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Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting stirs memories of Brandon Lee’s tragic death

A 1986 file photo of American actor Brandon Lee
A 1986 file photo of American actor Brandon Lee, who died during the filming of “The Crow” in 1993.
(Lacy Atkins / Associated Press)
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On the day that the prop gun of “Rust” star Alec Baldwin reportedly went off on set in Santa Fe, N.M., killing the film’s director of photography and injuring its director, the official Twitter account of the late Brandon Lee (run by his sister, Shannon Lee) posted this message:

“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust.’ No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

The death of cinematographer Hutchins quickly drudged up memories of Brandon Lee’s tragic death, caused by a prop gun on the set of the movie “The Crow” in 1993.

We’ve compiled some of the Times’ coverage of the Lee incident and the questions that were raised during the investigation.

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Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.

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Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, killed on movie set

The first article by Times reporter Robert Welkos was published on April 1, 1993: “Actor Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of the late kung fu star Bruce Lee, was killed Wednesday after a small explosive charge used to simulate gunfire went off inside a grocery bag during filming on a movie set in Wilmington, N.C.”

Welkos went on to describe Lee’s character in the film as “a rock star brought back from the grave who adopts the persona of a night bird to avenge his own and his girlfriend’s untimely deaths.”

There weren’t many details of the death immediately made public. “Police released only sketchy details of the incident, declining to identify the actor who fired the gun or who else on the Carolco Studios set was a witness.” Read more >>>

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Brandon Lee apparently killed by bullet

A day later Times reporter Patrick Boyle chronicled the surprise revealed by Lee’s autopsy:

“The death of Brandon Lee in a filming incident took a startling turn Thursday when police revealed the actor was killed by what was apparently a .44-caliber bullet.

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“What appeared to be a bullet was discovered lodged near Lee’s spine during an autopsy, calling into question the safety procedures on the set of the film.” Read more >>>

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Bruce Lee film clip and son Brandon’s death: Hauntingly alike?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee on the set of "Game of Death."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee on the set of “Game of Death.”
(Concord Productions Inc./Golden Harvest Company/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Welkos continued his coverage of Brandon Lee’s death, detailing a scene from his father Bruce Lee’s film “Game of Death” that has eerie similarities to how his son was killed:

“Gentlemen, these are blanks,” the man tells them. “Only aim upward. There’s a wad of paper that comes out and can injure someone.”

Unbeknownst to the movie crew, a hit man is standing among the actors. He pulls a real bullet from his pocket and inserts it into the chamber of his gun.

Then the director calls for quiet on the set and Bruce Lee’s character runs toward the group, displaying kung-fu acrobatics. As he leaps into the air, guns go off, and Lee falls to the ground, severely wounded. Read more >>>

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A lawsuit and an accusation of negligence

Four months after Brandon Lee’s death, The Times reported that his mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, filed a lawsuit contending that the young actor died when a co-star fired blank ammunition, “which in turn propelled into Mr. Lee’s abdomen a lethal obstruction that had been lodged in the barrel of the gun during the filming of another scene several weeks earlier.”

Linda Lee Cadwell alleged “that crew members ran out of dummy bullets and improperly manufactured their own from live ammunition,” Times staff writer Terry Pristin wrote. “During a test firing of the dummy ammunition, a bullet tip wound up in the barrel of the handgun that was later used by actor Michael Massee in the March 30 scene resulting in Lee’s death the following day.” Read more >>>

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No criminal charges in Brandon Lee death

The Associated Press followed up on the legal ramifications of the shooting: “No criminal charges will be filed in the death of actor Brandon Lee, 31, who was shot on a movie set with a gun that was supposed to fire only blanks.”

Dist. Atty. Jerry Spivey said he found no evidence of the “willful and wanton” negligence that would have been required to prosecute Crowvision, the production company making the movie “The Crow.” Read more >>>

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A film premiere tempered by loss

Just a month after the death of Brandon Lee, reporter Bill Higgins wrote about the premiere of “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story,” which has scenes with an actor portraying the younger Lee.

“The word that came up repeatedly at the premiere of Universal’s ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ Wednesday at Mann’s Chinese was bittersweet.

“Tempering the celebration was the March 31 death of Lee’s son Brandon on a North Carolina film set.

“The evening was most poignant for Brandon’s mother and Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell. The film is based on her book, “Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew.” Read more >>>

The term ‘prop gun’ includes nonfunctioning guns and cap guns, but also real guns firing blank cartridges, which can pack a punch — and be fatal.

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