Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Jon-Erik Hexum -- A Hollywood Tragedy Still Remembered

November 5, 1957 was the birthdate of actor Jon-Erik Hexum, a name perhaps that not all of you remember but many TV fans still do.  On October 12, 1984 -- a little over thirty years ago -- Hexum, on the set of his new TV series Cover Up, died from a head injury when he unknowingly shot himself with a prop gun which although not loaded still inflicted a mortal wound.  Of course it was an accidental death, not that he didn't jokingly put the gun to his head but surely an accident in that he thought the gun was not dangerous.  The seriously injured Hexum was rushed into surgery but never regained consciousness and was declared dead six days after the incident on October 18, 1984.

I very much remember hearing about this just after it happened while I was at work at KTLA.  The shooting was a big deal, a prime example of the "if it bleeds, it leads" maxim with some Hollywood glamour thrown in.  Not that Hexum was a big movie star or anything yet, but he had shown promise in his first TV series, the time-travel adventure Voyagers, and in The Making of a Male Model, a sexy TV movie with Joan Collins from the year before, and people seemed to like him.

Now he was co-starring in Cover Up opposite actress Jennifer O'Neill -- Rio Lobo, The Summer of '42 -- and ready to take a big step into bonafide TV stardom and then who knows how far he would go.

Here the personable and handsome Hexum is seen on an interview on The Merv Griffin Show show just a month before his death:

And then, on the night of October 18, 1984, this is what some of the TV news coverage looked like:

An up-and-coming young performer was dead too soon, not the first nor the last time an untimely Hollywood death of someone with so much to offer had startled the public into reassessing their own mortality.  During his short life and career Jon-Erik Hexum nevertheless made a lasting impression on many.  There is more than one tribute site dedicated to Hexum, including this one (click here), and also individual remembrances such as this one (click here) which also contains some fascinating background info on Hexum's career.  The late great E series Mysteries and Scandals did a half-hour on him in 1999, and it's great viewing still.

Jon-Erik Hexum would have turned 57 years old today.


Suzi said...

I think he and Jennifer O'Neill were an item at the time.

Jack's Girl said...

They weren't an item, just co-stars. In fact, some say Jennifer resented that he had top billing. Some interviews even showed her trying to belittle him, it was no secret she preferred working with Antony Hamilton.

As far as sites go, don't forget and! Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

No...I think it was a maturity problem. Jennifer and Jon were almost ten years apart. Jon loved fooling around with the guns on the set and Jennifer shot herself by accident a year or so before. She argued with Jon about it a couple of times. She said Jon reminded her of her brother.Anthony Hamilton was much closer to Jennifer's age at the time, so I guess they would get along better.