While interruptions of plays, concerts, and other live theater events may not be that uncommon, it is unusual for a shocking or tragic incident to take place in the middle of a performance. Sometimes, these moments are caused by accidents or sudden emergencies, but often they are intentional actions by people who want to disrupt the show for one reason or another. Here are some of the most shocking occurrences to take place during live event performances.
10 Groping Incident
Back in 2007, country music star Faith Hill made headlines for her reaction to an incident that could easily be viewed as sexual harassment. However, in this case, it was not Hill herself who was the target of the harassment but her husband and fellow country music singer Tim McGraw. At the end of a concert in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was part of the couple’s Soul2Soul tour, a reportedly intoxicated woman in the audience grabbed McGraw’s crotch while he was greeting fans in the crowd.
McGraw himself initially reprimanded the woman, but it was his wife’s furious response to the outrageous behavior that drew so much attention when clips of Hill chastising her from the stage quickly appeared online. Reluctant to confront her at first, Hill was spurred on when she noticed the woman smiling tauntingly. Hill firmly defended her husband and pointed out how disrespectful her actions were, saying: “Someone needs to teach you some class, my friend.”
9 Harness Malfunction
Stunts involving harnesses seem to be an occupational hazard for recording artists who put on spectacular shows. One harness mishap experienced by pop star Pink was particularly frightening. During a concert in Nuremberg, Germany, on her 2019 Funhouse tour, Pink was set to perform her closing song “So What” while flying over the crowd. This was actually one of many acrobatic feats featured in the show, but Pink herself realized something was wrong. Turning to the back of the stage, she sent a signal that she was not ready by making an X with her arms, but it was too late. The wires pulled her to the edge of the stage, where she crashed against a barricade. The singer later explained that she was not clipped into the harness correctly.
Pink was in a lot of pain and thought she might have broken something. She apologized to the audience for not being able to perform the song and was rushed to the hospital. However, it turned out that she did not have any serious injuries, just very sore.
8 Musician Passes Out
There have actually been many cases of entertainers, particularly musicians, passing out on stage. Sometimes these episodes result in a tragedy, such as the death of Morphine’s lead singer/bassist Mark Sandman in 1999.
One of the less tragic but more peculiar instances of a performer losing consciousness on stage was when The Who’s wild drummer, Keith Moon, passed out not once but twice during the same concert in San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1973. The most unusual part of the story is how the situation was handled. A 19-year-old attendee named Scot Halpin, pushed toward the stage by a friend encouraging him to step in for Moon, was noticed by promoter Bill Graham, who asked if he could play the drums. After being prepped by a drum roadie, Halpin went on stage just as Pete Townshend asked if anybody in the crowd could play drums. But Halpin had already gotten the last-minute gig and played with the band for the remaining three songs.
7 A Star’s Near-Fatal Fall
Occasionally, we will hear about an entertainer getting hurt during an accident on stage, but one of the most catastrophic involved the legendary Ann-Margret, which permanently altered her appearance. The beautiful actress/singer/dancer was performing at a Lake Tahoe casino in 1972 when she was badly injured after falling 22 feet (6.7 meters) from a platform used in the show to transport her to stage level during the elaborate opening number. Anne-Margret narrowly escaped death in this accident, which caused her to fall into a coma for three days and left the star with multiple injuries, including a broken arm and five broken bones in her face.
She underwent major facial reconstructive surgery but made a full recovery and, being the trooper that she is, returned to work just 10 weeks later. Known at the time for a wide range of films, from musicals like Bye, Bye, Birdie to provocative dramas such as Carnal Knowledge, Ann-Margret has continued to be popular, performing in many stage and screen projects over the years.
6 Electrocuted Performer
Another example of an entertainer almost being killed on stage is something that happened to iconic Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards at a 1965 concert in Sacramento, California, before an audience of 5,000. Four songs into the performance, the show came to an abrupt and terrifying end. Richards suffered a severe electrical shock when his guitar touched the microphone stand, causing him to fly backward and fall to the ground amid a flash of blue sparks.
The confused crowd was stunned into silence, with some thinking he may have been shot. Chaos quickly ensued, and a semi-conscious Richards, hooked up to oxygen, was rushed to an emergency room. One doctor speculated that the rubber soles on the boots he was wearing might have saved his life. Richards made such a speedy recovery. He was able to perform the very next night and has managed to have a sense of humor regarding the incident, publicly joking about it over the years.
5 Suicide Attempt
One of the biggest stars of the silent screen era was Lon Chaney, dubbed the Man of a Thousand Faces, who played iconic leading roles in such classic films as The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Before he became a movie actor, Chaney was successful on stage, but it was a real-life tragedy that happened in the wings one day that probably got more attention than anything he did in front of the audience.
Chaney’s troubled marriage to singer Cleva Creighton led to a shocking incident in which his wife of eight years swallowed poison while standing in the wings of the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles during one of Chaney’s performances in 1913. After she recovered, the couple divorced, and Chaney was awarded custody of their son, future actor Lon Chaney Jr.
Her failed suicide attempt left Creighton’s vocal cords permanently damaged, ending her singing career. The scandal took a toll on Lon Chaney’s own theatrical career, leading him to go into the fledgling motion picture business, which proved to be his true calling.
3 High Society Murder at a Rooftop Theater
One of the most sensational and attention-grabbing trials of the 20th century concerned the murder of famous 52-year-old architect Stanford White during the rooftop theater premiere of the musical Mam’zelle Champagne. The crime took place at the Beaux Arts Madison Square Garden, a building White himself designed, which preceded the current arena. As the closing number was being performed, “I Could Love a Million Girls,” one of the attendees, 25-year-old Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, suddenly walked up to White’s table and shot him three times—twice in the face.
Thaw, who was married to the young model/actress/showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, said: “I killed him because he ruined my wife.” Among the revelations that came out during the subsequent trial was that five years earlier, Nesbit had been White’s underage mistress following an incident in which White gave champagne to the then sixteen-year-old, which may have contained a drug. Thaw was said to have been obsessed with getting revenge for Nesbit’s alleged rape.
While Stanford White sought to present himself as respectable, he did have a reputation among New York elites as a sexual predator of very young girls. In a comparatively innocent era, the general public, who tended to idolize the upper classes, was truly shocked, not only by the public murder but also by the stories in the press about White’s lecherous and hedonic lifestyle. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to an institution.
2 Massive Fire
Sometimes performers aren’t the only ones who become victims of accidents involving pyrotechnics. Occasionally, audience members or others will be harmed. One of the most devastating examples of this took place in 2003 at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, during a Great White concert. Just after the band launched into their opening number, “Desert Moon,” flammable sound insulation caught on fire from the pyrotechnics that had been set off by the tour manager, Daniel Biechele.
With the stage suddenly covered in flames and the venue filling with smoke, the crowd rushed to get out of the building, which led to a stampede, causing the narrow hallway that led to the front door to become jammed. There were three other exits, including one beside the stage, which most of the Great White members and their entourage used to escape, but many individuals perished. Out of 462 people at the venue, 100 died, including lead guitarist Ty Longley and DJ Mike “The Doctor” Gonsalves. Over 200 people sustained injuries. Biechele pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison.
The most infamous live theater interruption occurred during a performance of the comedic play Our American Cousin in Washington D.C.’s Ford Theater on April 14, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was shot by prominent actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, resulting in Lincoln’s death the following morning.
In a last-ditch effort to save the confederacy at the end of the Civil War, Booth and his co-conspirators were planning to kill President Lincoln, along with Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. However, neither of the other two assassination attempts was successful.
Ironically, the atmosphere in the theater just before the attack was lighthearted as the audience enjoyed the popular comedy. Lincoln was enthusiastically laughing while seated in his private box with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and their guests Major Henry Rathbone and fiancée Clara Harris. This is when Booth gained access to the box, shot Lincoln in the back of the head, and stabbed Rathbone, who had lunged toward Booth. After the assassin jumped onto the stage below and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis,” the Virginia state motto meaning “thus always to tyrants,” he managed to escape, despite a broken leg from the fall. He was located by Union troops and shot to death on April 26, 1865.