Actor Brandon Lee shot and killed with prop gun on movie set


Actor Brandon Lee was killed with a prop firearm on the set of “The Crow,” filming in Wilmington, NC, on March 31, 1993.

News & Observer

Alec Baldwin fatally shot a crew member on set in New Mexico Thursday using what he thought was a harmless prop gun — a news report that echoes the infamous 1993 accident that killed Brandon Lee in Wilmington.

Baldwin has not been charged and “was unaware of the type of ammunition in the gun” while shooting a Western-style film, according to McClatchy reports, but the investigation continues.

The shooting killed Halyna Hutchins, the film’s 42-year-old director of photography, and wounded director Joel Souza, who is under emergency care in Santa Fe, McClatchy reported.

The accident appears to parallel the prop-gun shooting on the set of “The Crow,” in which Lee, son of the martial arts star Bruce Lee, died in a stunt scene.

What happened to Brandon Lee?

Lee, 28, was hit in the stomach after another actor shot at him from roughly 15 away, using a gun designed to fire blanks. Lee held a grocery bag filled with a small explosive charge meant to mimic gunfire.

The late actor’s family reached out on Twitter early Friday: “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on “Rust”. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

Wilmingon’s then-district attorney, Jerry Spivey, opted against filing criminal charges against the movie production company.

“There is no evidence pointing to the kind of negligence the criminal law seeks to punish. The kind of negligence the law seeks to punish is the kind described as willful and wanton. You just can’t find that,” Spivey said, according to the Associated Press.

But Lee’s mother Linda Lee Cadwell sued Crowvision Inc. shortly after the shooting, alleging negligence supported by the NC Occupational Safety and Health Division fining the production company $84,000 for safety violations, the AP reported in 1993.

This Jan. 22, 1986 file photo shows American actor Brandon Lee. The death of Lee during the filming of “The Crow,” garnered worldwide attention and prompted changes on how firearms are treated on sets. Lacy Atkins AP

A real bullet in the prop gun

OSHA investigators reported Lee killed by a bullet fragment during a scene in which blanks were supposed to be fired from a .44-caliber Magnum pistol, the N&O reported at the time.

They blamed the shooting on three separate violations of industry safety guidelines.

In an earlier special-effects scene, a .44-caliber bullet was fired from the same gun. That bullet broke apart, leaving a piece lodged in the barrel. No one properly checked or cleaned the gun before placing it in storage, and it was pulled out for Lee’s scene because it contained dummy rounds.

During Lee’s scene, the fragment fired out of the barrel.

The filmmakers settled the lawsuit on undisclosed terms only months after Lee’s death. The settlement also included Eliza Hutton, Lee’s fiancee, the AP reported.

Brandon Lee was killed on the set of “The Crow,” which was filming in Wilmington NC in 1993. The film released in 1994. Miramax Films

About Brandon Lee’s ‘The Crow’

In the movie’s plot, Lee played a rock musician who was murdered and returned from the dead with supernatural powers to get revenge on his killers. It was based on a comic book series by James O’Barr.

The shooting happened eight days before the film was scheduled to wrap, and the scene being filmed was one depicting Lee’s character’s death. The film was completed using a stunt double.

“The Crow” opened at No. 1 at the box office in 1994.

“We were very aggressive in how we advertised it, but we tried to take the high-road approach. It was a sensitive matter,” David Dinerstein, Miramax vice president of marketing, told the AP. “We wanted to sell a sense of story, a sense of action, and, actually, romance.”

“The Crow” filmed on Stage 4 at EUE/Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington and also starred Ernie Hudson.

In later years, EUE/Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington was also the site of filming for TV shows “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

Actor Jon-Erik Hexum also killed with prop gun

In a similar accident, Jon-Erik Hexum, a British actor best known for starring on the TV series “Voyagers!” and “Cover Up,” was killed by a prop gun while on set in October 1984.

Hexum, 26, died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun while filming “Cover Up.”

According to reports, Hexum removed all blanks but one from a prop gun between takes and played “Russian roulette” with the gun, apparently unaware of the danger of blanks.

This story was originally published October 22, 2021 9:43 AM.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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