10 Famous Cardiac Arrest Deaths & One Survivor

Photo of Michael Jackson by Zoran Veselinovic
Michael Jackson's personal physician performed CPR before paramedics arrived to continue treatment for 42 minutes.

The survival rate of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is extremely low. Outside of a hospital setting, less than 8% of people survive cardiac arrest. Evidently this statistic improves in locations with Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs).

Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are among the safest places to experience SCA, according to 2009 figures from HuffPost. The above 50% survival rate for cardiac events in the Las Vegas casinos is attributed directly to the greater availability of AEDs.

Many celebrities have succumbed to cardiac events but sadly, there are very few famous cases of survival.

Perhaps the risks among celebrities are fuelled by extreme lifestyles, including drug and alcohol abuse.

Cardiac events continue to be an unusually common cause of premature death for famous people. However, since the invention and widespread use of the AED, the frequency of celebrities dying during a cardiac event has significantly decreased.

Listed below are 10 well-known people who have lost their lives to sudden cardiac arrest, and one very lucky exception who survived.

10. Orville Wright


Orville was one of the Wright brothers, famously credited with building the world’s first successful airplane. Orville died in cardiac arrest at the age of 81 in 1948, well before the invention and proliferation of AEDs.

9. Stanley Kubrick


Stanley Kubrick is one of the most critically acclaimed Hollywood film directors of all time. Among his credits are films such as The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick died in 1999, not long after finishing work on his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. He was 70 years old when he had a fatal cardiac event.

8. John Ritter


John Ritter was a well-known actor and the star of successful TV shows Three’s Company and The Waltons. On September 11, 2003, Ritter fell ill with what was later found out to be an aortic dissection, which led to him experiencing a cardiac arrest and passing away prematurely at the age of 54.

7. James Stewart


James Stewart was a Hollywood screen legend and frequent collaborator of director Alfred Hitchcock. Renowned for his down to earth personality as well as his distinctive voice, ‘Jimmy’ Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar for The Philadelphia Story. Although he was equipped with a pacemaker for his heart, he decided on December 1996 that he would not replace the battery. His death, caused by a cardiac event, followed. Surrounded by his family, his last words were “I’m going to be with Gloria now!” who was his wife of 45 years.

6. Christopher Reeve


Christopher Reeve is best known for his portrayal of DC comic book superhero, 'Superman'. He was also an activist, author, film director and screenwriter. After a tragic equestrian accident on May 27, 1995, Reeve was left a quadriplegic requiring a wheelchair and breathing apparatus. On the night of October 9, 2004, after attending his son’s hockey game, Reeve went into cardiac arrest after receiving antibiotics for an infection and passed away.

5. Brittany Murphy


Brittany Murphy was a stage and film actress, as well as an accomplished singer, who made her debut in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge in 1997. Murphy went on to star in such hit films as Riding in Cars With Boys, Girl, Interrupted and Sin City but gained widespread recognition for her role opposite Eminem in his biopic film 8 Mile. On December 20, 2009, an ambulance was called to the Murphy home to find the actress collapsed on the bathroom floor. After being transported to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, Murphy was pronounced dead and a report found she had experienced a fatal cardiac event due to substance abuse.

4. George Burns


A man of many talents — comedian, best selling writer, award winning actor — George Burns was eyebrow-signalling before The Rock was born. His cigar chomping was a familiar trademark throughout his three decade long run at the top. On March 9, 1996, Burns went into cardiac arrest in his home at Beverly Hills and passed away.

3. Richard Pryor


Richard Pryor was one of the world’s pre-eminent comedians during the 70s and 80s. Also a prolific actor, he won many awards including Emmys and Grammys. Pryor suffered a cardiac event and was taken to hospital after his wife’s attempts at resuscitation had failed. He was pronounced dead that night.

2. Michael Jackson


The King Of Pop, Michael Jackson, had an extraordinary life as a singer-songwriter, actor, dancer, businessman, musician and philanthropist. He was a household name not only for his contributions to the music world but also his highly publicised life and bizarre physical transformation. While at his home in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009, Jackson suffered a cardiac arrest which resulted from acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. His personal physician, Conrad Murray, was the one who discovered Jackson and attempted but failed to resuscitate him.

1. Mother Teresa


Mother Teresa was a missionary and sister for the Roman Catholic Church. In her life, she founded Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation to help the homeless and poor, as well as with HIV. Over 14 years, Mother Teresa suffered from numerous heart attacks and heart related issues which resulted in her death on September 5, 1997.

The Survivor: Fabrice Muamba

Fabrice Muamba

Fabrice Muamba is a retired Zaire born English soccer player who, in 2012, suffered a cardiac arrest on the field at White Hart Lane during an FA Cup match playing for his club Bolton Wanderers vs. Tottenham Hotspur.

The medical staff of both teams were joined by spectator Dr. Andrew Deaner, a cardiologist who felt compelled to rush onto the field and assist. Muamba was given 15 defibrillation shocks between his collapse and arriving at the London Chest Hospital (LCH), where Dr. Deaner worked.

It was at Dr. Deaner’s request that Muamba be transferred to the LCH instead of the closer North Middlesex Hospital. The doctor believes the specialist nature of the hospital and the equipment available to them may have contributed to saving the player’s life.

After arriving at hospital it took another 30 minutes of delivering shocks and medication before Dr. Deaner was able to restore a regular heartbeat to his patient.

Despite undergoing CPR for 80 minutes, Fabrice Muamba made a full recovery.

Muamba was extraordinarily lucky. Most SCA victims will not have numerous medical staff, including paramedics on standby and crowd members like Dr. Deaner, to rush to their aid.

Footage of the incident was captured during the live broadcast. You may find it disturbing, so please use discretion – Fabrice Muamba collapses during his side's FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur

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