Show Mobile Navigation
Pop Culture |

10 Horrible Fates That Almost Befell Famous Figures

by Nolan Moore
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Chances are good that you’ve had least one moment when your life flashed before your eyes. Famous figures aren’t any different. They’ve all been in those scary situations when they nearly shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. In fact, thanks to their high profiles, celebrities often encounter dangers most of us will never face. The famous figures on this list all stared death in the eyes, from runaway cars to obsessed fans, and barely escaped horrible fates.

10Dick Van Dyke Was Almost Lost At Sea

Despite the fact that he’s danced across rooftops and ducked down chimneys, Dick Van Dyke is a bit accident prone. In addition to his weekly battles with an oversize ottoman, his car caught on fire in 2013, nearly burning the elderly comedian to a crisp. Fortunately, a local bystander dragged Van Dyke to safety. The car wasn’t so lucky.

However, Van Dyke’s scariest moment came when he was surfing off the California coast. During an interview on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Van Dyke revealed he had once fallen asleep while paddling out on his board. When he woke up, he realized he had drifted out of sight of land. Terrified, he was desperately trying to make his way back when fins suddenly popped out of the water. “I’m dead!” he thought, until he realized he was surrounded not by sharks but porpoises. It sounds fantastical, but Van Dyke claims the creatures pushed him all the way back to shore, saving his life. Of course, their aquatic cousins, dolphins, have been known to rescue folks from time to time, so perhaps Van Dyke’s story isn’t that zany. In fact, it sounds a lot more realistic than his cockney accent.

9Ernest Hemingway Almost Died In Back-To-Back Plane Crashes

EH 266T
Ernest Hemingway loved Africa. When he wasn’t writing Pulitzer Prize–winning novels, watching bullfights, spying for the KGB, or swilling copious amounts of alcohol, Papa was bagging big game in the African brush. Though Hemingway took his own life in 1961, the bells almost tolled a few years earlier for the famous author when he almost died in back-to-back plane crashes in East Africa.

In 1954, Hemingway and his wife, Mary, were tromping through the Ugandan brush, collecting material for a series of articles Ernest was writing for Look magazine. When it was finally time to head out, the Hemingways boarded a private plane and took off into the African sky—straight toward a flock of ibises. Anyone who remembers the US Airways Flight 1549 incident knows full well what a bunch of birds can do to a plane, and the pilot was forced to dive. Hurtling toward the ground, the captain could either land on the sandy bank next to a group of crocodiles or aim for a scrub of trees, dangerously close to a herd of elephants. The pilot chose the pachyderms and managed to land the Cessna without any damage done to the passengers.

That night, Hemingway and company listened to the nearby elephants, and occasionally, the author would howl like a wild dog, attempting to “talk” to the local wildlife. Fortunately, the group was picked up the next morning and taken to the town of Butiaba, where the Hemingways boarded a second plane, complete with new pilot. Amazingly, before it took off, the new plane suddenly caught on fire. Thinking fast, Hemingway used his massive bulk to break down a door, and both Hemingways and the pilot managed to escape from the flames. “My luck—she is running good,” Hemingway later told a reporter. The man had a funny definition of “luck.”

8LBJ Was Almost Shot By A Secret Service Agent

Everybody knows that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, and Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States just a few hours later. What most people don’t know is that, later that evening, somebody almost shot LBJ.

Gerald Blaine was a Secret Service agent who had worked for the White House since 1959 when he was handpicked to protect Dwight D. Eisenhower. After Kennedy was elected, Blaine traveled with the young Masschusetts native across the world until that fateful day Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. As you might expect, the next several hours after the assassination were a bit stressful for everyone, especially the Secret Service agents. Tense and tired after one of the worst days in American history, Blaine was assigned to guard Johnson’s Washington home, a mission that almost proved disastrous.

Blaine was armed with a Thompson submachine gun, which perhaps wasn’t the best idea, considering he had gone 40 hours without sleep. Nevertheless, he was keeping watch when he heard someone lurking around the house at around 2:15 A.M. Blaine picked up his Thompson, put his finger on the trigger, and leveled the barrel at the oncoming threat. Later, Blaine remembered thinking that he wished this guy would show his face. He prepared to fire—and that’s when he realized the man was Johnson, who had turned a fresh shade of ghost white after staring down the barrel of Blaine’s gun. Not exactly the best way to make a good impression on your new boss.

The next year, Blaine retired from the Secret Service, claiming that “Lyndon B. Johnson was no John F. Kennedy.” He went on to work in several high-ranking positions in important firms and eventually wrote a book about his experiences as a Secret Service agent. But he never forgot the fact that, had he been a little more trigger happy that November night, the name Gerald Blaine would be mentioned right alongside Lee Harvey Oswald.

7Johnny Cash Was Almost Gutted By An Ostrich

Thanks to his struggles with drug addiction, Johnny Cash faced death on several occasions, but one of his weirdest encounters with the Grim Reaper took place in early 1981. It was a bad year all around for the Man in Black. After famously kicking his pill-popping habit, Cash had sunk back into addiction after a painful eye surgery. It was also a lousy time for his career, right between his glory days and his big comeback. And to cap things off, he was almost murdered by an ostrich.

As Cash put it in his autobiography, “Ostrich attacks are rare in Tennessee.” However, it just so happened that Johnny owned a few. In addition to zebras and wild boars, Cash kept the birds in a compound behind his Hendersonville home, a mansion he humbly named the “House of Cash.” One day in early winter, the country singer was taking a walk in his backyard when a male ostrich suddenly blocked his way. The bird was in a particularly bad mood: It spread its wings and started hissing at Cash. The Man in Black wisely stood his ground and waited for the ostrich to wander away, but Cash knew it was waiting for him around the bend.

Not one to back down from a fight, Cash armed himself with a 183-centimeter (6 ft) stick and decided to show this creature who was boss. When he came across the angry ostrich the second time, Cash took a swing but missed. The ostrich plunged its gigantic clawed toe into Cash’s stomach, breaking two ribs and tearing a hole in Cash’s stomach all the way down to his belt. The bird then knocked Cash to the ground, cracking three more of his ribs. Fortunately, Cash still had his bird-whacking stick and slapped the ostrich on the legs. The bird retreated, leaving Cash humbled and defeated but alive. He would survive the incident and go on to kick his addiction to painkillers, but he never forgot his epic showdown with the crazy ostrich.

6Princess Anne Was Almost Kidnapped


Photo credit: Graham Grinner Lewis

Ian Ball was a madman with a plan. He was going to kidnap Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter, and hold her for ransom. Claiming he wanted to draw attention to problems with the National Health Service, Ball wrote a crazy ransom note, demanding £2 million and a plane bound for Switzerland. After acquiring handcuffs, tranquilizers, and handguns, all he needed was to kidnap the princess—a task that was easier said than done.

On March 20, 1974, Anne and her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, left a charity film screening when Ball’s Ford Escort swerved in front of their limo. With a pistol in each hand, Ball hopped out of his car and rushed Anne’s Rolls-Royce. Unsure what was happening, Anne’s bodyguard, Inspector James Wallace Beaton, stepped into the street only to take a bullet to the shoulder. Wounded, Beaton pulled out his own gun, fired, and missed. After his pistol jammed, Beaton shielded the princess and her husband, taking two more bullets before he was out of the fight. The chauffeur, Alexander Callendar, jumped out of the driver’s seat to join the fight, but Ball dropped him with a shot to the chest. With two foes down, Ball yanked open the car door and grabbed the princess’s arm. “You’ve got to come,” he said frantically. Ever cool under pressure, Anne responded with a less-than-royal “Not bloody likely.”

For the next few seconds, Anne found herself in the middle of a life-and-death tug-of-war. As Ball jerked on her arm, Phillips held onto her waist, trying to keep her in the car. Before Ball could drag the princess out, he saw Police Constable Michael Hills coming his way. Ball shot the officer in the stomach, but that didn’t stop Hills from calling for backup. As Hills lay crumpled on the ground, a driver named Glenmore Martin used his vehicle to block Ball’s car from escaping. At the same time, a Daily Mail journalist named John Brian McConnell tried to talk Ball into surrendering and received a gunshot wound for his troubles.

The situation finally changed when a 193-centimeter (6’4”) ex-boxer named Ronald Russell showed up on the scene. Russell drove his fist into the back of the shooter’s head, giving Anne enough time to slip out the other side of the car and lure Ball away from the door. As the kidnapper staggered toward her, Anne jumped back into the car and slammed the door shut. Things went from bad to worse for Ball as the boxer landed another shot. Terrified, Ball took off running but was quickly tackled and arrested by a detective constable named Peter Edmonds. Fortunately, everyone survived the ordeal, and the seven heroes all received medals and commendations for their bravery. As for Ball, he’s locked up in a mental hospital, having learned that you don’t mess with the monarchy.

5Andy Warhol Was Almost Assassinated


Photo credit: Jack Mitchell

Saying Valerie Solanas wasn’t fond of men is like saying Hitler didn’t care for Jews. She straight-up hated them. Granted, she was molested by her father as a child, but this radical feminist wanted to take her aggression out on every single member of the male gender. In fact, she even wrote a 21-page manifesto entitled “S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men)” outlining her rather controversial opinions on the opposite sex.

When Solanas wasn’t ranting against men, she was hanging around the Factory, Andy Warhol’s New York studio. She had starred in his film I, a Man and seemed relatively normal. Sure, she loathed males with every fiber of her being, but people described her as relatively friendly when she wasn’t penning sexist screeds. Everything changed on June 3, 1968.

On that fateful day, Solanas spent three hours outside the Factory waiting for Warhol to show up. When the white-haired artist finally arrived, Solanas followed him up the elevator. She milled around the studio for a bit while Warhol’s friends and business associates chatted, but when Warhol answered a phone call, Solanas whipped out a .32 automatic. Warhol saw what was about to happen and screamed “Don’t do it! No! No!” Solanas ignored his cries and shot the artist three times, damaging his spleen, stomach, liver, lungs, and esophagus.

Solanas then hunted down Warhol’s friends, putting a bullet in magazine editor Mario Amaya and almost murdering Factory assistant John Hughes before turning herself in to a nearby police officer. As any history book will tell you, Warhol survived the shooting and continued working until his death in 1987. Solanas outlived her former boss by one year, but the question still remains: Why did she shoot him? Was it because he had once refused a script she had written? Or was it because he allegedly redubbed her lines in I, a Man? Or was it because she was a man-hating psycho? We’re learning toward the last one.

4Jimi Hendrix Could Have Been Murdered By Gangsters

Widely considered the greatest guitarist to ever pick up an axe, Jimi Hendrix is remembered as one of the most iconic figures of the 1960s. Sadly, he’s also remembered for the rampant substance abuse that led to his tragic death in 1970. But before Hendrix left the third stone from the sun, he found his life in danger on two separate occasions. And both times, he was saved by one of the most notorious drug dealers on the planet, Jon Roberts.

Born John Riccobono, Roberts eventually made billions for the Medellin Cartel by smuggling cocaine in the 1980s. But back when he was a New York Mafioso who, Roberts ran a Manhattan nightclub called the Salvation. That’s how he happened to meet Hendrix, who was, by this time, a raging junkie surrounded by adoring fans. Eventually, Roberts and Hendrix got to know one another, and the mobster offered his Fire Island home as a getaway for the constantly mobbed rock star. Jimi accepted the invitation and spent his days waterskiing around Roberts’s home. Jimi wasn’t that skilled on the skis, however, especially when stoned, which he almost always was. This led to a close call with watery death one day. Fortunately, Roberts and his buddy, Andy Benfante, managed to fish him out before he sank to the briny deep.

However, the scariest moment of the friendship between Hendrix and Roberts came shortly after Jimi’s amazing Woodstock performance. The musician staggered into the gangster’s club looking for drugs when two “wiseguy wannabes” recognized his famous face. After promising Hendrix some dope, they tricked the guitarist into riding with them to an isolated house, where they called his managers and started making demands. When word of the situation got back to Roberts, the gangster made a few calls of his own. Once he identified the kidnappers, he rang them up and delivered a friendly message. “You let Jimi go, or you are dead. Do not harm a hair of his afro.” Wisely, the punks complied. Of course, they didn’t get off entirely: A week later, Roberts and Benfante tracked them down and thrashed them within an inch of their lives. And what did Hendrix think about the whole ordeal? According to Roberts, “Jimi was so stoned, he probably didn’t know he was ever kidnapped.”

3Stephen King Was Nearly Killed By A Careless Driver

Stephen King, Author. Miami Bookfair International, 1993.

Photo credit: MDCarchives

It was a lovely day on June 19, 1999 when Stephen King took a walk near his home in western Maine. The horror author loved his daily strolls, which wound through the woods and eventually led to a blacktop highway. However, there was one dangerous spot along the way, a steep hill that prevented pedestrians from seeing oncoming traffic. As King trudged up the incline, he didn’t know that Bryan Smith was heading his way.

Smith was a sad figure with a horrible driving record. Thanks to a back injury, the part-time mechanic and woodcutter relied on a cane or crutches to get around. Lest you feel too sorry for him, Smith had also been convicted 11 times of speeding and driving under the influence. On this particular day, his dog was sniffing inside his beer cooler, and Smith was trying to push the canine away. Witnesses later described the way his blue van swerved all over the road, right as King was coming up the hill.

Hurtling down the shoulder, the van slammed right into the writer, sending him soaring. King went up over the hood, smashed his head into the windshield, and flew over 4 meters (14 ft) through the air, landing in a ditch just a few feet away from some jagged rocks. A passerby rushed to King’s aid and found the author’s legs mangled and his head gashed wide open. As for Smith, he assumed he had hit an animal until he looked down and saw King’s glasses on the front seat.

The author was rushed to the hospital, where doctors did their best to repair his broken ribs, shattered leg, smashed pelvis, and chipped spine. To say King was a mess would be an understatement. As he described it, his “lap” had “shifted around to the right.” Fortunately, King survived, but Smith got off relatively lightly for his negligence. He received a six-month suspended sentence, and his driver’s license was revoked for a year. However, the notoriety hounded him for the rest of his life.

While Smith did apologize for the accident, he never really took responsibility for his actions, claiming no one was at fault. He died of an overdose of painkillers on King’s birthday in September 2000. As for the master of horror, he regained his ability to walk and, in true King fashion, dramatized the incident in 2004’s The Dark Tower, featuring himself and Bryan Smith as characters.

2George Harrison Was Almost Stabbed To Death


Photo credit: Steve Mathieson

Everybody knows that Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon outside his New York apartment, but Lennon wasn’t the only Beatle with stalker problems. Lead guitarist George Harrison had his fair share of creepy fans as well. In December 1999, a fan broke into his Maui home, cooked a frozen pizza, and enjoyed a nice snack before the cops showed up. Fortunately, Harrison was staying at his estate just outside of London at the time. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, George was paid a visit by a much more homicidal Beatlemaniac.

Michael Abram was a recovering heroin addict who wore a Walkman to drown out the voices in his head. The schizophrenic was also obsessed with the Beatles, claiming the Fab Four were actually evil witches. Abram had particularly strong feelings about George, whom he described as “a witch on a broomstick who talked in the Devil’s tongue—an alien from Hell.” Believing it was his divine duty to assassinate the softspoken Beatle, on December 30, 1999, Abram armed himself with a knife, scaled the wall surrounding George’s home, sneaked past security, and smashed in a window.

The sound startled George out of his sleep. Believing that a burglar was prowling about, he woke his wife, Olivia, and told her to call for help. As she picked up the phone, George crept downstairs and came face-to-face with Abram and his nearly 20-centimeter (8 in) knife. Hoping to calm the intruder, Harrison started reciting the Hare Krishna mantra. It didn’t work, and Abram soon rushed George and started swinging the blade. George rushed upstairs with Abram in hot pursuit, intent upon finishing the job. For the next 10–15 minutes, the men battled their way across the second story. Abram slashed George multiple times and eventually drove the knife into his chest, partially deflating a lung. Still, George never gave up, and when Abram went after Olivia, Harrison brought him down to the ground.

However, Olivia is the true hero of this story. As she saw her husband bleeding out, she grabbed a heavy table lamp and slammed it down on Abram’s head, knocking him out cold. She spent the next few minutes taking care of George and waiting for the police to arrive. Abram was later tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the next few years in a hospital and was released in 2002, one year after the Beatle’s death. As for George, he reacted to the assassination attempt with his usual calm demeanor. As the rocker told the press, “He certainly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.”

1Steven Spielberg Was Almost Raped

Without a doubt, Steven Spielberg is one of the most important directors in cinematic history, having given us such classics as Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler’s List. However, if Jonathan Norman had gotten his way, Spielberg’s career would have come to a crashing halt. Instead of making Minority Report or Catch Me If You Can, the director would have been raped and murdered in front of his entire family.

In 1997, Norman was a 31-year-old bodybuilder who was dangerously obsessed with the Academy Award winner. Like a stereotypical Hollywood killer, Norman filled journals with photos of Spielberg, his wife, and their seven children. Police later found papers covered with mad scribblings, complete with the names of Spielberg’s friends and coworkers, in Norman’s possession. Finally, tired of simply stalking, Norman decided to break into the director’s California mansion.

Hoping to fake out security guards, Norman leased a car that resembled the one driven by Spielberg’s wife, Kate Capshaw. He drew up a shopping list of items like chloroform and dog collars and assembled a “rape kit” that included handcuffs, duct tape, a box cutter, and razor blades. Twice, he went to Spielberg’s property and tried to break into his home. Fortunately, the director was in Ireland filming Saving Private Ryan, and the police were alerted to Norman’s prowling. The creep was arrested, and at his 1998 trial, Spielberg testified against his would-be rapist. Norman was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, but if his timing had been just a bit different or Spielberg had passed on Private Ryan, things could have ended quite differently.

Nolan Moore was once invited to watch Jack and Jill but fortunately came down with a cold at the last moment. If you want, you can send Nolan an email, or you can follow him on Facebook.

fact checked by Jamie Frater