“Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.”—Hunter S. Thompson.
There’s always that person you know whose life is devoted to challenging fate. Whether because of a crazy lifestyle, some incredibly dumb decisions, or just plain bad luck, there are people who find themselves in situations which logically ought to kill them, but which they somehow survive anyway. These facts are devoted to said people who managed to cheat death and live through absolutely unbelievable circumstances.
People Lucky to Be Alive Facts
42. Playing with Tigers
There was a time when Siegfried & Roy were big names in the entertainment world, and they were famous for their gimmick of working with jungle cats that would send any normal person running away screaming. Eventually, in 2003, Roy Horn was attacked by Montecore, one of their prized tigers. To be fair, Horn spent what nearly were his dying words pleading that nothing bad happened to Montecore. Hard to blame a tiger for acting on its animal instincts. Horn would survive, but their show was finished.
41. Too Devoted to the Craft?
George Clooney famously won an Oscar for acting in Syriana. For our part, we’re hoping that he considers it worthwhile given that working on that film nearly killed him in more ways than one. In an accident during filming, Clooney broke his back. As risky as that already was, Clooney was nearly driven mad during the recovery process—the pain he felt was so extreme that he allegedly considered suicide just to make it stop.
40. Wile E. Coyote Says Hello
Jackie Chan has spent most of his career performing crazy stunt after crazy stunt in his action movies, whether serious or comedic. Of course, a mortal man cannot challenge Death so recklessly forever, so Chan got a serious warning in Yugoslavia when he was filming a jump from a castle wall to a tree on the set of Armor of God. He missed the tree and landed head-first onto the ground.
39. What’s on Your Mind?
Chan was rushed to the hospital, where it was discovered that not only had his skull cracked, but a shard of it had been pushed into his brain! Chan barely managed to escape serious brain damage, and he got a plastic plate put into his head as a special reminder of the importance of safety regulations.
38. Just a Short Walk
It takes a special person to survive in the wilds of Australia, and Matthew Allen proved he was such a person after he ended up getting lost in the Australian Outback. After weeks of searching in 2012, hikers managed to find the 18-year-old Allen; he weighed half as much as he did before he disappeared, he was disoriented, and he could no longer stand, but he was alive.
37. A Real Scorcher
Not only was it crazy that Allen had survived wandering the Outback for nine weeks on nothing but creek water and what little food he could scavenge, but he had managed to live through this not-so-relaxing vacation during a heatwave. In fact, it was a record-breaking heatwave for Australia at the time, which makes us wonder if Australia’s weather was actively trying to kill Allen out of sheer spite.
36. Samuel L. Jackson Would be Proud
The black mamba is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, so you can only imagine the terror that research student Danie Pienaar must have felt when he saw that he’d been bitten by such a snake while wandering around the wilderness of South Africa in 1998. With the black mamba’s venom coursing through his veins, he frantically made it back to his car and raced back to the nearest town at speeds of up to 100 mph. When he became too incapacitated by the poison, he managed to stop another car and got them to take him to the hospital, finally making it more than two hours after he’d been bitten. He was completely paralyzed and could neither speak or swallow, but incredibly the doctors were able to save his life, even after all that.
35. Spiraling Out of Control
Lamar Odom was first known for his basketball career, but then became perhaps even more famous for his stormy relationship with Khloe Kardashian. After losing control to substance abuse, Odom was found unconscious in the Love Ranch brothel in Nevada. After several strokes and kidney failure, he was left in a coma. Thankfully, though, he was able to recover, which hopefully means he’ll be able to get past his troubles.
34. Maybe Fake it Next Time?
One of the long-running jokes about the Expendables film franchise is that it served as a documentation of several ’80s action stars going through midlife crises. That might be slightly more accurate than you’d expect, since director and star Sylvester Stallone nearly ended up losing his life over making a fight scene as realistic as possible. While filming a scene with Steve Austin, Stallone ended up getting a hairline fracture in his neck. After a serious operation in which a metal plate was put in his neck, Stallone managed to pull through. Still, maybe take it easy next time, Rambo.
33. Close Call
Speaking of actors deciding they can do their own stunts, Charlize Theron nearly broke her neck on the set of Aeon Flux. While trying to do a backflip, she landed on her neck, “herniating a disc that was close to her spinal cord.” This is what we have stunt doubles for, Charlize!
32. Maybe Try This At Noon Next Time?
Singer Ellie Goulding came close to a cruel end when she and her photographer Conor McDonnell drove a belt wagon onto the ice in the Norwegian countryside late at night during midwinter. Unfortunately, the ice proved weaker than expected, and their vehicle began sinking. Goulding and McDonnell just managed to clamber out of the vehicle and hike back to civilization, with McDonnell even taking a picture of the accident for Instagram (so at least their priorities were well-placed).
31. Not This Time!
It probably won’t surprise anyone that Nikki Sixx, best known for writing most of Motley Crue’s music while also being their bassist, nearly died of a drug overdose in 1987. Apparently, Sixx had an out-of-body experience during the brush with his own mortality, which no doubt involved him winning a rock-paper-scissors contest with Death.
30. Use the Stairs Next Time
When Orlando Bloom was 21, he attempted to climb up a drain pipe, no doubt planning for the day when he’d one day play a magical elf who defies gravity. Sadly, this is the real world, and Bloom fell three stories. He was paralyzed for several days, though given what could have happened, I’d say he got off pretty easy.
29. Nearly Lost It
2005 wasn’t a good year to be Eminem. The rapper nearly suffered a fatal overdose of methadone before he was rescued from death in the hospital. According to Eminem, he had apparently taken so much of the drug that it was the “equivalent to shooting up four bags of heroin.” Seems like he needed a snap back to reality.
28. The Devil Waits in the Ocean
While visiting Hawaii in 2014, Anne Hathaway underestimated the power of ocean currents when she went swimming away from the beach. The Hollywood star was ensnared by a riptide, which swept her out to sea and threatened to drown her. Her life was only saved by a nearby surfer who managed to get to her before she was lost to the waves (though, to be fair, a paparazzi was watching the whole thing, snapping plenty of pics, so one would hope that they’d have eventually called for help). She cut her toe on some coral on the way in and when she finally made it to shore, she was bleeding profusely.
Help first, take photos later!
27. Beware the Bear
It was much to Richard and Angela Moyer’s shock when they were attacked by a bear in their Pennsylvania home! Richard was tackled by the bear at 3 am when he was bringing their dog back into the house. Together, he and Angela somehow managed to distract and wrestle the bear between them until it decided that the meal wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It left Richard and Angela badly injured, but still alive—and presumably more united in their marriage than any marriage counselor could have ever managed.
26. Not a Real Doctor, It Turns Out
Renowned British character actor and movie star Peter Sellers nearly lost his life after using amyl nitrate one night in 1964 (the same year that his famous film Dr. Strangelove premiered for the first time). Sellers suffered no less than eight heart attacks as a result! Amazingly, he managed to survive, though he did end up passing away due to heart problems in 1980.
25. Good Thing He’s Hard-Headed
Safe to say that riding a motorcycle without a helmet on is just asking for trouble to find you. No doubt Gary Busey reckoned himself safe when he went for a ride in 1988, right up until the moment he got into a brutal accident. His skull was cracked, leading doctors to worry that he suffered from permanent brain damage. We’re sure he never forgot his helmet ever again after that.
24. Tornado Rider
Missouri native Matt Suter likely didn’t walk around thinking that he would be caught up in a tornado before it actually happened to him in 2006. The 19-year-old man was staying in his grandfather’s trailer when a tornado struck the mobile domicile. After a part of the wall was torn away, Suter was sucked into what should have been oblivion. Instead, the powerful twister, with winds blowing at up to 150 mph, launched him over 1,300 feet, landing in a grass field after flying through a barbed-wire fence! Amazingly, he not only lived, but his injuries were considered minor. We’re pretty sure he never had to worry about bragging rights ever again after that.
23. We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Amazingly, Matt Suter’s not the only person who’s been launched over 1,000 feet by a tornado and lived to tell the tale. In 1955, North Dakota-born Sharon Weron was riding her pony when a tornado took them and sent them flying. Amazingly, neither she nor the pony were killed by the experience. Did we forget to mention that Sharon was nine years old when this happened?
22. Jungle Venture
If you were approached by a mysterious-looking man from Austria who claimed to be a geologist who could lead you to undiscovered gold deep in the Amazon jungle, would you go with him? If you answered yes, perhaps you’ll understand Yossi Ghinsberg’s thinking when he saved up money for a massive trip to South America after he had long dreamed of exploring the rainforests. He and two fellow travelers—Marcus Stamm and Kevin Gale—went into the rainforest with the mysterious Austrian, who called himself Karl Ruprechter. While things initially went well, the journey took a serious toll on them, especially Stamm, and eventually, things took a turn for the worse.
21. Things Could Have Gone Better
The four travelers eventually split up into two groups, with Ghinsberg and Gale going one way on a raft, while Ruprechter and Stamm went another on foot. Eventually, Ghinsberg and Gale also became separated, lost and alone in the thick jungle. Ghinsberg spent a total of three weeks in uncharted Amazon rainforest, wandering about completely by himself. He ate eggs and berries, even as one of his feet began rotting from a fungal infection. He endured floods, bogs, wild animals nearly eating him alive, red ants, and hallucinations during the horrific ordeal.
20. Good News and Bad News
Amazingly, Gale managed to be found by locals. He then immediately embarked on a search for Ghinsberg, Stamm and Ruprechter. Ghinsberg was found after three days, after which he spent three months recovering in hospitals. However, Ruprechter and Stamm were never seen again. Ghinsberg went on to write a book about his (mis)adventures, getting the honor of being played by Daniel Radcliffe in a subsequent movie adaptation.
Yes, that’s Harry Potter!
19. Tropical Island Tour Gone Wrong
In January 1982, Steven Callahan went on a small voyage from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean in a sailboat. However, a gale in February caused Callahan’s boat to sink. He was then trapped on an inflatable rubber raft, naked except for a t-shirt, with only eight pints of water and three pounds of food to live on.
18. The Life of Steven
Steven Callahan would spend 76 days adrift, crossing 1,800 miles of ocean before he was finally rescued off the coast of the Bahamas. The only way it could have been more difficult is if Callahan had had to share the raft with a Bengal tiger!
17. Not My Best Idea
Whether it’s for their health or for a movie role, many actors have gone to some serious extremes in the pursuits of weight loss. One name you might not expect to see on that list is Martin Lawrence, but one of his attempts to get in shape nearly cost him his life. Wanting to get fit for a role, Lawrence attempted to sweat the weight off while jogging. He put on layer after layer of clothing and went out for a run in the middle of summer. Lawrence barely made it back to his home before he collapsed of dehydration and a heat stroke, eventually falling into a three-day coma as a result of this unwise venture.
16. Maybe I’ll Sit Out the Fourth One…
In another example of the Expendables franchise nearly killing its lead actors, Jason Statham was driving a truck while filming the third movie when the brakes failed. The truck, with Statham in it, tumbled into the nearby ocean, and only Statham’s past experience as a diver saved his life.
15. What the Hell was That?!
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was working for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries when he was sent to Hiroshima for a three-month business trip. On the 6th of August 1945, he was late in his plans to leave the city, as he’d forgotten something at his home and had to double back. He was standing about three km from where the atom bomb known as Little Boy landed on the city. Despite being temporarily blinded and deafened, as well as having part of his body badly burnt, Yamaguchi survived, and even reported for work back home just three days later!
Unfortunately for Yamaguchi, that home city of his happened to be Nagasaki. He was actually describing what had happened at Hiroshima to his supervisor when the bomb called Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. Once again, Yamaguchi was around three km from the epicenter, and once again, he survived the experience, albeit barely.
13. Not Exactly One of a Kind
Yamaguchi wasn’t recognized as being a survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki until much later in life, when he publicly acknowledged his experiences. The government of Japan recognized his status as being a survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 24th of March 2009. While he is the only man who is officially recognized as such, there are apparently around 70 others who managed this feat as well who have gone unrecognized. For his part, Yamaguchi used his newfound fame to protest nuclear weapons, before passing away at the ripe old age of 93 in 2010.
12. The Revenant Goes Aquatic
Only the craziest of fools or the bravest of adventurers would decide to put themselves in a cage and sink down into the ocean to be among the sharks. Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio was one such man when he visited South Africa to do just that. While the cage was supposed to protect him from any attacks, a freak wave caused the cage to flip over, and pushed a great white shark halfway into the cage! DiCaprio only barely managed to dodge the shark’s bites before being rescued.
11. Oh Look, a Falling Star
This wasn’t the only time that DiCaprio’s adventurous lifestyle nearly got the better of him—he had another extremely close brush with death while skydiving. It turned out that both of his parachutes were too tangled up to open properly, and it was only after frantic efforts by DiCaprio and his skydiving buddy that the second chute managed to open. However, they had fallen so far by this point that even with the chute opened they both nearly broke their legs when they landed!
10. The Smoking Mountain
It’s not often that you get tasked to fly over an active volcano in a helicopter. In 1992, Michael Benson and Chris Duddy were cameramen in a helicopter piloted by Craig Hosking. While on a mission to take aerial footage of Hawaii, the helicopter crashed, causing all three men to fall right into the crater of a volcano!
9. Vulan’s Wrath
Amazingly, all three men managed to avoid a pool of boiling lava. But while Duddy and Hosking made their way to safety later that day, Benson wasn’t as lucky. He ended up spending two days and nights inside the volcano crater, kept awake by the minor bother of bubbling lava right under him. He survived, but we can’t imagine how he ever went back to Hawaii again after that.
8. A Family Trip
In January 1971, British dairy farmer Dougal Robertson decided to take his family on an epic voyage on a wooden schooner into the great unknown. While Robertson had been in the British Merchant Navy, he was a bit lax with preparing for the worst-case scenario. In this case, the worst-case scenario happened after 17 months at sea when a group of killer whales attacked their ship as they were heading for the Galapagos Islands. The ship was destroyed, though the family of six did manage to survive the whales’ attack.
7. The British Family Robertson
The Robertsons were left to brave the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat and a tiny dinghy, though the lifeboat became unusable after sixteen days. With nothing but sea turtles and rainwater for sustenance, the Robertsons spent a total of 38 days adrift until they were found by Japanese sailors. Safe to say that Dougal was never asked to plan a family trip again!
6. Lonely at the Top
Climbing Mt. Everest comes with a lot of risks, and many people have died on its slopes. Such was the assumed case when Lincoln Hall’s tour guides found him completely unresponsive after a serious case of altitude sickness. After two hours of unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate Hall, the guides reluctantly had to get off the mountain, planning to recover Hall’s body when they returned the next day.
5. Not My Time Yet
Much to everyone’s shock, Lincoln Hall recovered from his phase of showing no signs of life! He was found sitting up, cross-legged, presumably wondering just how he managed to survive all alone for twelve hours on Mt. Everest!
4. Speaking of Scandinavia
The Second World War was a time of great adversity, and Jan Baalsrud can attest to that. He and three other Norwegian commandoes sailed from England to Nazi-occupied Norway to supply the Norwegian resistance movement. However, they were betrayed and set upon by Nazi soldiers, with Baalsrud being the sole survivor. With part of his big toe shot off and one foot bare, the Nazis chased him into the mountains. Braving the intense cold, Nazi pursuers, and even an avalanche, Jan Baalsrud eventually found his way to a town called Mandal, which lay in the Arctic circle. The townspeople thankfully looked at the badly crippled Baalsrud and sheltered him from the Nazis, eventually getting him back to the relative safety of Sweden.
3. Hemingway. Enough Said.
Despite being mostly known as a writer by trade, Hemingway made a hobby out of throwing himself into danger to test the limitations of mortality. Whether it was serving on the front lines of the First World War as an ambulance driver or getting caught up in not one but two devastating plane crashes while on safari in Africa, Hemingway seemed to get a serious kick out of denying death its chance to take him.
2. Safe Sex
The world has long known that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has had quite a few, ahem, “adventures” in the bedroom. However, most might forget that one of those said “adventures” nearly killed him. According to the man himself, a sex toy called a Ben Wa ball once accidentally found its way into his mouth and nearly killed him when it got lodged in his esophagus.
1. Man Vs Poor Aim While Shark Fighting
In a more bizarre instance of Hemingway’s hobby of flirting with death, he was fond of hunting large animals that could effortlessly kill him if they got the chance. While wrestling with a shark on a fishing trip off of Key West, he managed to shoot himself “in the calves of both legs.” Why didn’t he ever put that into one of his stories? Maybe people wouldn’t have believed it!