November 5, 1957 – October 18, 1984
“I feel it is a great fortune to have some passion in life and an urgency in direction; it makes our hole being so much fuller.”
Someone once said, “If that boy has a single thought in his head, then there is no God.”
In college, Jon earned a bachelor of the arts degree in social science, and was active in wresting, diving and football. He decided to become an actor and moved to New York, taking odd jobs. One was cleaning Venetian blinds in the office of Robert Le Mond, John Travolta’s manager. La Mond saw the potential, no doubt Travolta sniffed it out too, and helped launch his career. He moved to Los Angeles.
On the morning of Friday, October 12th, 1984, Jon left his home in Burbank, to report to work. Jon was making a show called Cover Up, being filmed at Twentieth Century Fox in Century City. Here’s a photograph of his house.
He wasn’t earning the big bucks yet. Here’s another shot of the house.
He arrived on the Fox lot.
During the day, he was inevitably to film a scene lying in bed – probably shirtless, on Stage 18. He was playing around with a .44 Magnum prop gun, as you do. At around 5:15 p.m. he put the pistol (according to witnesses, it was loaded with three empty cartridges and two blanks) up to his right temple. Just before he pulled the trigger he smiled, and said, “Let’s see if I got myself with this one.” He was apparently unaware that at close range, a blank can cause great damage. And damage it was. The explosion drove a quarter-sized piece of his skull far into his brain. Turns out that the blank was packed with paper inside, and it went straight into his temple and made a bone chip lodge in his brain. Killed by paper.
A witness account: “John smiled and pulled the trigger. There was a loud bang and a bright flash, then black smoke. Jon screamed in agony, then looked kind of amazed as he slumped back onto the bed with blood streaming from a severe head wound. It was horrible.” Another witness said, “One of the assistants rushed over to Jon with a towel and wrapped it around his head, trying to sop the blood.”
Someone called an ambulance, but before it arrived, several of the crew carried Jon out to one of the studio station wagons, and drove him to the Beverly Hills Medical Center.
These days, the hospital had changed hands, and is now a Marriot Hotel.
According to the autopsy report, provided by Celebrity Collectables, it states, “The decendent (Hexum) is a male 26 years old, who shot himself in the head with a prop handgun at a movie studio.” It goes on about many things… here are the highlights:
“The brain is soft, mushy, and liquefied, compatible with a respirator braing. There is a maceration and hemorrhagic discoloration on the undersurface of the brain involving the right orbital lobe blah blah blah…”
Regarding the organs:
“Multiple donor sites are found on the anterior and posterior torso, right and left upper extremities, anterior and posterior thighs, and anterior and posterior lower extremities. The left and right eyes have been removed from their sockets, organ harvesting (mm.) through the thorax and abdomen performed through a thoracoabdominal sternal splitting incision from the manubrium to the suprapubic (heh heh) region, the heart has been removed, as well as the left and right kidneys and a small portion of the spleen.”
His brain weighed 1,620 grams. So he wasn’t clueless. It sounds like he ended up like the OPERATION guy. Take out wrenched ankle. Remove funny bone.
Hexum’s family and friends, including his girlfriend Elizabeth Daily, gathered at the hospital. Daily played “Dottie,” in PeeWee’s Big Adventure, and Tommy’s voice in the Rugrats. I saw her do a one woman show, and she addresses this event, in horrifically emotional detail.
Initially, a hospital spokesperson stated that his condition was “serious,” but after five hours of surgery, they pronounced his condition as “critical.”
Six days later on Thursday, October 18th, he was still in a coma, and they pronounced him brain dead. With his mother’s permission, Jon-Erik was flown to San Francisco, still on life support, and his heart was transplanted into the body of a dying 36-year-old Las Vegas escort service owner. This took place in the Pacific Medical Center. They also took his kidneys and corneas. The kidneys were sent to the Southern California Transplant Bank, in LA. The corneas went to a 66-year-old man with cataracts, or according to Nikki, they went to a little girl. Don’t know which is true, but I thought you deserved to hear it.
Jon-Erik Hexum’s body was then flown back to LA on Saturday. He was 27 years old.
He was cremated at Grandview Crematory, and there was a private funeral.
Instead of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to Handgun Control Inc., in Washington D.C. His death was ruled accidental. A new actor was brought in to take over. The End. Not for the cemetery. Not by a long shot.
Jon-Erik’s ashes were scattered over Malibu by his mother.
According to the information Nikki provided, John was always screwing around with guns on the set. He would point them at people, and one time Jennifer O’Neill went off on him. We know how touchy she can be about guns, now don’t we?
Trivia – thanks to Findadeath.com friend James: “The actor that replaced Hexum was a guy named Anthony Hamilton, who later died of complications from AIDS.
Findadeath.com friend Ricky sent me this link, to Hamilton’s website, run by his ex. antonyhamilton.com.
This just in, July 2003, from Findadeath friend Christopher Richard:
E.G. Daily, his girlfriend at the time, also played Phoebe from “Friends” ex-musical partner, and she had a kicky little dance tune called “Mind Over Matter” in 1986.
UPDATE December 2004, from Findadeath friend Brian Pocrass: You mentioned how on the Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure DVD, Tim Burton and Paul Ruebens mentioned how EG Daily was dating Jon-Erik Hexum at the time. Actually what they said…which was quite interesting….was there is a scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure where Pee-Wee faints at the bicycle shop after finding out his bike has been stolen. When he comes to…they had policeman and a gurney next to him. And on the commentary, that is where they said that during the filming of this scene, EG Daly, who was on the set at the time, had to walk over to the side to sit down because seeing the gurney on the movie set was giving her flashbacks of the Jon Erik Hexum incident (which had happened not too long before the filming of Pee Wee). Interesting.
Don’t play with guns.
Thank you to Lisa Burks.