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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McQueen later learned that he was on a list of celebrities that cult leader Charles Manson had marked for death, which he believed also included Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Elizabeth Taylor. From that point on, he packed a handgun.

McQueen died in 1980 at age 50 from cancer.

Among others who were reportedly invited that evening but didn’t appear: Denny Doherty and John Phillips, the two “papas” of the Mamas and the Papas.

8. Eleanor Roosevelt

The future First Lady was just two years old in 1887 when she and her parents started on an Atlantic crossing aboard the White Star liner Britannic. A day into the voyage, their ship was rammed by another liner, the Celtic, resulting in as many as a dozen deaths and several horrific injuries. After helping his wife and other members of their party into a lifeboat, Eleanor’s father held out his arms so that a crewman she was desperately clinging to could pass her along to safety. As Blanche Wiesen Cook wrote in her 1992 biography, “The crewman finally freed her fingers, and Eleanor always remembered that fall, the feel of plummeting from the deck high above into the pitching lifeboat below, surrounded by ‘cries of terror’ and shouts for help.”


The Roosevelts returned to New York aboard the Celtic, and when her parents attempted to resume their journey, young Eleanor refused to go with them and stayed behind with an aunt. She reportedly had a lifelong fear of both water and heights as a result of the experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962 at age 78. 

As to the Britannic, despite being badly damaged, it made its way back to New York and soon returned to service. The White Star Line later used the name on another ill-fated liner, part of a trio of huge, near-identical ships that included the Titanic. That Britannic was sunk by a German mine in 1916.

9. Elizabeth Taylor

Like Kirk Douglas (see above), Elizabeth Taylor might easily have been aboard her husband Mike Todd’s plane during its fatal 1958 flight. Fortunately for her, Taylor had a cold and was running a 102-degree fever and Todd insisted she stay home, Life magazine reported. The two had been married for a year—Todd was her third husband—at the time of his death, and he had named the doomed twin-engine plane in her honor, with “The Liz” painted prominently on its sides.

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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