The Crow Original: How did Brandon Lee die, Brandon Lee death cause, what happened to Brandon Lee

What happened to Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow?

With the confirmed relaunch of The Crow 2024 with Bill Skarsgård in the titular role, many fans have been reminded of the tragic death of Brandon Lee over three decades years ago on the set of cult comic book film.

The only son of martial arts expert Bruce Lee, Californian born Brandon had mirrored his father by training in martial arts, while he also studied acting and was a fight choreographer.

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Although his acting career was tragically cut short, the Oakland native had already starred in hit movie ‘Legacy of Rage’, where he played the role of Detective Johnny Murata alongside award-winning Rocky VI star Dolph Lundgren.

However, Hollywood beckoned for 28-year-old Lee when he was cast in the main role of Alex Proyas’s highly anticipated movie ‘The Crow’ as Eric Driven.

The Crow, which now has a large cult following, sees the plot centred around a murdered musician, played by Lee, who is resurrected to avenge the deaths of himself and his fiancée. The film grossed $94 million at the box office, despite Paramount Pictures deciding to opt out of distributing the film following the death of the star.

Set to be Lee’s breakthrough film, the gothic superhero movie was based on James O'Barr's comic of the same name.

Brandon Lee death cause – how did the actor die on the set of The Crow?

The 28-year-old died in Wilmington, Norton Carolina whilst filming on the set of The Crow.

Lee was in the midst of filming a scene where his character, Eric Driven, is shot at by gang members who have forced him to witness the murder of his fiancée Shelly Webster.

In the scene, actor Michael Massee's – who starred in other comic book films including Catwoman, The Amazing Spiderman and Avengers – playing the role of Funboy, fires a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver at Driven from approximately 12-15ft as he walks into the room.

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In a previous scene, the exact same prop gun had been used and was fitted with dummy cartridges, which are said to look more realistic on film.

Commercial dummy cartridges are usually fitted with bullets, though powder and primer are removed.

However, catastrophically in the instance, the prop crew took the decision to make their own dummy cartridges, thus removing the gun powder but, unbeknown to themselves, leaving the primer still inside of the cartridge.

During filming, the revolver was then discharged with an improperly-deactivated cartridge in the chamber of the gun. Sadly, this meant the primer was set off with enough force to drive the bullet into the barrel, where it become stuck – known as a squib load.

Tragically, the prop crew either failed to notice, or perhaps didn’t recognise, the significance of this issue.

In the scene which proved fatal to Brandon Lee, the revolver was fired at Lee from a distance of 12-15ft as planned, though the dummy cartridges were swapped for blank rounds – which feature a live powder charge AND primer but no bullet.

Devastatingly, this meant when Massee fired the gun, the bullet which had been trapped in the barrel was fired with virtually the same force as a gun which had been loaded with a live round.

The shot hit Brandon Lee in the stomach and forced the 28-year-old actor to fall forwards, as opposed to backwards which was in the script.

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While the on set crew originally believed he was still acting, the magnitude of the accident soon became apparent and he was air lifted to hospital. He underwent hours of surgery at a nearby hospital, but was confirmed dead on March 31 1993.

Lee’s death was ruled an accident due to negligence, while Massee, haunted by the incident, moved away from acting for an entire year and, until his own death in 2016, cited he would never watch The Crow, which was released in 1994.