The site that Tony Scott chose to end his life at is one Hollywood knows well.
The “Top Gun” director leaped from a perch on the 6,060 foot-long Vincent Thomas Bridge on Sunday, the third-longest suspension bridge in California, and one that has been a set piece in numerous films. Though the San Pedro bridge has been featured in movies including 2000’s “Gone in Sixty Seconds” and"Charlie’s Angels,"the landmark’s biggest role came in 1985’s “To Live and Die in L.A.”
During production of the William Friedkin action film in 1983, the bridge was closed for two weekends to shoot a chase scene. The film starring William Petersen also features a scene in which a stunt man dives off the highest point on the bridge.
The bridge was name-dropped by Robert De Niro in the 1995 film"Heat,” when the actor points to the location and mistakenly refers to it as the “Vincent St. Thomas Bridge.”
Scott was familiar with the bridge and its surrounding area. In 2010, he filmed reshoots for his movie “Unstoppable"in a railroad yard under the bridge, said the film’s assistant production supervisor Scott Trimble. A 2009 episode of the television show “Numb3rs,” which Scott produced, was also shot in San Pedro. The program filmed outside of Municipal Warehouse 1 on the waterfront at the Port of Los Angeles, according to FilmLA, which organizes film, television and commercial production permits in the city.
Unlike the more famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which has been called the No. 1 suicide location in the U.S., the Vincent Thomas Bridge is not known as a suicide destination.
But bridges present an appealing target for certain kinds of suicides. According to New Yorker writer Tad Friend, whose 2003 article “Jumpers” turned into the remarkable Golden Gate Bridge suicide documentary “The Bridge,” “Jumps from bridges are seen, correctly, as often fatal.”
Leaping from a high bridge into deep water can also seem a gentle way to die.
“The thinking is that you will disappear beneath the waves, in a clean exit, and entrance into what comes next,” Friend said. In fact, the death may be quite violent. “It’s like running a car into a wall.”
Completed in 1963, the Vincent Thomas rises 35 stories above the nation’s busiest port and is a vital connector between Terminal Island and the communities of Wilmington and San Pedro. The span includes 1.6 million square feet of steel siding and cables, and is covered in 54,800 gallons of paint. An average of 44,500 cars and trucks travel its four lanes every day. Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge.
Craig Harvey, chief of operations for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, said suicides from the Vincent Thomas Bridge are relatively rare, although his agency does not keep a tally of such deaths searchable by geographic location. CalTrans spokeswoman Maria Raptis said the agency does not keep records of suicides on the bridge.
However, a 32-year-old man scaled the bridge’s 18-foot-high fence in 1996, leaping 250 feet to his death after ignoring three witnesses who tried to stop him. Larry Andreasen, who took home a bronze medal in the 1964 Olympic springboard diving competition, attempted to dive off the bridge in 1988, telling authorities he “just wanted to see if he had the old Olympic stuff.” He was eventually talked out of the stunt by police, but returned to the bridge two years later and plummeted to his death. In 1985, another man threatening to kill himself by jumping from the bridge came down from his 185-feet-perch after stopping traffic for hours.
After a 17-year-long campaign, the Vincent Thomas Bridge finally became illuminated with 160 blue lights in 2005 — a move many argued would help the bridge become a more recognizable symbol of Los Angeles. But the bridge has yet to become a major tourist attraction with the fame of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge. For 22 years, a restaurant aboard the cruise ship Princess Louise floated below the bridge, but it shut down in 1989 after falling upon financial hardship.