Jon-Erik Hexum (November 5, 1957 – October 18, 1984) was an American model and actor. He died as a result of an accidental self-inflicted blank cartridge gunshot round to the head on the set of the CBS television series Cover Up in which he played the male lead.
Early life and career
Hexum was born in Englewood, New Jersey, to Gretha and Thorleif Hexum. He and his elder brother, Gunnar, were raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, by their mother after their parents divorced when Hexum was four. After graduating from high school, Hexum went on to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, in order to study biomedical engineering. He soon left that university, however, and transferred to Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. During that time, he worked as a radio disc jockey, played football, and acted in minor stage roles.
Only a few days after graduation, he moved to New York in 1980, in order to pursue his acting career. While working as an apartment cleaner, he met Bob LeMond of LeMond/Zetter Management and the manager of John Travolta. LeMond saw great potential in Hexum. At LeMond's urging, Hexum relocated to Los Angeles in September 1981 in order to audition for a movie called Summer Lovers, which was to be directed by Randal Kleiser. Though he lost the part to Peter Gallagher, Hexum attracted the notice of Hollywood powerbrokers, and in short time was cast in the lead role of Phineas Bogg in the NBC series Voyagers! after playing the character in Voyager from the Unknown, the pilot for the series. Voyagers! aired during the 1982–83 television season, with Hexum's role earning him $10,000 a week. Unable to sustain itself against CBS' newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, Voyagers! was canceled after one season. But Hexum's good looks and charm kept him marketable, and soon he was cast opposite Joan Collins in the made-for-television movie Making of a Male Model, starring also Jeff Conaway and Roxie Roker.
In 1984, Hexum guest-starred in an episode of ABC's prime time drama Hotel. He played Prince Erik, a Prince Charming-type character who sweeps his Cinderella off her feet.
That same year, Hexum took the part of terminally ill quarterback Pat Trammell, a small but well-received role in the feature film The Bear, a tribute to University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, played by veteran actor Gary Busey. The Bear represents Hexum’s sole performance in a feature film, released just three weeks before his death.
After pondering several development deals, Hexum came upon a project he felt had possibilities: Cover Up. When the series began production in 1984, Hexum played Mac Harper, an undercover CIA operative posing as a male model, opposite co-star Jennifer O'Neill. Hexum described the role as part "Indiana Jones, James Bond, Mr. Magoo, and Superman." According to then girlfriend, actress and singer Elizabeth "E.G." Daily, "He loved living this rich fantasy life. He was a big strong man, looked kind of like a Viking bodybuilder, and he loved to show his strength. He also liked the whole idea of guns and soldiers." Cover Up, which cast him as a soldier of fortune who traveled the globe under the guise of being a male model, provided an outlet for all of Hexum's yearnings.
On October 12, 1984, the cast and crew of Cover Up were filming the seventh episode of the series, "Golden Opportunity," on Stage 17 of the 20th Century Fox lot. One of the scenes filmed that day called for Hexum's character to load blanks into a .44 Magnum handgun. When the scene did not play as the director wanted it to play in the master shot, there was a delay in filming. Hexum became restless and impatient during the delay and began playing around to lighten the mood. Apparently, he had unloaded all but one (blank) round, spun it, and in what would appear to be a game of Russian roulette, at 5:15 p.m., he put the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger.
Hexum was apparently unaware that his actions were dangerous. Blanks use paper or plastic wadding to seal gunpowder into the cartridge, and this wadding is propelled from the barrel of the gun with enough force to cause injury if the weapon is fired within a few feet of the body should it strike at a particularly vulnerable spot, such as the temple or the eye. At a close enough range, the effect of the powder gasses is similar to a small explosion so although the paper wadding in the blank that Hexum discharged did not penetrate his skull, there was enough blunt force trauma to shatter a quarter-sized piece of his skull and propel the pieces into his brain, causing massive hemorrhaging.
Hexum was rushed to Beverly Hills Medical Center, where he underwent five hours of surgery to repair his wounds. On October 18, six days after the accident, Hexum was declared brain dead. With his mother's permission, his body was flown to San Francisco on life support, where his heart was transplanted into the body of a dying 36-year-old Las Vegas man at Pacific Medical Center. Hexum's kidneys and corneas were also donated: One cornea went to a 66-year-old man with cataracts, the other to a young girl. One of the kidney recipients was a critically ill five-year-old boy, and the other was a 43-year-old grandmother of three who had waited eight years for a kidney. Skin that was donated was used to treat a 3½-year-old boy with third degree burns. Hexum's body was then flown back to Los Angeles. He was cremated at Grandview Crematory in Glendale, California, and a private funeral was held. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, near Malibu, California, by his mother.
Hexum's death was ruled accidental. His mother later received an out-of-court settlement from 20th Century Fox Television and Glen A. Larson Productions, the production team behind Cover Up.
The episode on which Hexum had been working was broadcast on November 3, 1984, two weeks after Hexum's death. Cover Up continued production without Hexum's character. Three weeks later, on November 24, Antony Hamilton was introduced as agent Jack Striker, posing as a new member of the modeling team. Hexum's character, Mac, is noticeably absent, said to be on another mission. At the end of the episode, Jack breaks the news that Mac has been killed on the other assignment and would not be coming back. As the tears flowed, the camera panned back, and a memoriam written by Glen Larson appeared onscreen:
"They say when a star dies, its light continues to shine across the universe for milleniums. [sic] Jon-Erik Hexum died in October of this year, but his light will continue to brighten our lives forever...and ever."
Year Title Role Notes
1982 Voyager from the Unknown Phineas Bogg
1982–1983 Voyagers! Phineas Bogg 20 episodes
1983 Making of a Male Model Tyler Burnett Television movie
1984 Hotel Prince Erik Episode: "Tomorrows"
1984 The Bear Pat Trammell
1984 Cover Up Mac Harper 7 episodes
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