Brandon Lee killed on set

Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of the legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee , was killed yesterday in an accident on the set of the action-adventure movie “The Crow,” currently filming at the Carolco Studios in Wilmington, N.C.

There are conflicting reports on the precise cause of death. While filming a scene in the Edward Pressman Film Corp. production at approximately 12:30 a.m. yesterday, Lee was struck in the abdomen by a projectile that may have been fired from a gun rigged to shoot blanks.

He died at 1:30 p.m. yesterday at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he had undergone emergency stomach surgery.

According to a statement from the Wilmington police, who classified the incident as an “accidental shooting,” Lee was carrying a grocery bag that contained a small explosive charge used to simulate gunfire when another actor fired a shot at him from a blank pistol about 15 feet away.

“At the time of the gunfire, the explosive detonated and Lee collapsed,” a police spokeswoman said.

Dr. Warren W. McMurry, surgeon at the hospital, said the intestinal injuries and major vascular injuries were consistent with a bullet wound. “I felt that that was what we were most likely dealing with,” he told the Associated Press.

The entry wound was about the size of a silver dollar and the injury extended in a straight line to the spine, McMurry said. X-rays showed a metallic object lodged against the spine. An autopsy was expected to be conducted today.

Though police said the grocery bag that Lee was carrying contained a small explosive charge to simulate gunfire, McMurry said he saw no signs of injuries that might have been associated with an explosion.

In “The Crow,” a$ 14 million action adventure film based on an adult comic book of the same name, Lee portrays a murdered rock musician who returns from the dead to avenge his death.

Ironically, the actor was filming his death scene — which is told in flashback — when the fatal accident occurred.

Some crew members were quoted in the April 2 issue of Entertainment Weekly saying the production was jinxed and talking about what they called “the curse of The Crow,” because of a litany of mishaps and accidents that occurred during filming, which began Feb. 1.

Incidents reported by the magazine included a Wilmington carpenter being severely burned when live power lines hit the crane on which he was working (he remains hospitalized); a disgruntled sculptor went “berserk” on the backlot and drove a car through the studio’s plaster shop; a construction worker slipped and drove a screwdriver through his hand; and most recently a March 13 storm destroyed some sets.

According to informed sources, Lee had recently told his representatives of his concerns about long shooting hours and fatigue of the crew.

Lee’s tragic death immediately raised questions as to the status of “The Crow.” The picture, being directed by Alex Proyas, was just more than a week away from wrapping and was targeted for domestic release through Paramount Pictures this August.

While Pressman Film Corp. retains foreign distribution rights on the movie, the company made a negative pickup deal with Paramount for a domestic release.

Because of the negative pickup arrangement, sources pointed out, Paramount has the option of refusing the picture when it’s delivered. Par could back off from the film due to concern over negative publicity, potential litigation or lack of sufficient footage of Lee.

There is a very rarely used provision in pickup deals that allows a distributor to reject a picture if it does not meet “first class professional standards.”

“I’m sure the pickup was based on certain elements including casting,” one rival studio distribution executive said of Par’s involvement in “The Crow.” The distribution source added, “I would be less than enthusiastic (about releasing the film) if it was me.”

In the case of Natalie Wood’s death during the 1981 filming of the MGM movie “Brainstorm,” the studio took great pains to use doubles and other devices to cover for the absence of the actress.

Some critics claim the artifice intruded upon the reality of the picture. According to one source, when Wood died, the production’s insurance carrier, Lloyd’s of London, finished the picture and “forced MGM to release the film.”

It is unclear how many critical scenes were left to be shot on “The Crow.”

Producers Ed Pressman and Jeff Most were not available for comment yesterday.

Co-producer Caldecott Chubb, who was only present on the set during the first week of principal photography, said he believed the remaining sequences were mainly flashbacks of Lee’s character’s life.

Reached in San Jose yesterday, Chubb, who was formerly Pressman’s longtime associate and film company topper, said of Lee’s death: “It’s a great loss. He was one of the most extraordinarily lovely people I’ve met. He was remarkably talented and this was a part that he loved and was wonderful in.”

One of Lee’s agents, William Morris’ Scott Zimmerman, referred to the actor as “an incredibly thoughtful and special person, wise beyond his years, genuinely interested in people. He was one of the greats.”

Born in Oakland, Lee was the son of Bruce and Linda Lee and spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong, where his father attained cult status for his fast action martial arts films. His 1973 film “Enter The Dragon” made him an international star.

A biopic of the older Lee, the Rob Cohen-directed “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” is due out this year through Universal Pix.

The younger Lee was just 8 years old when his father mysteriously died in 1973 of what was initially listed as a swelling of the brain in reaction to a headache tablet ingredient.

Brandon Lee was engaged to be married in Mexico in two weeks to Eliza (Lisa) Hutton, who was a former story editor at Kiefer Sutherland’s 20th Century Fox-based production company Stillwater Prods.

When Hutton learned of the accident yesterday morning, she flew to Wilmington and was at Lee’s side when he died.

Lee most recently appeared in 20th Century Fox’s “Rapid Fire,” which marked his first starring role.

Former Fox production prexy Roger Birnbaum, who greenlighted “Rapid Fire” along with the studio’s ex-movie chairman Joe Roth, said yesterday: “My first thoughts are what a sweet person he was. He was extremely talented and had his whole life about to unfold for him. It’s a very sad thing.”

Lee previously starred opposite David Carradine in TV’s “Kung Fu: The Movie” in 1986 and had a multipicture deal with Carolco.

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