The 1994 dark fantasy action film The Crow, directed by Alex Proyas, didn’t gain popularity due to its background story, nor for its cast, but as a result of a tragic event that overshadowed the film’s post-production, as well as its premiere.
On March 31, 1993, the lead actor, Brandon Lee, was mortally wounded in an accident on the set at Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. The actor never got to enjoy his stardom on screen as a resurrected rock musician who avenges his own and his fiancée’s deaths (the film is based on 1989 comic book “The Crow” by James O’Barr).
According to The Wrap, the accident happened during the filming of a scene in which Lee walks through a doorway carrying a grocery bag and is shot. It was considered to be a routine scene that could be handled by the film crew without the firearms consultant, James Moyer.
The gun was loaded with dummy bullets that were used for a close-up shot before the scene. Then, the crew replaced the bullets with blanks for the flashback scene that would explain the murder of Lee’s character prior to his resurrection.
But who would have known that when the special effects crew made dummy bullets by inexpertly deactivating live rounds, some primer was left in one of them. It was not enough to fire off the bullet, but gave it just enough of a kick to get lodged in the barrel. When the blank round was fired, the stuck .44 Magnum bullet left the gun with the force of a normal live round.
As the executive producer of The Crow, Bob Rosen, reported for the Times, “When a blank is fired off a gun, a piece of soft wadding normally comes out. But this time a metallic projectile came out.”
The trigger was pulled Brandon Lee’s colleague, Michael Massee. Lee fell to the ground but at first no one realized that he was actually shot.
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Blood started seeping from his wound and suddenly, everyone realized that he wasn’t acting. Lee was rushed to the hospital where X-rays showed that the bullet was embedded in his spine. After six hours of surgery, he was pronounced dead. He was only 28 years old.
The devastating incident delayed the filming of The Crow and upon its release in 1994, the film was dedicated to Lee and his real-life fiancée. Later, the police investigation revealed an explosive charge in the bag of groceries carried by Lee on set which was to have simulate the gunfire. However, the forensic team that examined his injuries refuted any possible relation between Lee’s injuries and the explosion.
Lee’s death was proclaimed to be an accident and Massee was never indicted with any criminal charges. Nevertheless, the tragic event remained to be a heavy burden for Massee who, in 2005 revealed for The Telegraph that he found it impossible to ever get over the accident.
In an interview for the entertainment news show Extra in 2007, he said that “It absolutely wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t even supposed to be handling the gun until we started shooting the scene and the director changed it.”
Following The Crow, Massee retreated from acting for one year.
He starred in the film The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and its sequel in 2014 and worked on the TV series “24” and “Rizzoli & Isles.”
The career of this exceptionally talented actor rose through his roles in films like David Fincher’s Se7en as well as Tales from the Hood, The Game and Catwoman, and even went further in Lynch’s Lost Highway and Wim Wender’s The End of Violence. Nevertheless, he remained unfairly remembered as the man who killed Brandon Lee.
Massee died at the age of 61, in 2016, from stomach cancer, after spending the last days of his life with his wife Ellen who lived with him in Hollywood. He is survived by his mother and three siblings, Kim, Happy, and Robin Massee, his son Jack and his daughter Lily.
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