.
That meant they would fly home on a plane smaller than the one they arrived on, with all of their equipment.
After she died, an interview was released in which she described a recurring dream, one in which she was being chased in the dark and then suddenly lifts off and swims through the sky, free and weightless.
6. Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith was a model, actress and TV personality that rose to prominence in the 1990s, after being named Playmate of the year and working as one of the most infamous Playboy bunnies of all time.
She gained further infamy after marrying one of the Koch brothers, a 90-year-old billionaire who was several decades older than her, and who many claimed she was only marrying for the money.
When her husband died, her legal battle to get her share of the estate went all the way to the Supreme court, and that was only one of several reasons why her name was in the headlines.
In the last six months of her life, the tabloids were obsessed with the death of her young son, as well as her ongoing custody battle for care of her daughter.
On February 8, 2007, Anna Nicole Smith was found dead in room 607 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. After a seven-week investigation, her death has not ruled a homicide, suicide, or natural causes.
Ultimately, her death was ruled a “drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate that became increasingly lethal when combined with other prescription drugs in her system, specifically four benzodiazepines”.
5. Judith Barsi
Judith Barsi was a hugely successful child star in the 1980s, whose face and voice could be recognised from her time working on films such as Jaws: The Revenge and Fatal Vision.
Her parents had both escaped Soviet occupation of their home countries, and met and settled down in the US where they hoped to have a family that would be given a better life.
This Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven star was murdered by her father, József Barsi, on July 25, 1988.
It was reported, that as Judith became more successful, her father became a very abusive man and demanded a lot from the young child star.
On the day of the 25th, József shot Judith in the head while she was sleeping and then shot his wife Maria, before setting their family home on fire and shooting himself.
The family home was one that Barsi herself had helped to buy with her earnings, and one she was set to leave with her mother due to her father’s abusive behaviour.
4. Heather O’Rourke
In early 1987, Heather O’Rourke became ill and was incorrectly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease by doctors at Kaiser Permanente and was prescribed medications to treat it.
On January 31, 1988 she became extremely ill and could not keep any food down.
The following day, she collapsed on her way to the hospital, which caused her stepfather to call for paramedics.
She suffered a cardiac arrest en route to the hospital, and after resuscitation she was airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital, where she died later that day.
Initially it was believed she died of influenza, but it was later revealed that she had been misdiagnosed and that the specific cause of death was from the cardiac arrest.
The cardiac arrest was caused by septic shock brought on by the intestinal stenosis from a bowel blockage.
3. Freddie Mercury
The Queen frontman is one of the most well-respected and beloved figures in all of British music history, but that doesn’t mean that his life was not littered with controversy.
Though his music was the most important thing in his life, both his fans and critics were obsessed with learning more about his personal life, and the scrutiny weighed on him for decades – especially with regards to his sexuality.
In October of 1986, it was reported that Freddie Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDs at a street clinic, but Mercury denied having a sexually transmitted disease.
According to his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS after Easter in 1987, which he again denied publicly. On November 23, 1991 he issued a public statement:
“…I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease.”
Only 24 hours later on November 24, 1991, he passed away at his home in Kensington.
2. Bob Marley
Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer who pioneered the reggae movement and style of music, and almost single-handedly popularised it in the west.
He was a controversial figure for his outspoken stance that marijuana should be legalised, and his embrace of concepts that Rastafarian spirituality and pan-Africanism.
He was a global pop-culture icon for over a decade, and his imagery and iconography, as well as his message, is still used worldwide.
However, he never made it on to his planned world tour in 1980, as after performing in Europe and the US, he got seriously ill.
In July 1977, doctors found a malignant melanoma under Bob Marley’s toenail. He ignored the doctor’s advice of having said toe amputated and opted to have the toenail and some skin removed, citing religious reasons for this choice.
Due to this melanoma spreading to his lungs and brain, Marley’s health deteriorated that year and on May 11, 1981 he passed away at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami.
1. Princess Diana
The royal family is a conscientious subject. No matter what your opinion on them is, there’s no denying that even the idea of a monarchy is a controversial one for some people.
However, even the monarchies most intense critics had a soft spot for Diana, whose down to Earth attitude and extensive charity work meant that she became known as the People’s Princess.
On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris. Others who died in the crash were her companion Dodi Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul, who was the acting security manager of the Hôtel Ritz Paris.
The initial French investigation concluded that the crash was caused by Paul’s drunken driving. But others have theorized that the death was planned and acted out by the MI6.
Backers of this conspiracy theory say that the killing was even sanctioned by the royal family themselves, who allegedly hated Diana for a whole host of reasons.
Some even went so far as to claim she was pregnant at the time of her death, although there is no evidence of this anywhere.