Celebs' near-death experiences

While it’s sometimes difficult to perceive them as such, celebrities are human like the rest of us. Join Wonderwall.com as we take a look back at the stars who’ve survived near-death experiences, starting with this rap icon… Flavor Flav was inches from catastrophe after a boulder tumbled down a cliff and hit the side of his car while he was driving on Dec. 14, 2021. The Public Enemy rapper was in California’s La Tuna Canyon during a drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles when heavy rains loosened a boulder, which smashed into the front passenger side of his Audi, causing him to briefly lose control of the car. Had he been driving even 1 mph faster, the rock could have easily rolled over the top of the car and crushed Flav. “God is good,” a shaken, but alive Flav said afterward.

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In July 2018, Demi Lovato was rushed to an LA hospital in the throes of an opioid overdose. First responders were sent to their Hollywood Hills home on the morning of July 24 after receiving a call indicating that the singer was unconscious. Demi, who’s long been open about their struggles with addiction, bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, had in June 2018 released the song “Sober,” in which they admitted they’d relapsed after six years of sobriety. After doctors saved their life, Demi spoke out about the overdose on Instagram: “I want to thank God for keeping me alive and well. I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction. What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet.” At the 2020 Grammy Awards, the singer made a moving return to the stage with a performance of “Anyone,” a song written as a cry for help just days prior to their hospitalization.

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In 2019, Kevin Hart almost lost his life in a horrific car crash when his classic car, which was being driven by a friend late at night, veered off the road and into a ditch in the Malibu Hills, nearly killing them and another passenger. Police determined that the driver of the car, Kevin’s pal Jared Black, “gunned the engine and lost control,” leading to a lengthy hospitalization. Kevin suffered three spinal fractures and endured months of grueling physical therapy, but was able to recover. In 2020, he told Men’s Health that the accident changed his life forever. “It’s a resurrection. That’s the best way for me to put it. I feel like the other version of myself died in that moment and this new version was born to understand and to do better,” the comedian explained.

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In December 2019, Zac Efron had a harrowing experience while filming a survival reality series. The actor traveled to Papua New Guinea to film the show “Killing Zac Efron” (talk about eerie), which documented his three-week stay in a remote Papua New Guinea jungle. For the purpose of the show, the “Neighbors” actor was only equipped with the bare necessities as he attempted to survive in the unfamiliar environment — but things took an alarming turn when Zac contracted an infection believed to be typhoid. He was flown to an Australian hospital to receive medical attention. He’s since recovered. “I tend to thrive under extreme circumstances and seek out opportunities that challenge me on every level,” he told Variety shortly before the incident. “I am excited to explore any uncharted territory and discover what unexpected adventure awaits!”

“Riverdale” star KJ Apa was involved in a dangerous late-night car crash in September 2017. After reportedly enduring a 16-hour work day, the actor got into his car and started his 45-minute commute home (the show’s primary filming location is outside of Vancouver). He fell asleep at the wheel and struck a light pole, though thankfully he didn’t suffer any serious injuries. The incident, however, caused a firestorm of criticism around the “Riverdale” set, namely that the cast and crew were allegedly not offered transportation to and from the set when they had early and late hours. “This is an extremely troubling situation and we are deeply concerned about the safety of performers on the ‘Riverdale’ set,” read a statement issued by SAG-AFTRA following the accident. “We are sending a team to Vancouver to review the circumstances surrounding safety issues affecting performers on this production.”

Dylan O’Brien suffered a near-fatal accident while filming a sequel in the “Maze Runner” film series. In March 2016, just days into shooting, the actor was involved in a stunt gone terribly wrong: A harness malfunction pulled him into the path of an oncoming vehicle. He suffered a serious facial fracture and a concussion in the accident, and due to the severity of his injuries, production was shut down. He underwent reconstructive surgery and now has “four plates that will be a part of me forever,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2017. “I feel really lucky to have come away from it — in terms of coming away from it at all on the day, and really how my face has healed. I was really lucky with a really brilliant doctor, and he salvaged a lot of what I used to look like.” The actor has since starred in the 2017 film “American Assassin,” which he credits with helping him get back in the swing of things. “It really ended up being hugely cathartic for me and showed me that I could do it again and get back on set,” he added. “And not just any set, but something like this, and really tackle it head-on.”

Leave it to Kanye West to turn a near-fatal experience into a source of inspiration! On Oct. 23, 2002, the iconic rapper fell asleep while driving home and collided with another car. The accident left him with a metal plate in his chin and his jaw wired shut. Instead of staying home to recuperate, Kanye went back into the studio with his jaw still wired shut, just two weeks following the accident, to record what would be his breakout single “Through the Wire.” “To nearly lose your life, to nearly lose your mouth, your voice, your whole face, as a rapper… and I had to be on TV!” the rapper said in a statement. “My face looks crazy to me now… But I have to just thank God for the situation that I am in… ‘Through the Wire’ is the worst thing that could’ve possibly happen to me, and now it’s obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded!”

British actress Emilia Clarke almost died twice after suffering brain aneurysms. In an essay she penned for The New Yorker in 2019, the actress wrote about how she hoped working out would relieve the stress and anxiety she felt after filming the first season of “Game of Thrones.” “Then my trainer had me get into the plank position, and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain,” she wrote. “I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t. I told my trainer I had to take a break. Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain — shooting, stabbing, constricting pain — was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.” An MRI showed that Emilia had suffered a brain aneurysm — the first of two she experienced. The second happened after season 3 of her hit HBO show wrapped. The actress was required to have two medical procedures after her second aneurysm in 2013. Since then, she’s thankfully been in good health. “In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes,” she continued in her essay. “I am now at a hundred percent.”

In 2018, George Clooney was involved in a car collision while riding to a set on his motor scooter in Sardinia, Italy. “I hit him at 70 miles per hour, so it was bad,” the actor recounted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I split my helmet in half. It knocked me out of my shoes, it hit hard.” The actor collided head-on with a Mercedes (that driver was at fault). The impact sent him flying into the vehicle’s windshield. Following his brush with death, George has since vowed to stay off any two-wheeled vehicles for quite some time. “If you get nine lives, I’ve got all of them used up. So I can let go of motorcycle riding for a while,” he said.

Note to self: Be careful while surfing! In a 2016 cover story interview with Vanity Fair, actress-comedian Amy Schumer shared details of a near-death experience she had while surfing as a teenager. “I had a pretty bad scar on my leg from surfing,” she said. “Forty-one stitches, three layers. I skegged myself. My whole fin went into my leg and I had to yank it out. I was by myself.” Thankfully, a kind stranger came to her rescue and held her leg closed with his bare hands! “I wish I knew who that guy was, because he saved my life, for sure. He had blue toenail polish and nail polish; he had long stringy hair. And I remember him being beautiful. Anyway, he held my leg closed.”

“30 Rock” alum Tracy Morgan almost died in June 2014 when a Walmart truck crashed into a limousine in which he was riding. The comedian was in critical condition immediately following the six-car accident, which claimed the life of his friend James McNair. He also sustained injuries to his brain and required months of outpatient rehabilitation to learn to walk again.

Harrison Ford miraculously survived a plane crash in the Los Angeles area in March 2015 after the vintage two-seat airplane he was piloting malfunctioned in midair. He suffered fairly severe facial and scalp lacerations after he crash landed on a golf course. He also fractured his pelvis, shattered a vertebra and dislocated his ankle, requiring a lengthy hospital stay.

In May 2014, Deryck Whibley shocked fans when he revealed that he had nearly died from years of “hard boozing.” “I was sitting at home, poured myself another drink around midnight and was about to watch a movie when all of a sudden I didn’t feel so good,” the Sum 41 rocker wrote on his website. “I then collapsed to the ground unconscious.” He was rushed to the hospital, where he was laid up for nearly a month. “My liver and kidneys collapsed on me,” he wrote. “Needless to say it scared me straight. I finally realized I can’t drink anymore. If I have one drink the docs say I will die.”

Liam Hemsworth almost drowned while surfing as a child in his native Australia. “When I was a kid, one time I got my leg rope wrapped around my whole body like a ball, underwater. Couldn’t get up,” he told Men’s Health in 2012. “I was in waist-deep water, but I almost drowned… The fear of dying? That’s part of the fun of it.”

Drew Barrymore could have been killed in 2001 when the Beverly Hills mansion she shared with then-fiancé Tom Green caught fire while they were sleeping. The actress credits their late Labrador retriever-chow chow mix, Flossie, with saving their lives. She barked and “literally banged on their bedroom door,” Drew’s late publicist, Eddie Michaels, told the media. “Flossie was really the main alert that there was a fire.”

Orlando Bloom was paralyzed for four days and hospitalized for two weeks in 1998 after he fell three stories while climbing a drainpipe that collapsed under his weight (he was attempting to scale his way up to a rooftop terrace while hanging out with friends). The actor broke several vertebrae in his back and required multiple surgeries and 18 months of rehabilitation. “That accident has informed everything in my life,” he told GQ. “Until then, I didn’t have a healthy appreciation for life and death — that we’re not invincible.”

Taylor Hicks was onboard a private airplane on Oct. 26, 2016, when an engine blew out during the flight. Taylor said his life flashed before his eyes and felt helpless. Luckily for him the plane had two engines. Eventually the pilot was able to land in a rural airport in Alabama.

Back in 2007, Miles Teller was thrown out the window of a car moving at 80 miles per hour when his friend lost control while driving home from a music festival. The “Tom Gun: Maverick” star reportedly landed 30 feet away from the vehicle, which flipped eight times. According to W Magazine, he ended up with 20 staples in his left shoulder, a broken wrist and deep gashes on his face — but somehow he was back in school just three weeks later.

When 50 Cent rose to fame, word spread that the rapper had been shot nine times. But it wasn’t just hip-hop folklore. On May 24, 2000, Fiddy was sitting in a car outside his grandmother’s house in New York City when he was shot at point-blank range with a 9mm pistol. “It happens so fast that you don’t even get a chance to shoot back,” he told MTV. “You can’t move. Your first reaction is to move and then the shots is going off and you jumping around the backseat. I was scared the whole time. Ain’t nobody gonna tell you they ain’t scared in that situation. It’s a hit, man. You supposed to die in that situation. They’re not playing.” The bullets hit his face, hand, legs and thighs, and to this day, 50 still has a fragment in his tongue. Despite nearly losing his life, the rapper kept a positive outlook. “After I got shot nine times at close range and didn’t die, I started to think that I must have a purpose in life,” he wrote in his memoir “From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens.” “How much more damage could that shell have done? Give me an inch in this direction or that one, and I’m gone.”

In the late ’90s, Eminem made a name for himself rapping about drugs. But nearly a decade later, that’s exactly what almost caused his demise. He was hooked on prescription drugs like Valium, Vicodin, Ambien and Seroquel and taking up to 90 pills a day, he’s said. His drug use caught up with him in December 2007 when he overdosed on methadone, causing his organs to shut down. Eminem collapsed on his bathroom floor and was rushed to the hospital. “The doctors told me I’d done the equivalent of four bags of heroin,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. “They said I was about two hours from dying.” He’s now sober.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a friend to animals, but one shark didn’t return his affection when it nearly ate him alive! In 2006, the actor went scuba diving to observe great whites as part of his work for his environmental non-profit, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. But when feeding time went awry, Leo almost became lunch himself. “They actually said [that] in 30 years, this has never happened,” he told take show host Ellen DeGeneres. “But the tuna kind of got stuck on the top of the cage, and the great white leapt out and tried to bite it, and it went into the cage with me, and half of its body was in and out, and I flattened down at the bottom, and it was this far away, and it chomped a few times, but I survived it.”

One of the perks of being a celebrity is staying on your friends’ private islands, but it’s not so fun when a fire breaks out and nearly kills you. That’s what happened when Kate Winslet was vacationing with her family on Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands in August 2011. The blaze broke out during a lightning storm in the middle of the night. Not only did Kate live to tell the tale, but she saved Richard’s 90-year-old mother. “I’m just glad that everyone is safe,” Kate told “Entertainment Tonight.” “And this easily could not have been the case.” Kate later named her son Bear Blaze as a nod to the event. “Bear’s second name is Blaze because my husband [Ned Rocknroll, who’s since returned to his original name, Edward Abel Smith] and I met in a house fire, basically,” Kate told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. “The house burned down and we survived. But we wanted something of the fire and so Blaze was the name that we came up with.”

“The Rum Diary” brought Johnny Depp and now-ex-wife Amber Heard together, but the movie almost took his life. The actor was scouting locations for the film with director Bruce Robinson when their private jet’s engines stopped working. “There was silence. Bruce and I were looking at each other and I think I said, ‘Is this it?’ It was like this weird extended moment when you’re just floating for a second, and you could feel this unpleasant descent,” he told Britain’s Live magazine in 2011. “Nobody said a word except for Bruce and I, sitting next to each other saying, ‘Oh s—! This is death; I guess this is how it goes down.’ Then we burst into hysterical laughter at the idea that this was how we were going to die.” But it wasn’t the end of the line for Johnny: The engines started back up, and the plane landed safely.

Gerard Butler almost drowned while shooting the surfing film “Chasing Mavericks” in 2011. “It’s like you’re in an avalanche, and you don’t know if you’re ever coming up, and you can’t breathe and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he told HuffPostUK. “You think, ‘Why did I do this, what was I thinking?’ And it’s too late. I know there are a lot of people who had those thoughts and never made it back up. And I did make it back up, but then it all started all over again because nobody could get to me, so I went down again twice, and that really put the fear of God into me.”

Isla Fisher almost drowned on the set of “Now You See Me” while shooting a stunt in which her character, an illusionist, attempts to break free while chained inside a tank of water. “My chain got stuck,” she said during an appearance on “Chelsea Lately” in May 2013. “Everyone thought I was acting fabulously. I was actually drowning. No one realized I was actually struggling.”

Ozzy Osbourne has knocked on death’s door a number of times. “With the drugs, it nearly killed me on a daily basis. I did a lot of heavy drug taking for a long time and I survived it by the grace of God,” he told CNN in 2010. “I’m living on borrowed time.” But Ozzy’s drug use isn’t the only thing that nearly took him out. In December 2003, the Black Sabbath rocker was riding a quad bike without a helmet at his Buckinghamshire estate in England when he hit a pothole and the ATV flipped on top of him. His bodyguard, Sam Ruston, gave him CPR on the scene before he was taken to the ICU. “If it wasn’t for Sam, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “He had to bring me back to life twice.” And although he survived, Ozzy didn’t get off scot-free: He suffered eight broken ribs, a punctured lung, a smashed collarbone, crushed vertebra in his neck, a damaged artery and a severe concussion; he also had a metal plate implanted in his shoulder. “I’ll never go near one of those damn bikes again. I’ve finally grown up,” he said. “The bloody thing nearly killed me. I am lucky to be here today and not paralyzed.”

Travis Barker almost died during a plane accident in South Carolina in September 2008. Travis and buddy DJ AM were returning from playing a free T-Mobile-sponsored show in Columbia when their private plane failed to leave the ground during takeoff, skidded off the runway, hit an embankment and went up in flames. Although they sustained major burns, Travis and DJ AM survived the crash. The plane’s other four passengers, including the pilot and co-pilot, were killed. “I was lying next to AM as the plane was exploding, and I was screaming, ‘Are we alive?'” the blink-182 drummer told Rolling Stone in 2009. FOr more than a decade, Travis was afraid of flying and traveled by boat instead of by plane. (He returned to the air in 2021 after falling in love with Kourtney Kardashian, whom he credited with helping him move past his fears.) Sadly, DJ AM died less than a year after surviving the harrowing crash when he overdosed on drugs in his New York apartment.

No wonder Sean Kingston titled his 2013 album “Back 2 Life.” Two years prior, the singer cheated death. He was fooling around on his new Jet Ski off the coast of Miami when he lost control and slammed into a bridge. According to police reports, the singer hit the bridge so hard that he left an imprint of his body on the cement. After being pulled out of the water by an off-duty Coast Guard rescuer, he was taken to the hospital and placed in the ICU. Sean suffered a fractured wrist, broken jaw and damage from water in his lungs. Nearly two weeks later, right before he was supposed to be released from the hospital, Sean had to have emergency open-heart surgery to repair a torn aorta and remove fluid in his heart. Although he coded a few times during the procedure, Sean lived to tell the tale — and sing about it. “I feel like God gave me a second chance at life,” he told Fuse in 2013. “It wasn’t my time yet. He still wants me to make music for my fans and take things to the next level.”

Joaquin Phoenix’s near-death experience can only be described as very Hollywood. In January 2006, the actor was driving on a canyon road above Sunset Boulevard when he flipped his car. Fortunately, someone came to his rescue, and that someone was German director Werner Herzog, who not only helped pull Joaquin from his overturned car but told him not to light a cigarette in the gasoline-soaked vehicle. “I remember this knocking on the passenger window. There was this German voice saying, ‘Just relax.’ There’s the airbag, I can’t see and I’m saying, ‘I’m fine. I am relaxed. Finally, I rolled down the window and this head pops inside. And he said, ‘No, you’re not,'” Joaquin said. “And suddenly I said to myself, ‘That’s Werner Herzog!’ There’s something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog’s voice. I felt completely fine and safe. I climbed out. I got out of the car and I said, ‘Thank you,’ and he was gone.”

In September 2001, Sharon Stone had a crippling headache that almost sent her to the grave. The source was bleeding in her brain, which was caused by an artery rupture at the base of her skull. “When it hit me, I felt like I’d been shot in the head,” she later told journalist Katie Couric. The actress spent nine days in the hospital slipping in and out of a coma. “This kind of giant vortex of white light was upon me and I kind of — poof! Sort of took off into this glorious, bright, bright, bright white light,” she said. “I started to see and be met by some of my friends. But it was very fast — whoosh! Suddenly, I was back. I was in my body and I was in the room.” Sharon was stabilized and received a clean bill of health after 22 platinum wires were inserted into the artery to stop the bleeding. “I had a real journey with this that took me to places both here and beyond that affected me so profoundly that my life will never be the same,” she said.

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