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Laurence Fishburne Saved Emilio Estevez From Quicksand While Filming ‘Apocalypse Now’

Photo Credit: United Artists / andrewz MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: United Artists / andrewz MovieStillsDB

The well-loved Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now is full of daring escapades and acts of bravery. As it turns out, things weren’t much different on the set. In a recent interview, Emilio Estevez revealed that when he was only 14 years old, cast member Laurence Fishburne stopped him from drowning in quicksand while on location for movie production.

Apocalypse Now

Filming for Apocalypse Now began on March 20, 1976, in the Phillippines. It was directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Upon its release, critics had varying reactions, but that didn’t stop the movie from being nominated for a staggering eight Academy Awards. Looking back at the film, it is now generally regarded as one of the best ever made and is even better regarded among war movies.

Robert Duvall and Laurence Fishburne dressed in military uniform standing in a group with other men.
Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore and Laurence Fishburne as Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller in a publicity still for Apocalypse Now. (Photo Credit: United Artists / Moviefan2 / MovieStillsDB)

It’s even been preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a culturally significant film. It is set during the Vietnam War and follows the secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Alongside a famous cast, the still-young Laurence Fishburne was put into one of the supporting roles, playing Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller. Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez’s father, played Captain Benjamin Willard, the character tasked with assassinating Brando’s.

Stuck in quicksand

Although he wasn’t part of the cast, Estevez accompanied his father to the Philippines, along with the rest of his family, for filming. He explained that “My folks believed that for the family to actually stay together, we had to stay together, and that meant traveling. He had it in his deal that wherever he went to work, we went with him — whether we liked it or not.” This was important to Sheen as he had a relatively young family during his early career.

Fortunately for Estevez, he was able to pass the time by getting to know Fishburne, also 14 years old. The two had only known each other for a few days when they decided to get up to some shenanigans. In a 2023 interview with Jennifer Hudson, Estevez revealed that on one occasion, the two of them decided to take out a small boat they found nearby. After paddling for a little while, they realized that things weren’t going the way they wanted.

Lasting thanks

Estevez recalled, “we started getting too close to the shore and I said, ‘Well, let me jump out, I’ll push us offshore. I jumped out, and it was like quicksand mud.” Realizing that he was starting to sink, he looked up to the young Fishburne, who was shouting at him to “Grab my hand!” Thanks to this quick thinking, Fishburne was able to pull Estevez back into the boat before things took a turn for the worse. Estevez said the pair “were bonded ever since,” understandable after a traumatic moment like that.

Martin Sheen in an olive t-shirt walking towards the camera with men in military uniform in the background.
Martin Sheen as Capt. Benjamin Willard in a publicity still from Apocalypse Now. (Photo Credit: United Artists / Flaying / MovieStillsDB)

Perhaps the best part of the story is that, in typical 14-year-old fashion, neither of the boys told Martin Sheen about what had happened. This may have been due to the difficulties the actor was already having with the film, which included having a heart attack during production.

More from us: Jane Fonda Says Getting Fired From an Early Job Led Her to Acting

Nonetheless, they eventually fessed up to what happened…decades later. Sheen, shocked by the news, “called Mr. Fishburne to thank him for saving my son’s life.”

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Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.