The Actress Who Died on Stage While Portraying Her Theatrical Death

the-endSeveral artists have died on stage while conducting live performances; however, one case is highly unique and probably the most ironic at the same time. The incident involved actress Edith Webster.

Webster was a relatively unknown actress who never managed to make a name for herself during her lifetime, but left her mark in history with her bizarre death. During The Drunkard, which was being performed at the Towson Moose Lodge in Baltimore, the 60-year-old Edith Webster was playing the role of the grandmother. According to the plot of the play, during the second half of the show, just before the end, the grandmother had to sing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” after which she was to slump dead onto the floor.

She had been playing this role for eight years when, on November 24, 1986, after singing the song, she fell to the floor, dead. The audience subsequently gave her a resounding applause, something that was mentioned by the director, Richard Byrd.

There was tremendous applause. Night after night, she died and she died, and last night she died and she really did.

The audience, at first, thought that the calls for help from her co-stars were part of the script. But, after a few minutes, they began to understand that the actress had actually collapsed. Doctors later determined that she had suffered a fatal heart attack.

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first heart attack Edith had while playing this role. According to her daughter, in a performance a few years before her death, she had a heart attack during the show, but didn’t seek treatment until later that night.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Johnny Ace was a Rhythm and blues recording artist who died more or less in the middle of a performance too. The official story is that while taking a break during a Christmas Day performance in 1954, Johnny decided to play one of his favorite games – Russian roulette. He lost the game, and with it he lost his life. That said, according to an eyewitness, and bass player of Big Mama’s Thorton, Curtis Tillman, the real story is slightly different from what is commonly told.  “I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded…see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’”
  • Dimebag Darrell, a member of the legendary metal group Pantera, was known for being one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time, including making it on the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists and on ranking #1 in a similar list in the UK magazine Metal Hammer. Unfortunately, he lost his life due to a crazy fan named Nathan Gale, who shot Dimebag onstage while he was performing with his new band Damageplan at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio on December 8, 2004. Gale shot his gun 15 times, killing Dimebag and four others, while wounding seven more. Why did he do this? Various theories have been proposed such as that Gale was a hardcore Pantera fan who considered Dimebag responsible for their breakup. Others suggest that Gale thought that Dimebag stole a song he had supposedly written. Whatever the case, the police investigation revealed that Gale was schizophrenic and had stopped taking his medication at the time of the fatal incident.
  • Perhaps the most similar case to Edith’s took place in January of 1970 at the Crawford Livingston Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, where actor George Ostroska collapsed on stage while playing the lead role in Macbeth. It was later revealed he had suffered a heart attack.
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  • An Oscar to the lady for her performance!!!

  • 2012: A Brazilian actor died after accidentally hanging himself during the play “The Passion of the Christ,” a local hospital said.

    Tiago Klimeck, 27, was one of the actors from a local theater company taking part in an independent production of the play April 6 in the city of Itarare.

    Klimeck died Sunday after spending more than two weeks in a medically induced coma due to extensive brain injuries from a prolonged lack of oxygen after accidentally hanging himself, according to the Hospital Santa Casa de Misericordia, in the neighboring city of Itapeva.

    The cause of death was not immediately available. Photos taken by a local photographer show the final moments of the play as Klimeck, in the role of Judas Iscariot, hangs himself as described in the Bible in the book of Matthew.

    Klimeck wore a harness under his robe during the play, according to CNN affiliate TV Record.

    Police investigator Jose Victor Bassetti told the news station this was the third year the local fire department let the theater company borrow the harness for the play and that Klimeck was not supervised because he knew how to use the equipment. The harness, along with the rope used in the play, are now being analyzed at the Criminal Institute of Sorocaba.

    Luiz Carlos Rosner owns a sandwich cart next to the city square where the play was taking place. He described the anxiety after cast members realized Klimeck was unconscious.

    “One of the actors came over to me, desperate, explaining there was someone unconscious hanging from the rope and that he wanted to cut it,” Rosner told TV Record. “I was a little worried about giving him a knife in the middle of the crowd.”

  • Feb., 2016: In the courtyard of Teatro Lux, a theatre in Pisa, Italy, the performance of an experimental production last weekend offered an unusual spectacle.

    The play, called Mirages, was not performed from a stage, but throughout the theatre by different actors in different places. The audience moved through the play as one might move through a gallery.

    But it all went horribly wrong. An actor performing a monologue in which he simulated hanging either accidentally or purposefully hanged himself in front of a single member of the audience.

    Now, 27-year-old Raphael Schumacher is dead, and two directors and two stage technicians are being investigated for manslaughter.

    “The actor was supposed to perform a short monologue, revolving around the difficulties experienced by a 15-year-old boy and including a hanging simulation at the end,” prosecutor Giancarlo Dominijanni told Il Tirreno.

    ‘The actor changed the script’

    “The original script included an interaction between the spectator and Schumacher before the tragic event. It was performed successfully earlier on Saturday evening, when he ended the scene laying his head in the noose.”

    Schumacher, the BBC reported, was rescued by the audience member, who happened to have recently graduated from medical school. But it was too late: Schumacher never recovered consciousness and was declared clinically dead on Thursday.

    Questions about how he could have met such a tragic fate – and speculation over whether he meant to kill himself – have been raised as details of the strange incident slowly emerged.

    “I strongly believe he did not try to commit suicide,” the actor’s mother, unnamed in an Il Tirreno report, said.

    “His father died recently and he had just broken up with someone, but he had soon regained inner peace. He didn’t leave any messages and had no reason to kill himself.”

    However, others pointed out that Schumacher had changed the original ending of his scene in Mirages.

    “The script included a different ending, a gunshot. Raphael changed it without telling us,” Andrea Vescio, one of the managers of Teatro Lux, said.

    “All I can say is that I saw a 27-year-old boy on the ground, unconscious. He was performing a hanging scene in front of a sole spectator, the young graduate who called for help.”

    The theatre’s staff are not believed to be under investigation.

    “We are truly shocked,” Gabriele De Luca, art director of the theatre, told Il Tirreno. “We don’t know what happened exactly, nobody knows.”

    The theatre has since suspended all shows, with a statement on it’s Facebook page calling the death “an imponderable tragedy”.

    Schumacher graduated from drama school last year; Teatro Lux is a venue in downtown Pisa that includes a movie theatre, bar and performance space.

    An English translation of a mission statement posted to its website reads: “We want to dispel the myth … that theatre is something boring and challenging, suitable only for young ladies in fur coats and tails, and rediscover the playful and popular – in the best sense of the term – soul of the theatre.”

    The Washington Post