You know how everyone’s always trying to convince us that celebrities are “just like us”? And we’re always like, yeah, sure, celebrities are just like us — except for the fact they may have personal chefs, stylists, trainers, and 24/7 child care. Oh, and apart from the fact that they are recognized and idolized wherever they go, earn a living by interacting with other celebrities (making as much as seven figures while working on a single project), receive free clothing made by famous designers, and generally live what most of us envision as the definition of the “glamorous life.”
However, all that fame, luxury, wealth, and even the attentive entourage represent a mere sliver of celebrity life. As much as it might appear that celebrities are somehow more than the mere mortals that we are, they are nevertheless human, and their lives, like ours, are nevertheless finite and fragile. In fact, a handful of celebs have been involved in some seriously terrifying accidents only to walk away and tell their harrowing tale. Let’s take a look.
Brooke Shields broke her femur and nearly died from complications
At just 15 years old, Brooke Shields ushered in the ’80s, controversially revealing “nothing” came between her and her “Calvins” (via 4A’s). Her lush eyebrows were “on fleek” two decades before the Vine phenom who popularized the phrase was even born. Shields starred in numerous box office hits before graduating from Princeton and even had a “special relationship” with pop star Michael Jackson (via Rolling Stone). She married and divorced tennis great Andre Agassi before marrying current husband Chris Henchy and welcoming two daughters together (via Closer Weekly). And she has managed to remain relevant and beloved throughout it all.
One reason for Shields’ enduring popularity may be the candidness with which she discusses her real-life challenges, which, according to WebMD, included postpartum depression and later a freak accident. In January 2021, Shields was working out using a balance board — something she’d done plenty of times before — when she lost her footing and landed hard, resulting in her breaking her femur (thigh bone), the model-turned-actress told NBC’s Today. Shields needed to undergo two surgeries to have metal rods and a metal plate inserted. Her rehab was further complicated by a near-deadly staph infection she developed soon after her second surgery. And she’s been openly sharing her journey because “we have to believe in ourselves and encourage one another,” she told People.
Rachel Bilson was in an awful car wreck before making her Hollywood debut
Actress Rachel Bilson has a knack for beating the odds. In 2003, when already in her 20s, she won the small part of So Cal high schooler Summer Roberts on the teen drama, “The O.C.” but managed to transform it into a starring role, according to People. While she was still busy with the small screen, Bilson also made her big screen debut opposite Zach Braff in “The Last Kiss.”
In 2011, she got her own television show, “Hart of Dixie,” in which she played the title character, Dixie Hart, a recent med school graduate who returns to Alabama to join a small-town medical practice. These days, Bilson is still making guest appearances on television shows and raising her daughter with her partner, Hayden Christensen (via People). But long before any of that, when Bilson was just 16, she was just lucky to be alive after a horrific car accident.
“I was with my girlfriend and these two guys driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. We were going really fast and we were involved in a head-on collision with a truck. We were in a tiny car and it was a pretty bad crash. They had to cut us out and I was in a coma for a few days,” Bilson told The Mirror in 2008. “The crash ended that relationship, which is a good thing.”
Travis Barker survived a plane crash that claimed the lives of four others
Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who as of 2021 has been romantically linked to Kourtney Kardashian, told Larry King that even years after surviving a terrifying plane crash, he won’t travel by air.
On September 19, 2008, Barker, along with his close friend, Adam Goldstein (aka DJ AM), boarded a private Learjet in Los Angeles, California, according to the New Zealand Herald. The two were among six passengers bound for Columbia, South Carolina. Barker said his young daughter had begged him not to take the flight because she’d had a terrible premonition about it. As it turned out, his daughter wasn’t wrong. One of the wheels of the plane bursted on the runway, sending the jet crashing into an embankment, upon which it exploded into flames. Only Barker and Goldstein were able to escape the fire and survive, but not without severe injuries.
Barker received burns on over 65% of his body and nearly lost a foot as a result. He endured 30 surgeries, some of which he woke up in the middle of due to issues with his ability to take anesthesia. In 2019, he told the New Zealand Herald that the emotional trauma he endured led him to contemplate suicide. As for Goldstein, he sadly died of an accidental overdose just one year after the crash.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Comedian and actress Amy Schumer had a gnarly surfing accident
In an interview with Vanity Fair, comedian and actress Amy Schumer talked about a high school surfing accident in which she “skegged” herself. “My whole fin went into my leg, and I had to yank it out,” she revealed. It was a devastating accident that left her with 41 stitches through three layers of skin — and the scars to prove it.
Although Schumer grew up in Long Island, New York (she graduated from South Side High School in Rockville Centre), she enjoyed at least two activities that many associate with Southern California: volleyball and surfing. The volleyball often kept her away from the surfing, but this particular time, it did not — and it nearly killed her.
Far out in the water at the time she injured herself, Schumer managed to grab her board and swim back to the beach — quickly enough to avoid attracting the attention of sharks. Back on the nearly empty late-autumn beach and bleeding from a long, deep gash to her leg, Schumer found a young man to help her. “He held my leg closed with his bare hands — just fat and blood coming out.” He was “beautiful,” Schumer recalled, with “long, stringy hair” and blue nail polish. Other than that, she has no idea who her “angel” was, but she does believe he saved her life.
Kanye West survived a terrible car crash early in his career
Rap star, music producer, designer, and eventual ex-husband of Kim Kardashian, Kanye West broke out as a star after an awful car accident in 2003. Just two years after his first major album credit — for working behind the scenes on a Jay-Z album, and just two weeks after inking his first deal to become a musical performer, West fell asleep while driving a rented Lexus at 4 a.m., leaving him with a shattered jaw, according to Rolling Stone.
West’s jaw required reconstructive surgery after the “near-fatal accident,” according to Cracked. Even with his jaw wired shut, however, West managed to speak to the media about his accident and record his first single, “Through the Wire,” which details the accident and his feelings about it.
In fact, West has made clear that the accident was a game-changer for him in the best of ways. “The accident gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do,” he told Interview in 2014. “I was a music producer, and everyone was telling me that I had no business becoming a rapper.” And, well, that’s certainly changed.
Gloria Estefan survived a frightening back injury
On March 20, 1990, pop music icon Gloria Estefan was riding her tour bus through Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains along with her band, her husband Emilio, and son Nayib when a tractor-trailer hit the bus. Many were injured, including Estefan, who suffered a broken vertebra in her back, according to Biography.
Doctors weren’t sure if Estefan would make a full recovery. The resulting surgery, which involved the placement of steel rods in Estefan’s spine, took four hours, and Estefan endured months of rehab and recovery, putting her tour promoting her album, “Cuts Both Ways,” and her career “on hold” as the fate of her mobility hung in the balance.
Difficult and traumatic as it was, the crash taught Estefan a great deal about life, fame, and the power of prayer. But it was the power of prayer that she felt most viscerally as she recovered. “It wasn’t until I was the recipient of everyone’s collective thoughts that I clearly understood,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I would visually see the prayers entering my body and going to my spine. I would imagine nerves reconnecting and doing all these things. Literally I was sucking in that energy that I was feeling and it was keeping me buoyed and up.” The lessons Estefan learned as a result of the accident were interrelated. The feeling of being healed by her fans’ prayers “gave meaning” to her fame.
Gary Busey changed after his near-fatal motorcycle accident
Gary Busey should probably be best known for playing Buddy Holly in the 1978 film, “The Buddy Holly Story,” for which the star was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (via AP News). However, his talents have tended to be been overshadowed by his hamartia, which seems to comprise a dangerous combination of rebelliousness and antisocial behavior. There’s more to this story, though.
On December 4, 1988, the vocal critic of motorcycle helmet laws got into a near-fatal motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet (via The Hollywood Reporter). Thankfully, he survived, but The Hollywood Reporter explained that Busey was left with “an inability to censor himself.” He simply says what is on his mind, regardless of whether it’s polite, appropriate, or even hurtful. And it often is.
Since then, Busey has continued to work in Hollywood, albeit mostly in small, edgy roles (for example, he played an unstable FBI agent in 1991’s “Point Break,” which starred Keanu Reeves) and on reality television, including 2008’s Celebrity Rehab, 2013’s Celebrity Apprentice (in which he was fired by Donald Trump), and Amazon Prime’s Pet Judge, in which Busey presides over a pretend courtroom in which people attempt to resolve their pet-related disputes (via The Guardian).
Harrison Ford was involved in a horrific plane crash, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to him talk about it
Harrison Ford has starred in some of the 20th century’s most iconic Hollywood movies, as his IMDb page shows. Yet he’s surprisingly low-key when it comes to revealing anything more than the broadest of brushstrokes with regard to his personal life. For example, we know he’s a licensed pilot and has been involved in several flying-related mishaps over the years, including one in 2020 (via BBC News). But most of what we know is from official reports. Indeed, that’s how we found out about his vintage private plane crash-landing onto a Los Angeles golf course in 2015 (via USA Today). Although his injuries were severe, Ford Nevertheless downplayed them.
Even Ellen DeGeneres at her most congenial was unable to elicit any emotional talk from Ford with regard to the terrifying plane crash that he may have survived only because doctors happened to be on the golf course. “You crashed a plane,” DeGeneres began in a December 2015 interview with Ford, clearly offering an opportunity to go broad with the drama. But Ford wasn’t game. “The plane crashed,” he corrected her as the audience laughed. “I was aboard the plane.”
To her credit, DeGeneres managed to get Ford to detail many of his numerous injuries, including a shattered pelvis, dislocated ankle, broken back, and a head injury. However, to DeGeneres’ interjection of “wow,” Ford demurs, raising his hand and saying, “Other than that, nothing.”
Leonardo DiCaprio versus a great white shark
Screen star Leonardo DiCaprio loves being immersed in nature, but his friends have named him “the person they least want to do extreme adventures with,” he divulged to Wired. The reason, according to DiCaprio, is that he has a tendency to find himself skating very close to imminent danger. That, of course, includes the 2006 incident involving a great white shark that years later, DiCaprio was still referring to as “the shark incident.”
It happened during a cage-diving expedition in Cape Town, South Africa while the actor was on a break from shooting the film, “Blood Diamond.” In what DiCaprio was later told was a highly unusual turn of events, a great white shark in search of chum ended up flipping over the top of the underwater tank that contained an unsuspecting DiCaprio (via The Ellen Degeneres Show).
“Half its body was in the cage, and it was snapping at me,” DeCaprio told Wired. “I sort of fell down to the bottom and tried to lie flat. The great white took about five or six snaps an arm’s length away from my head.” What made the experience even more terrifying than it would have been for the average person is that DiCaprio already had a “huge fear of sharks,” as he told Ellen DeGeneres on her show. Nevertheless, DiCaprio has enormous respect for sharks and other wildlife, and his foundation works to protect endangered species (via The Independent).
Isla Fisher nearly died while playing the role of a Houdini-esque escape artist
In the 2013 film “Now You See Me,” Isla Fisher plays an escape artist who, like Harry Houdini, was able to escape from various apparatuses, including while underwater. Fisher’s training included preparing her to escape from a tank of water despite being shackled with chains. “The scene demanded she bang desperately on the glass walls to give the impression of being in distress,” wrote the Daily Mail, which interviewed Fisher regarding the incident. But when Fisher’s chains became tangled, she was no longer “acting.” Her panic was real as she realized she couldn’t reach the safety button that would have caused the tank to drain completely in seconds.
Further, although there was someone off-camera with a can of oxygen, by the time Fisher thought to signal to him, she’d already run out of air. If she wanted to survive, she had to untangle herself and reach the surface. “‘Luckily, I managed to get free and stay level-headed and got out before it went even more horribly wrong,” she told the publication. Remarkably enough, this incident did not put Fisher off of doing her own stunts.
Tracy Morgan survived a deadly car crash that involved six vehicles
In June 2014, veteran comedian and star of NBC’s “30 Rock” Tracy Morgan was involved in a horrific highway collision that nearly cost him his life, according to People. Morgan and five others, including his friend and collaborator, James “Jimmy Mac” McNair, and two other comedians, Harris Stanton and Ardie Fuqua, were traveling down the New Jersey Turnpike in a Mercedes limousine bus when their vehicle was struck by a Walmart truck.
The collision initiated a chain reaction crash that ended up involving six vehicles and resulted in Mac’s death from injuries sustained, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Morgan, Stanton, and Fuqua all required hospitalization as a result of their injuries. Morgan’s condition was characterized as critical and required Morgan’s placement into a medically-induced coma. “I suffered some terrible injuries — traumatic brain injury,” Morgan told People in 2019. “I broke every bone in my face, my ribs. I pulverized my femur.”
In 2018, Morgan recalled his recovery with Today, saying, “I remember being in that wheelchair not knowing if I was gonna walk again, not knowing my name.” His traumatic brain injury led to changes in behavior, and the sum total of circumstances led to severe depression, Morgan revealed in his Netflix special, “Staying Alive” (via People). “I thank GOD for my family,” he tweeted on June 6, 2019, marking the fifth anniversary of the crash. “My wife, daughter, sons, and friends are what got me back on my feet.”
Niki Taylor flatlined twice after a 2001 car crash
In April 2001, supermodel Niki Taylor was involved in terrifying car crash in Atlanta, Georgia, per Vogue UK. After a night of dinner and clubbing, Taylor and her then-boyfriend, Chad Renegar, got into his car. At the time, Taylor thought Renegar was okay to drive. Renegar subsequently lost control, swerved, and struck a utility pole, according to ABC News. Although Renegar walked away with only minor injuries, Taylor, who lost consciousness at the scene, endured significant internal damage and bleeding, according to critical care surgeon Jeffrey Nicholas, who was involved with Taylor’s care when she reached the hospital. Taylor lost nearly 80% of her blood.
Dr. Nicholas operated on Taylor three times in the first 24 hours and “replaced her blood volume 10 times,” per ABC News. And according to Fox News, she actually flatlined twice. Within a few days, doctors discovered the accident had severed Taylor’s liver, which led to the surgical removal of most of the liver (the liver regenerates over time). Doctors left Taylor’s abdominal cavity partially open so that they could perform additional surgeries in the following days.
Throughout all of this, Taylor was unconscious. When she finally woke up, she thought that perhaps a few days had passed. It was actually six weeks. Taylor has since recovered, as she told Fox News in 2017, but she still has the scars to remind her of her frightening close call.
Justin Theroux has had multiple brushes with accidental death
In 2015, while on his Bora Bora honeymoon with then-wife Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux was scuba diving with an instructor and some friends when he realized his oxygen tank was low, he told “Live With Kelly and Michael” (via Cosmopolitan). After thrashing about in genuine panic, Theroux receive some emergency oxygen from the instructor and made his way to the surface.
A few years later, Theroux got into another life-threatening situation when he had a scooter accident on the set of the film, “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” he detailed to Ellen DeGeneres on her show in 2017. Theroux, who was not wearing a helmet, told DeGeneres he “broke [his] head open.” DeGeneres responded by gifting Theroux a brand new helmet.
In May 2021, Theroux opened up to DeGeneres once again, this time about a skateboarding accident he once had in New York City (via EllenTube). “I was skateboarding … and I got hit by a van,” he revealed. “I clearly blacked out for, I think, a long time,” he continued. When he woke up, he couldn’t immediately remember his name and was later diagnosed with a concussion. That led to a night spent in the hospital, during which Theroux was prepped for brain surgery, which, thankfully, he didn’t end up having to have. It isn’t clear when the “skateboard versus van” incident occurred, but since DeGeneres didn’t inquire as to why Theroux wasn’t wearing the helmet she gave him, it’s fair to assume it predated 2017.
Charlize Theron survived a terrifying on-set injury but returned to keep filming
As famous as Charlize Theron is for her acting skills, it’s entirely possible that she may be even more famous for committing so enthusiastically to her craft that she has, on multiple occasions, put her life in danger for the sake of perfecting a character. But one of Theron’s closest brushes with death, or at least with permanent paralysis, occurred while she was shooting the film “Aeon Flux,” according to Made In Atlantis, with whom Theron spoke in 2005.
Theron, who is a skilled gymnast capable of performing multiple back handsprings in a row, had just performed a whopping 18 of them when the nineteenth failed to land. “It was around the tenth or the ninth day of shooting so it was pretty early on. We still had a whole film to do.” On her 19th back handspring, she said she “just slipped and landed on my neck.”
The weight of Theron’s body on her neck resulted in a herniation of the disk between her third and fourth cervical vertebrae, causing the disk to slip out of position close to her spinal cord. Theron spent several days in the hospital and many more days thereafter undergoing tests and rehab. Six weeks later, Theron came back to the set and “did everything” that had been previously scheduled. “That was very important to me,” Theron said, because the character she was playing was “very physical.” That’s commitment.