10 Lucky Celebrities Who Escaped Disaster

Most of the time it's the disasters that are famous—but sometimes, famous people escape disasters instead

On February 15, 1958, Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, producer Mike Todd, board his private plane named "The Liz," which crashed a month later killing Todd and two others. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

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Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 at age 79. She supposedly said that Todd was one of the three great loves of her life, the other two being Richard Burton and jewelry.

10. The Flying Wallendas

The celebrated aerialist family known as the Flying Wallendas has faced danger on a regular basis for generations, but never more so than on July 6, 1944. On that day they were playing under the big top in Hartford, Connecticut, as one of the starring acts of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

The Wallendas were on their platforms high above the crowd when patriarch Karl, about to start across the high wire on a bicycle, spotted fire behind the bleachers below and signaled to the rest of the act, according to Stewart O’Nan’s 2000 account, The Circus Fire. The Wallendas scurried down to safety, but an estimated 168 others were not so lucky and died in the fire.

Also spared in the tragedy were Emmett Kelly, the most famous circus clown of his day, as well as the future actor and TV game show regular Charles Nelson Reilly, then a 13-year-old member of the audience. Though Reilly would appear on many stages throughout his career, he said he couldn’t bear to sit in an audience, the result of his traumatic experience in Hartford

About Greg Daugherty
Greg Daugherty

Greg Daugherty is a magazine editor and writer as well as a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com. His books include You Can Write for Magazines.

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