10 Most Infamous Assassinations in Entertainment History

10 Most Infamous Assassinations in Entertainment History
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Cameron Johnson
For the individuals behind these celebrity assassinations, it was about more than personal recognition. For this list, we're talking about popular musicians, filmmakers, athletes, and others in entertainment who were targeted by known hate groups or crime organizations, or who were murdered in part because of their sociopolitical and artistic viewpoints. Our countdown of infamous assassinations in the entertainment industry includes Joan Root, Sharon Tate, John Lennon, and more!

Infamous Assassinations in Entertainment History

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at 10 of the Most Infamous Assassinations in Entertainment History.

For this list, we’re talking about popular musicians, filmmakers, athletes, and others in entertainment who were targeted by known hate groups or crime organizations, or who were murdered in part because of their sociopolitical and artistic viewpoints. That means more personal murders - like those of Selena or Christina Grimmie - while impactful, will not make the list.

What entertainer assassinations did you find most shocking? Join the discussion in the comments.

Christian Poveda

Renowned French photojournalist Christian Poveda found an issue that needed more than just photographic representation. His debut documentary “La Vida Loca” explored horrific gang wars in El Salvador, mostly from the perspective of the 18th street gang. Despite the film’s renown, it gave some dangerous people more exposure than they wanted. In 2009, Poveda was shot dead in a Mara hit facilitated by a corrupt police officer. Nearly a dozen conspirators were convicted, but one Salvadoran journalist asserted that Poveda’s was just one of many murders in the area that day. Poveda believed in taking the ultimate risks to spread the most urgent stories. “La Vida Loca” remains a worthy success, but it cost a good man and important filmmaker his life.

Chalino Sánchez

“El Rey del Corrido” was in the right place at the right time to influence modern Mexican folk. Sadly, Chalino Sánchez was not so lucky in 1992. Four months after surviving a gunfight at Coachella, he dismissed a death threat at a concert in Culiacán. During the drive home, he was pulled over by men claiming to be state police, who needed a word with him at the station. Sánchez was found bound and dead of a gunshot the following day. The narcocorrido pioneer had his share of enemies as a volatile man who brought a criminal underworld to mainstream attention. Culiacán was and still is a cartel stronghold. Sánchez’s killers were never identified, but his music and influence continue to expose urgent issues.

Joan Root

Kenyan conservationist Joan Root was a groundbreaking voice in environmental documentaries, a prominent activist who took on corrupt industries and poachers. This likely contributed to four men killing her in her home with AK-47s. But no one knows who exactly was behind the killing. It could have been any number of criminal figures and syndicates, with some evidence pointing to disgruntled or corrupt associates hiring the killers. Four men were eventually arrested, with robbery as a suspected motive, only to be acquitted due to flimsy evidence. For all of Root’s work behind and away from the camera to bring justice, she has yet to receive any herself.

Juliano Mer-Khamis

Actor-filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis was beloved in Palestine and Israel, a citizen and outspoken peace activist of both states. His proudest achievement was establishing the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp. He was driving home from this cultural center when a masked gunman shot him five times in front of his infant son and babysitter. Though no one was ever convicted, it's suspected that the killer was a refugee and Islamic fundamentalist. Mer-Khamis was always aware of the risks involved in trying to unify cultures with progressive ideals. Just as he brought together Palestinians and Israelis in life, he united them in mourning his senseless death.

Andrés Escobar

Sports fanaticism can become dangerous. In a case like Andrés Escobar’s, it can become fatal. The Colombian footballer was a hugely popular defender and public figure. Alas, his reputation plummeted after a 1994 World Cup match between Colombia and the United States, in which Escobar accidentally deflected the ball into his own team’s goal. This helped seal Colombia’s defeat and Escobar’s fate. Five days later, he was shot once for each of the six goals called during that unfortunate game. Humberto Castro Muñoz, a cartel enforcer whose boss allegedly bet big on Colombia, was later convicted on a guilty plea.

Theo van Gogh

A descendant of Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo van Gogh was a prolific and enlightening filmmaker. But controversy erupted around the first installment in his documentary series "Submission," which dealt with violence against women in Muslim societies. The short film was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former Muslim who has been accused of Islamophobia. The backlash culminated in Islamic extremist Mohammed Bouyeri shooting and cutting van Gogh to death. He then pinned a death threat against Hirsi Ali to the body. The very public assassination and murder trial gripped Dutch media. Van Gogh is now considered a defining figure of the importance of modern documentary filmmaking - and a reminder of its dangers.

Dino Bravo

Adolfo Bresciano was an icon of Canadian pro wrestling under the name Dino Bravo. But he was also swept up in violent enterprises outside of the ring. After retiring in 1992, he became a rising star in Canada’s untaxed cigarette trade. It’s assumed that he worked for his late uncle-in-law Vincenzo Cotroni’s notorious Montreal mafia. Whatever he was up to, Bresciano’s wife and daughter found him dead in his home with 17 gunshot wounds. Fellow wrestler Rick Martel speculates that his friend was targeted after police caught onto a cocaine operation he became involved in. Little is known about Bresciano’s double life, let alone his unsolved murder. It’s still all but certain that “Canada’s Strongest Man” was finally brought down by organized crime.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini's shocking films and writing made him one of Europe's most prominent, if divisive, Marxist artists. His personal life was also steeped in controversy for his involvement with teenage boys. After Pasolini was run over and beaten to death, 17-year-old Giuseppe Pelosi confessed to killing him in self-defense. The slaying quickly became one of the most notorious in film history, especially for evidence suggesting Pelosi's innocence. Indeed, after being released from prison, he claimed that his confession was coerced by several men who likely assassinated Pasolini. It's now popularly believed that the left-wing figure fell victim to the right-wing terrorism that pervaded Italy by the 1970s. In 2023, a formal plea to investigate evidence implicating a politically-affiliated crime syndicate was submitted.

Sharon Tate

The senseless murder of actress Sharon Tate, along with several others at the home she shared with director Roman Polanski, is a cultural touchstone of the 1960s. An eight-and-a-half months pregnant Tate and four friends had been stabbed to death. Police soon arrested members of Charles Manson’s bohemian cult. While there is debate about their motivations, the leading theory is that Manson intended to frame Black people for high-profile murders, thus inciting an apocalyptic race war he dubbed Helter Skelter. The bizarre incident has since gained an almost mythical reputation in the true crime and Hollywood zeitgeists. The fact remains that six lives were tragically and brutally lost.

John Lennon

One of the most influential musicians of all time, John Lennon was also one of the most outspoken pacifists of his time. Mark David Chapman was a devoted fan, but resented what he saw as the hypocrisy in the wealthy popstar’s humanitarianism. The Christian convert was also offended by Lennon’s famously misinterpreted “more popular than Jesus” comment. After months of planning, Chapman flew to New York City, followed Lennon into his apartment complex, and shot him four times in the back. This tragedy has become recognized as a defining symbol of violence in the modern age. Chapman himself now deeply regrets his actions. He also admits to the true motivation for such high-profile violence: to achieve his own fame.