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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October 18, 1984

Although this week's Tuesday Timeline has a tragic twist to it, it definitely changed the way that actors looked at various props - and how no matter how much effort producers take to make movie and television sets safe, there's always a certain amount of risk that we all take when we go to our respective workplaces.

Before we get to this week's subject, let's have a look at some of the other events that took place on October 18.

1356 - Basel, Switzerland is completely destroyed by an earthquake

1648 - The first American labor organization is established by Boston shoemakers

1775 - African-American poet Phillis Wheatley is freed from slavery

1779 - The Franco-American Siege of Savannah is lifted during the American Revolutionary War

1851 - Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" is first published

1867 - After purchasing Alaska from Russia for over seven million dollars, the United States formally takes over the territory

1898 - The United States takes possession of Puerto Rico from Spain

1919 - Former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau (d. 2000) is born in Montreal, Quebec

1922 - The BBC is established

1927 - Actor George C. Scott (d. 1999) is born in Wise, Virginia

1935 - Actor Peter Boyle (d. 2006) is born in Norristown, Pennsylvania

1938 - Singer Ronnie Bright (d. 2015) is born in New York City

1945 - The wedding of Juan Peron and Eva "Evita" Duarte is held in Argentina

1947 - Singer-songwriter Laura Nyro (d. 1997) is born in The Bronx, New York

1954 - Texas Instruments announces the invention of the first transistor radio

1966 - Cosmetics businesswoman Elizabeth Arden dies at the age of 87

1969 - The Temptations' "I Can't Get Next To You" reaches #1 on the Billboard Charts

2000 - Actress/singer Julie London dies at the age of 74

2008 - Rihanna and T.I. score a #1 hit on the Billboard charts with "Live Your Life"

2012 - Professional wrestler Marvin "Brain Damage" Lambert dies, aged 34

And for celebrity birthdays, I'd like to wish Chuck Berry, Dawn Wells, Mike Ditka, Cynthia Weil, Joe Morton, Joe Egan, Sheila White, Pam Dawber, Chuck Lorre, Arliss Howard, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, Martina Navratilova, Jon Lindstrom, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Erin Moran, Wynton Marsalis, Vincent Spano, Curtis Stigers, Dave Price, Angela Visser, Eric Stuart, Lisa Chappell, Rachel Nichols, Chris L. McKenna, Ne-Yo, Josh Gracin, Freida Pinto, Esperanza Spalding, Lindsey Vonn, Zac Efron, Bristol Palin and Carly Schroeder a very happy day indeed!

Now, as I mentioned before, today's Tuesday Timeline date is one that surrounds a tragic event caused by an accident that was easily preventable.

For it was on October 18, 1984 that this actor would draw his last breath.

Now, chances are, if I say the name Jon-Erik Hexum, you're probably not going to have any idea who I am talking about.  It's okay if you don't.  When I first read about him, I didn't know who he was either.  His career was one that burned out almost as quickly as it started.  He was just 26 years old when he died - a really young age for anybody to go.  And at the time of his death, he was just starting to make a name for himself as an actor.  He starred in the short lived television series "Voyagers" from 1982-1983, and in 1983 he was cast alongside Joan Collins in the made for television film "Making of a Male Model".  By the time 1984 had rolled around, he had his first role in a motion picture - a small part in "The Bear" - and he was the lead in the television series "Cover Up", which debuted on CBS a month before he died.

I have a feeling that most of you probably won't remember the show "Cover Up", so here's a brief description.  Hexum played the role of Mac Harper, a CIA operative who also worked as a male model so that his cover wouldn't be blown.  He has been recruited by fashion photographer Dani Reynolds (played by Jennifer O'Neill) in hopes that he will be able to find the perpetrators responsible for the murder of her husband.  The reason for Mac posing as a male model is to draw less attention towards them, but also gives Dani the opportunity to tag along as the photographer.

In October 1984, the show had already taped the first six episodes of the show, and on October 12, the cast and crew were busy filming the seventh.  In one of the scenes for that episode, it required Hexum to load a .44 Magnum handgun with bullets.  Now, obviously it would be irresponsible for any film crew to leave a loaded pistol lying around the set, so instead the gun was loaded with blanks.  Though, the gun that they used for the scene was a real pistol - which might have been the first mistake.

When the scene was filmed, the director wasn't happy with how the scene looked, so he decided that he would shoot the scene over again, which meant a delay in production.  By this time, Jon-Erik Hexum was starting to grow impatient and he was looking for ways to pass the time.  This leads to mistake number two - the pistol that was used in the scene.  There are varying reports as to whether or not Hexum knew that the gun was real, but regardless, Hexum decided that he would have a little fun with the gun.

Fun in the way of a little Russian Roulette.

He had unloaded five of the six blanks from the gun, leaving one round inside.  And thinking that the blanks were absolutely harmless, he spun it around, aimed the gun at his right temple, and pulled the trigger.

This was mistake #3...and it would prove to be fatal.

The science of blanks being used in guns is to simulate a real gunshot.  It sort of has the same science behind it as one of those cap guns that you might have played with as a kid.  When the trigger is pulled with blanks inside, there is a little bit of gunpowder that is wrapped up in either a plastic casing or a paper casing, and most times, shooting a blank is perfectly harmless.  Loud, but harmless.

But there is a warning that states that blanks should NEVER be fired close to a person's body.  Because even though there are no bullets in the gun, the force that is used to shoot the blank can cause serious injury to the person - especially if placed next to a vulnerable area such as the ear, eye, throat - or temple.

In Hexum's case, when he pulled the trigger, the force of the blank caused Hexum some blunt force trauma.  Part of Hexum's skull was impacted, and pierced the inside of his brain, which lead to severe hemorrhaging.  Hexum was knocked out almost immediately after firing the blank and was rushed to the hospital.  Despite the efforts by medical staff to save his life - he reportedly was operated on for five hours the night of the accident - he died six days later on October 18, 1984 from severe blood loss from the brain, rendering him brain dead.

Hexum was just weeks from his 27th birthday when he died.

Suffice to say, the show "Cover Up" never quite recovered from the loss of its male star.  The show went on - with Antony Hamilton taking the place of Hexum in a new role for the remainder of the 1984-1985 season.  But despite the show's attempt to keep "Cover Up" on the air, it was cancelled at the end of the show's first season.

As for Jon-Erik Hexum, his death was just one reminder that one can't be too careful when it comes to safety on a film set - and that sometimes you really have to second guess your decisions and trust that things are how they are supposed to be.  But if there is any positive message that can come from this, it's that Jon-Erik Hexum was an organ donor.  And because of that, he managed to help a lot of people recover burned skin tissue, regained their ability to see, and allowed them to add several more years to their lives. 

If he had lived, Jon-Erik Hexum would be almost fifty-nine years old.  It's almost impossible to predict what his career would have been like.  Would he have continued to get roles where his body seemed to be the main focus - such as on "Baywatch"?  Or would he have gone on to do great things in the acting world and earn himself an Oscar nomination?  Or, perhaps he might have abandoned acting altogether and focused on another career path. 

No matter how you look at it though, those were dreams that never really came true for Jon-Erik Hexum.

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