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There have been a number of mysterious celebrity deaths in history. Also a number of not-so-mysterious deaths which, on the surface, appeared to be quite straightforward. That is, until the autopsies came out. We delve into the shocking things the world discovered posthumously about the following 24 stars.
The King of Rock 'n' Roll died in 1977 at the age of 42. He was found dead on the bathroom floor, discovered by his girlfriend, ATI accounts. Paramedics and doctors failed to revive him and the most recognizable face in music was pronounced dead. The autopsy revealed a number of surprising statistics.
ATI reports that the autopsy showed his blood contained high levels of Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, codeine, and an astounding ten other drugs. His heart was twice the size it should have been and the autopsy revealed he suffered from a rare genetic condition that causes emphysema. This means he already had heart issues and the drugs fuelled the problem, causing a fatal heart attack.
In 2011, the English singer’s troubled life came to an end. She was just 27 years old. Amy Winehouse had been plagued by addictions, but nonetheless her death sent chilled vibrations through the music industry. Unsurprisingly, it was the substance abuse that had killed her. However, the autopsy tests showed a more complete picture of the damage.
The Enfield-born singer had a surprising amount of alcohol in her system. 350mg in the blood is enough to cause breathing stoppages, but Winehouse was found with a staggering 416mg of alcohol in her blood, according to The Guardian report in 2013. Her body just couldn’t sustain it.
The artist is legendary, and so was his death. Not only was the sudden loss of Prince a shock to many, but the sad truth was even worse. As reported by The Guardian in 2018, the level of fentanyl in Prince’s liver was severe: 450 micrograms per kilogram. Liver concentrations greater than 69 micrograms per kilogram can be fatal, so the artist's body was certainly not equipped to deal with it.
The Daily Star reports that authorities found numerous pills in various containers around the star's home, a year after his death. But, after the autopsy, his body was quickly cremated and no further tests were carried out, leaving questions unanswered. According to the NY Times, it is possible Prince’s fentanyl came from the black market, because investigators didn't find a prescription. But no one was ever charged.
Whitney Houston’s daughter died tragically in 2015. She had lost consciousness 6 months before and would never be able to explain to her family and loved ones exactly what had happened before she was found immersed in her bath in Atlanta. There was a revealing autopsy, however.
The 22 year old died from a fatal combination of multiple drugs and immersion in water. The most shocking thing about the autopsy was that the medical examiner could not determine whether her death was accidental or intentional. He ruled it ‘undetermined’, according to a report by ABC news in 2016. No one was ever charged for Bobbi Kristina Brown's death.
On a similar note, Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 from causes related to drugs. However, his death was a source of doubts for the coroner who completed his postmortem examination. The drugs were not all they found...
Jimi Hendrix's death was ruled as the result of asphyxiation on his own vomit after overdosing. There was apparently "insufficient evidence of the circumstances" in the moment of his death to decide whether it was an accident, a conscious act of the artist to take his own life, or a homicide. "The question why Hendrix took so many sleeping tablets cannot be safely answered," the coroner had said, according to Rolling Stone.
One of the world’s greats left us sadly in 2014 at the age of 63. He did, indeed, take his own life. Many knew the comic actor was troubled and, in the end, he passed away from ‘asphyxiation’ with antidepressants found in his system, according to The Hollywood Reporter. However, they weren't the only drugs…
The autopsy revealed that the ‘Jumanji’ star had a drug for Parkinson’s in his system. Many had heard before that Williams suffered from the disease. What the autopsy determined, however, is that he didn’t have Parkinson’s at all - in fact, Williams had Lewy Body dementia, which has similar symptoms and is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s. His wife confirmed it to People Magazine in her first interview after his death.
'Fast and Furious' heartthrob Paul Walker’s death was almost as famous as his films. He died in an intense car crash in November 2013. The actor was found in a "pugilistic stance," which means he had his arms up in a seeming attempt to protect his head. The cause of death which the coroner put on the certificate? "Combined effects of traumatic and thermal injuries," according to The Mirror.
Walker had a broken collarbone, jaw, and pelvis and severe burn injuries. The Mirror also confirmed that the autopsy found bits of soot in his trachea, meaning he had suffered those injuries alive. TMZ reported the lawsuit his daughter made against the car manufacturer stated he was alive for one minute and 20 seconds engulfed in flames.
The ‘Star Wars’ legend was flying high in an airplane when her heart suddenly stopped. She was rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles where she died. The coroner put her cause of death down as 'sleep apnea with other factors', as reported by The Los Angeles Times in 2017.
Her death may not have been as accidental and ‘natural’ as it appeared. The Los Angeles Times also tells us that the toxicology report stated she had a colourful combination of drugs in her system including alcohol, cocaine, methadone, MDMA and opiates.
As reported by the Daily Star, Brittany Murphy suffered an iron deficiency which left the 32 year old with a weak immune system. When she got a pneumonia viral infection, the actress was unable to fight it off. It was a very curious condition for such a young woman, though.
Four years after her death, Brittany Murphy's father commissioned a lab report. According to CNN, the lab studied a hair sample and concluded that it contained high amounts of heavy metals. This suggested that Murphy might have been poisoned, but it could also be a result of repeated use of aggressive dye and other hair products. In the end, the hair test had to be dismissed as inconclusive.
The man who was fearless and able to understand (and dodge) dangerous animals for years, just couldn’t dodge a non-aggressive animal. He was killed from a stingray attack in 2006.
The animals are not known to be aggressive and they almost never kill. The death was so surprising that, after confirming the cause of death was by a stingray barb to the chest in the autopsy, experts called it a ‘one-in-a-million’ occurrence. Death by stingray barb is reportedly rare, according to 'Science Line.'
The ‘Boyzone’ singer was just 33 when he died in 2009. There was a dark mystery about his death. He was found at his home in Majorca, sitting on the sofa in his pyjamas at a rather strange angle. The last time he had been seen previously was in the Black Cat Club with his partner, according to The Sun.
Naturally, there were many theories surrounding the surprising death of Gately. Metro stated in 2009 that many attributed the death to substance abuse or alcohol. The autopsy, however, found no evidence of foul play. It stated he had died of pulmonary oedema, possibly due to an undiagnosed heart condition, as reported by The Sun.
The passing of Heath Ledger was a tragic loss for Hollywood and the public. Many had said that his last role had taken over his life and he had become too involved in The Joker’s dark character, but his sister cleared up that rumour, according to the Telegraph.
The Mirror reported that what finally took the distressed actor’s life was an accidental overdose caused by a range of different prescription drugs. The NYC medical examiner reported "acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine."
As most people know, the singer died from an overdose of Propranolol, subscribed by his physician. The doctor would later be convicted of involuntary manslaughter. However, there were some other, surprising finds about Michael Jackson's body and health in the autopsy report...
According to CNN, investigators discovered that Jackson had a number of tattoos which many did not know about - including his lips which were tattooed pink, and his scalp, which was tattooed black (so that his wigs would seamlessly blend in to his head). The autopsy also confirmed he had vitiligo, a condition that lightened his skin.
Image: Getty/Image correction by Showbizz Daily
Bruce Lee’s son had followed his father into the world of acting, but his life was cut short when he got shot on set. He died after being rushed to the emergency room with a .44-caliber bullet in his spine, as the LA Times reported.
Lee's accident was comparable to the one that killed Halyna Hutchins on the set of 'Rust' in 2021. There had been a real bullet in the weapon before, to film a close-up shot, but then it was not properly disposed of. In the hospital, doctors spent hours trying to save Brandon Lee's life. They even transfused more than 60 pints of blood, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Brandon Lee's father had also died in extraordinary circumstances. The most famous martial arts artist in the world was in great shape and had made a name for Asians in movies. He was filming in Hong Kong when he fainted and collapsed. Lee survived the accident, but a few months later he got a headache and went to sleep, to never wake up again.
The official cause of death was cerebral edema, excess fluid on the brain, and his death was marked as a ‘misadventure.’ History.com states that the reason for this was heat stroke. The article also reports that fans were suspicious of that result and that some claimed his mistress was involved. It caused a great media frenzy.
The martial arts actor who is most famous for his role in the 1970s TV show, 'Kung Fu,' had a mysterious death indeed. The forensic pathologist, Dr Michael Baden, spoke to Reuters and attributed the cause of death to ‘asphyxiation, an inability to breathe’.
The asphyxiation was due to a possible sex act gone wrong, according to Metro UK. Carradine was found hanging with a rope around his private regions as well as his neck. He was also wearing fishnet stockings and a wig, ABC news reports.
After a few small roles, this actor looked like he was making a name for himself in the business with his role as Kip 'Half-Sack' in 'Sons of Anarchy.' He abruptly fell to his death from a terrace, however, shortly after he had allegedly killed his 81-year-old landlady, E!online reports.
Incredibly, there were no drugs in his system - nor was there alcohol, according to the Associated Press. His death continued to be surrounded by mystery.
The death of one of the world’s most popular icons was disturbing and tragic. The Mirror showed the death certificate which reports that the actress had died of ‘acute barbiturate poisoning'.
No evidence of foul play was found, but accidental overdose was also ruled out due to the large amount of barbiturates she had ingested, the Daily Star reports. The mystery surrounding the autopsy findings has led to a number of theories about Marilyn Monroe's death.
'West Side Story’s Natalie Wood mysteriously drowned while on a yacht with her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. It was 1981 and the death was ruled an 'accidental drowning' before it was changed years later to 'drowning and other undetermined factors,' the BBC reports.
Researchers who revisited her autopsy in 2013 hinted at foul play. "The location of the bruises, the multiplicity of the bruises, lack of head trauma, or facial bruising [all] support [that] bruising occurred prior to entry in the water," coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran stated as he challenged the cause of death on Natalie Wood's certificate.
The singer, songwriter and guitarist had only released one album but became respected in the world of music. One day he was out with his friends, repeating an activity he had done many times before: jumping into the Wolf River Harbor with all his clothes on and going for a swim, as Rolling Stone states.
This time, however, things were different. On next glance at the river, Buckley was gone. They wouldn’t find his body for two days and, when they did, the autopsy revealed that there was perhaps something deeper afoot. There were no drugs or alcohol found in his system, according to The Rolling Stone, so it is still unknown as how he came to drown.
The loss of one of the greatest singers in history was felt by millions. Her official cause of death, as reported by CBS news, was "drowning due to cocaine use and atherosclerotic heart disease." But ABC News reports that her autopsy findings revealed other substances found in her system, as well as a condition that would have been devastating to the singer.
In the report, cited by ABC News, it says that there was "cocaine, benzoylecgonine, cocaethylene, marijuana, alprazolam (Xanax), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl)" in her system. But perhaps a more tragic and surprising finding was the fact that the singer had been developing emphysema which would have caused her to lose the talent of her magical voice.
Rivera is among those that the ‘Glee’ franchise tragically lost. She was found dead at just 33 years old in 2020 after she had disappeared while boating with her 4-year-old son on a lake in California.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
The autopsy, obtained by the BBC, confirmed that Rivera's cause of death was ‘accidental drowning and that there was no evidence of injury or intoxication.' Rivera had been swimming with her son, felt like she was losing control in the water, and used all her energy to put her son back on the boat. She'd never return to the surface herself.
Mark, also a former 'Glee' star, was found lifeless near the LA River after his brother had reported him missing. The actor had been on house arrest after pleading guilty to serious charges of abuse in 2017. He was looking at seven years in prison, USA Today reported.
This is a haunting story of a man who took his own life. The autopsy found the actor had no drugs in his system and, although he had alcohol in his blood, the official cause of death was straightforward: 'asphyxia.'
The R&B singer was killed in an airplane crash in 2001 when she was just 22 years old. The plane crashed in the Bahamas after having been badly overloaded, CNN reports. The accident killed all eight people on board.
The singer was found thrown 20 feet from the wreckage. While the cause of death was ruled as 'severe burns and a blow to the head,' the coroner added in The Sun that Aaliyah had suffered a weak heart and that, in any scenario, her chances of survival had been slim to none. "Aaliyah went into such a state of shock, even if she had survived the crash, recovery would have been near impossible."