Countless films have told stories of strange curses, deformed monsters, vengeful ghosts, deranged murderers, and any other ghouls you can think of. Sometimes these fictitious works can seem so real in the moment that they scare the living shit out of audiences and leave many people sleeping with their lights on. But, there are some who claim that certain horrors that make it onto the big screen stretch far beyond the realm of mere fiction. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous Hollywood curses and urban legends around.
We'll start with a Hollywood juggernaut... the “Superman curse”. Many actors associated with the famed role have met their ends in tragic and sometimes very brutal fashions. The first Superman cartoon was voiced by veteran radio and voice actor Bud Collyer, who went on become of the first American television game show stars. Doesn’t seem that bad, does it? Well, in 1966 he made a return to the Superman role by lending his voice to The New Adventures of Superman on CBS. A few years later he died of a circulatory ailment. He was 61, so his passing wasn’t that untimely.
Christopher Reeve is the face that nearly all of us envision when we think of The Man of Steel. Most of us also know the sad circumstances surrounding his paralysis after an equestrian accident. Reeves would eventually pass away due to heart failure that directly resulted from the condition. But, those who believe in the “Superman curse” often cite a more direct influence the role had on Reeve. The actor became so closely identified as Superman with audiences and industry folk alike, that it became extremely difficult for Reeve to win quality roles in other films. Essentially, it pigeonholed his entire career. Although, there are far worse things than being associated with an American legend.
But, without a doubt, the most infamous incident of the “Superman curse” involves a man who donned the famous caped costume in the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman. Back in the 50s, television was considered even more of a second-class citizen than it ever was in our time. Actors would turn down TV roles, because they viewed the medium as unimportant and were afraid no one would see their work. For those very reasons, George Reeves nearly turned down the role of Superman. In the end, Reeves was found dead in a bedroom in his Benedict Canyon house. The cause of death was ruled to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Reeves’ Luger was found next to him. After first glance, suicide might sound like the obvious answer, but much controversy surrounds Reeves’ death to this day. He was to be married in a few days, his prints were never found on the gun, and he had begun an affair with an MGM executive’s wife.
Even more strange occurrences followed key people involved with the Superman franchise over the years. Lee Quigley, who played baby Superman in the 1978 film died at age 14. Margot Kidder suffers from bipolar disorder. Richard Pryor announced he had multiple sclerosis three years after Superman III. And even the DVD crew on Superman Returns wasn’t spared as a few of them suffered accidents and misfortunes during the making of the DVD.
While Superman is an identifiable icon all over the world, the next curse involves a project that was never released... Atuk. Atuk is a screenplay based on the book The Incomparable Atuk. The fatal occurrences behind this one are the stuff of Hollywood legend. The first man who took on the lead for this film was the great John Belushi. Not long after, he was found dead of a drug overdose. The curse’s next victim was Sam Kinison, who took on the part in 1988, years after Belushi’s death. Kinison actually filmed a few scenes for the film, but production halted when he demanded parts of the script be rewritten. Eventually, talks got underway to finish shooting, but Kinison died in car crash before filming could continue. The next superstar comedian to be approached for the project was John Candy. He died of a heart attack while reading the script. Michael O’Donoghue was a comedian who died of a brain hemorrhage the same year Candy passed away. O’Donoghue reportedly had read the script and was the one who passed it along to Belushi and Kinison. But, it doesn’t end there. The final name on this morbid list is that of the talented Chris Farley. He died of a drug overdose, just like Belushi, and rumor has it he was about to accept the lead in Atuk. Some people even say Farley gave the script to Phil Hartman in hopes he would take a supporting role in the film. Hartman was later murdered by his wife.
Events like these can be frightening enough on films that don’t even revolve around the supernatural, but when strange things start happening to people involved with horror films the line between fiction and reality can get extremely blurred. Poltergeist and The Exorcist are the two of the most famous cases. Let’s start with The Exorcist. A fire burned down the sets of the MacNeil home during production. A harness wrapped around Linda Blair’s body broke causing permanent spinal damage. Likewise, Ellen Burstyn was injured during the filming of another stunt in the bedroom. Mercedes McCambridge, who provided the famed demonic voice heard in the film, was also not spared. Her son killed himself and his family in a murder-suicide. Other stories state that a cameraman’s baby died, as did a night watchmen during production. There were also reports of many other less fatal occurrences. Things got so bad that William Friedkin himself brought in a priest to bless the set on numerous occasions.
As crazy as all that was, Poltergeist definitely takes the cake. Urban legend has it that the filmmakers taunted spirits, bringing about a curse on the movie. Accidents, shifted furniture, and flickering lights were some of the more mild things to be associated with this curse. Dominique Dunne was strangled to death by her boyfriend after filming. Julian Beck died of stomach cancer during production on the sequel and Will Sampson of kidney failure not long after. The most tragic passing, however, was that of Heather O’Rourke, who played the young girl in all of the films. She died of cardiac arrest caused by septic shock during filming of the third film. All of these deaths occurring so close together have caused many people to truly believe in the Poltergeist curse.
Hollywood isn’t without many other supposed curses. There’s James Dean’s famous death car, that claimed not only the actor’s life but the lives of many people who came into contact with it and its parts. Or a lesser known one that ties into Billy Bob Thornton’s costars. John Ritter, Heath Ledger, Bernie Mac, J.T. Walsh, Patrick Swayze, and Jim Varney were all in films with Thorton. Some of them even passed away not too long after filming. Shia LaBeouf and Morgan Freeman are two more costars of Thornton and although they didn’t meet this same tragic end, both were involved in bad car accidents leaving many people screaming curse. And that's only naming two of the more famous ones remaining ones.
Coincidence or something sinister? That’s for you to decide.