While Lee’s death may be the most famous example of such an accident, a similar on-set tragedy took the life of actor Jon-Erik Hexum. In 1984, during the filming of the CBS series Cover Up, Hexum used a prop gun as a joke during a set break, accidentally killing himself. 

Although prior fatal on-set accidents happened decades ago, the danger related to handling prop firearms on set hasn’t diminished. But in the age of digital effects that can replace often dangerous practical effects and stunts, and the normally rigorous attention to safety measures on film sets, this latest production incident has taken the Hollywood community by surprise. It’s also raising questions about why live firearms are still on sets at all.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.