Michael Massee, who died Wednesday at the age of 61, is unfairly known as the man who killed Brandon Lee on the set of the 1994 film, “The Crow.”
According to the New York Times, Lee was 28 years old when a prop gun was improperly prepared and discharged at him from 20 feet away, firing a bullet into his stomach. The actor (and son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee) died after several hours of surgery on March 31, 1993.
The gun was supposed to fire a blank cartridge. Bob Rosen, the executive producer of the movie, told the Times that when the blank is fired, a “piece of soft wadding normally comes out of the gun. But this time a metallic projectile came out.”
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X-rays showed that the bullet was lodged in Lee’s spine. The accident took place during a scene in which Lee walked through a doorway carrying a grocery bag. Police said the bag contained a small explosive charge used to simulate the impact of gunfire, but the doctor analyzing the injuries found no signs of an explosion having been associated with Lee’s injuries.
Determining that it was a routine scene, Carolco Studios preemptively told the film’s freelance firearms consultant James Moyer that he would no longer be needed on set, People reported at the time. The regular stage crew was left to handle the scene.
That crew loaded the gun that eventually took Lee’s life with dummy bullets for a close-up shot taken prior to the scene. They then replaced those with blanks for the infamous flashback that would explain how Lee’s character had been killed prior to his resurrection.
But according to Moyer, a portion of one of the dummy bullets had become dislodged from its casing, remaining in the gun’s cylinder. When Massee pulled the trigger, he unwittingly discharged a live weapon.
No one at the time realized that Lee had been shot, Entertainment Weekly reported. The gun fired, the grocery bag detonated and the actor fell to the ground. It wasn’t until blood started oozing from his right side that witnesses realized he had been struck.
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No criminal charges were ever brought against Massee and the death was ruled an accident. While no one ever blamed Massee for the actor’s death, he told the Telegraph in 2005 that he struggled to recover from the accident.
“I don’t think you ever get over something like that,” he said.
In an interview with “Extra” in 2007, the actor said, “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.”
Filming of the project, directed by Alex Proyas, was suspended for several days. “The Crow” was eventually released on March 13, 1994, with the film dedicated to Lee and his fiancée. Most of the film had been completed before the tragedy.
Details surrounding Massee’s death weren’t immediately available Wednesday.
After “The Crow,” he took a year off from acting, then worked on the TV series “24” and “Rizzoli & Isles.” He appeared as Gustav Fiers a.k.a. The Gentlemen in “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) and its sequel. His other credits include “Seven,” “The Game” and “Catwoman.”