There’s something inherently compelling about people who have died on-stage. The ultimate proof of dying for one’s art, so to speak. As authors Jeff Abraham and Burt Kearns lay out in their book, The Show Won’t Go On, there are actually a lot of people who have done just that. With an informative writing style that both informs and honors, The Show Won’t Go On is the perfect companion for people who have Googled on-camera deaths.
Clocking in at a little over 200 pages Abraham and Kearns don’t craft a full-fledged book so much as an expanded guide to the different on-stage deaths they’re fascinated by. And when they say on-stage that means a world as diverse as vaudeville, radio, and social media. The various people they highlight might not be household names to most people, but their stories are fascinating.
The usual people you’d expect to see are included, from Christine Chubbuck’s on-camera suicide to Tommy Cooper’s infamous heart attack, captured on British television. It’s a bit ill-defined as to why some deaths were picked and others weren’t. Why not Redd Foxx or Brandon Lee? Maybe because their deaths are so well-known? Regardless, the bits of information here are highly readable though many of the incidents sound the same (a lot of heart attacks seem to happen on-stage).
Some of the more fascinating sections involve people and events you wouldn’t know about, like Indonesian singer Irma Bule, who was bitten by a king cobra during a performance or Pedro Aunion Monroy, an aerial dancer who perished in a stunt gone wrong. In most instances, the authors are able to find new information not common on Wikipedia.
Their section on magician “Amazing” Joe Burrus, who was buried alive doing a trick involving cement, sees an extended interview with his son that gives a first-hand account of witnessing the tragedy. These narratives aren’t made for gorehounds but to show the real horrors that occurred. Or in the case of longevity expert Jerome Rodale, who died while filming an episode of The Dick Cavett Show, the authors look at the Mandela Effect, wherein audiences believe they saw it. In actuality, the show never aired on television and the two, who were allowed to see the tape by Cavett himself, get a chance to set the record straight.
The Show Won’t Go On doesn’t break new ground but is certainly a fun read for those who like a dash of death with their entertainment. A solid novelty gift for the macabre maven in your family.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.