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Vic Morrow’s Double Jeopardy on a Movie Set Ended with a Crash That Took His and 2 Kids’ Lives

Busayo Ogunjimi
Nov 06, 2021
01:20 P.M.
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Vic Morrow's life and career were cut short at its peak in the early '80s after he was involved in an accident while shooting his final movie "Twilight Zone." Here's what happened.

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Every movie fan can attest to getting excited after seeing an action-packed movie by an A-lister with many fireworks, stunts, and suspense, but behind the scenes, a lot of work goes in to produce such moments.

Directors and actors want to make a scene look as relatable and real as possible, but sometimes, these moments can be risky and have disastrous effects for both actors and others on the set.

Vic Morrow as Sergeant Chip Saunders on TV show "Combat", circa 1966 [left]. A still image of the helicopter crash that killed Vic Marrow on set [right]  | Photo: Getty Images || youtube.com/NBCLA

Vic Morrow as Sergeant Chip Saunders on TV show "Combat", circa 1966 [left]. A still image of the helicopter crash that killed Vic Marrow on set [right] | Photo: Getty Images || youtube.com/NBCLA

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According to a report, scores of people are badly hurt on set every year. The majority of the time, these are avoidable injuries caused by carelessness or ignorance. These injuries can not only jeopardize a movie shoot but potentially an actor's career.

Several stars like Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Martha Mansfield, Steve Irwin, Paul Mantz, and Vic Morrow all lost their lives to an on-set accident, but Morrow's story appears the most touching.

The legendary actor was filming "Twilight Zone" in 1982 when he met a gruesome untimely death that most critics believe would have been avoided if necessary steps were taken.

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Publicity portrait of Vic Morrow for the 1961 film  'Portrait Of A Mobster' | Photo: Getty Images

Publicity portrait of Vic Morrow for the 1961 film 'Portrait Of A Mobster' | Photo: Getty Images

THE ACCIDENT

On July 23, 1982, Morrow and two child stars, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le, were killed in a helicopter crash. Morrow was 53 at the time, and the kids were aged six and seven.

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The tragedy occurred as they were filming a Vietnam War action scene in which they were supposed to flee a pursuing helicopter.

The pilot of the low-flying craft lost control due to special effects explosions on set, crashing into the three victims. The tragedy occurred on the film's final scheduled day of production.

Vic Morrow on the set of "The Twenty-Four Karat Plague" - Airdate: November 8, 1973 | Photo: Getty Images

Vic Morrow on the set of "The Twenty-Four Karat Plague" - Airdate: November 8, 1973 | Photo: Getty Images

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Involuntary manslaughter charges were filed against "Twilight Zone" co-director John Landis and four other men who worked on the film, including the special-effects coordinator and the helicopter pilot.

According to reports, it was the first time a film director was charged with a crime related to events that occurred during the production of a film.

The defense claimed the crash was an unforeseeable accident during the subsequent trial, but prosecutors say Morrow had always been in danger before the accident.

Vic Morrow appearing in the Walt Disney Television 1972 TV movie 'The Weekend Nun' | Photo: Getty Images

Vic Morrow appearing in the Walt Disney Television 1972 TV movie 'The Weekend Nun' | Photo: Getty Images

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According to former child star Jackie Cooper, "Twilight Zone" was almost a toxic set as it did not conform to safety measures that, if observed, would have prevented disaster. He claimed that there were rumors of live munitions being used on the scene, which was already a threat to human lives.

Cooper argued that the directors failed to observe industry practices such as using stunt performers for scenes that posed high threats for Morrow and other actors.

Vic Morrow during his guest appearance on "Owen Marshall:Counselor at Law" in 1971. | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vic Morrow during his guest appearance on "Owen Marshall:Counselor at Law" in 1971. | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Cooper testified that an earlier scene in which a mock Vietnamese village hut blew up before Morrow was out of the frame was a very dangerous practice that had already placed the actor in harm's way.

Morrow was often kept close to explosions and was placed too close to a low-flying helicopter. Taking things like pilot error, wind gust, and engine failure into consideration, Cooper blamed the unhealthy workplace for the tragic death of the three actors.

Photo of Vice Morrow as Sgt. Saunders, circa 1960s | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Vice Morrow as Sgt. Saunders, circa 1960s | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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MORROW NEVER LOOKED UP!

Dorcey Wingo, the pilot of the "Twilight Zone" helicopter, expressed his sadness over Morrow's death, noting that the actor did not try to avoid the crashing plane in the five seconds after it flew out of control, resulting in his death.

When quizzed where Morrow was to run to, Wingo explained that he expected the late star to move away from the helicopter. He added that Morrow had been instructed to go for safety if he heard any funny sound from the helicopter.

The pilot remarked that Morrow had a few seconds to save himself, and he hoped the actor would make the swift move. The veteran pilot explained that he didn't blame Morrow, but everything happened too fast.

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American actor and director Vic Morrow squints while standing behind a motion picture camera outdoors on a film set, circa 1971  | Photo: Getty Images

American actor and director Vic Morrow squints while standing behind a motion picture camera outdoors on a film set, circa 1971 | Photo: Getty Images

A DOUBLE WAS PREPARED

According to a former Warner Bros. executive, a movie stunt double was scheduled for Morrow on "Twilight Zone" set the night he and two kids died in the helicopter accident.

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Edward Morey was the studio's vice president and executive production manager in 1992, and he stated that he believed the production schedule included a double for Morrow's character Bill.

Rick Jason and Vic Morrow from the premiere of the television program "Combat" in 1962 | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rick Jason and Vic Morrow from the premiere of the television program "Combat" in 1962 | Photo: ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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DIRECTOR RULED OUT STUNTMAN

According to a makeup artist who worked on the movie set, director John Landis insisted Morrow play his scene himself rather than allow a professional stunt performer to do the scene.

Robert Westmoreland, whose testimony in the manslaughter prosecution of Landis and four other filmmakers was severely constrained by the judge, was only allowed to narrate one brief exchange with stunt supervisor Gary McLarty.

Westmoreland claimed there was no request by Morrow to do the scene as Landis's legal team had claimed. A stuntman was ready to play the role, but according to Westmoreland, Landis strongly opposed it.

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Portrait of Vic Morrow for TV show "Combat" circa, 1964 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Vic Morrow for TV show "Combat" circa, 1964 | Photo: Getty Images

FINAL VERDICT

A judge later declared director Landis innocent of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of actor Morrow and the two child actors. Three other filmmakers, George Folsey, Dan Allingham, Paul Stewart, and pilot Dorcey Wingo also were acquitted on all counts against them.

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The case lasted several months and featured about 71 witnesses, ranging from the parents of the deceased children to professional helicopter pilots and actor/director Cooper.

BALDWIN TRIGGERS OLD MEMORY

Fans are comparing Alec Baldwin's catastrophic filmmaking accident to the historic fatal occurrence on the set of "Twilight Zone: The Movie," which resulted in several reforms in Hollywood.

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Baldwin's incident comes 40 years after Morrow's occurred. Six other people were hurt in the 1982 stunt, which involved a simulated mortar explosion that went off too quickly, damaging the chopper's rotor blades and causing it to spin out of control before falling on the actors.

Following the tragic incident involving Baldwin, there have been widespread calls for greater safety measures to ensure the safety of actors and crew members on a set.

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