Jon-Erik Hexum was an American actor who died on the sets of his series ‘Cover Up’ and gained international attention after the unfortunate incident. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jon initially studied biomedical engineering in college and then majored in economics and philosophy. However, he had bigger dreams. He was a keen sportsperson who played football. He was also a DJ and a part-time actor. He was highly active in the theater scene in his later college years. In 1980, he moved to New York to start his professional acting career. In 1981, he got in touch with a major Hollywood celebrity manager and moved to Los Angeles. After a few failed auditions, he earned his breakthrough role in the series ‘Voyagers!’ in 1982. He appeared as ‘Phineas Bogg,’ one of the main characters of the series, in 20 episodes. The next year, he appeared in the TV film ‘Making of a Male Model.’ In 1984, he made his big-screen debut with a lead role in the film ‘The Bear.’ The same year, he started appearing in the series ‘Cover Up.’ He accidentally shot himself to death during the shoot. The news of his death made national and international headlines.
Childhood & Early Life
Jon-Erik Hexum was born on November 5, 1957, in Englewood, New Jersey, to Thorleif and Gretha Hexum. His family had Norwegian roots. Jon grew up with his elder brother, Gunnar, in Tenafly, New Jersey.
His parents got divorced when he was 4 years old. Jon was a brilliant student in school and was deeply in love with music. He had his own piano set at home and also played the violin in his school orchestra.
He also nurtured an interest in acting but did not know where to start. Once he completed his high-school graduation, Jon enrolled at the ‘Case Western Reserve University’ and studied biomedical engineering. He also participated in theater extensively in college. He got bored of studies. He soon realized his interests lay in music, sports, and acting and dropped out of the university.
He later got enrolled at the ‘James Madison College’ of the ‘Michigan State University’ and played football for his college team. Around the same time, he also became active in the local theater scene and played small roles in many plays. He also worked as a DJ under the name “Yukon Jack” at local clubs during his college years.
By the time he graduated with a major in philosophy and economics, he was sure that acting was what he wanted to do all his life. In 1980, soon after his college graduation, he moved to New York to participate in the theater scene there. Simultaneously, he did many odd jobs to make ends meet. He worked as a cleaner when he met Hollywood star John Travolta’s manager.
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Starting from the late 1970s, when Jon first started auditioning for TV roles, he reportedly turned down several offers due to lack of quality. He thus missed the opportunity to work in series such as ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ and ‘CHiPs.’ He also turned down many offers to appear in soap operas.
However, agent Bob LeMond recognized Jon’s talent. In 1981, Bob asked Jon to move to Los Angeles to audition for a movie named ‘Summer Lovers.’ Although Jon did not get a role in the film, his power-packed audition was loved by many. Soon, he was offered a meaty role in the series ‘Voyagers!’
The science-fiction series had Jon playing the role of ‘Phineas Bogg,’ a character traveling through time. The series ran for a single season, from 1982 to 1983, and Jon was the leading man in all 20 episodes of the series.
Although the series was a commercial and critical success, it was not renewed for a second season. However, the show proved to be highly beneficial for Jon. At that time, he was not only earning $10,000 a week but was also inviting attention from young audience members. This later helped him bag some major roles.
In 1983, he earned a major role in the made-for–TV film ‘Making of a Male Model.’ Jon played the role of ‘Tyler Burnett’ in the film. It received average reviews, but Jon’s performance was appreciated.
In 1984, Jon made a guest appearance in a single episode of the series ‘Hotel,’ titled ‘Tomorrows.’
The same year, he appeared in the film ‘The Bear.’ The film was a biopic of Paul “Bear” Bryant, former football coach of the ‘University of Alabama.’ Jon played the role of a terminally ill player of the football team named Pat Trammel. This has been the most critically acclaimed performance of his career so far.
Although Jon was quite in demand, he was largely dissatisfied with the way his career was progressing. He wanted to do big films and better roles, but he was unable to bag such roles. After turning down many offers, he finally decided to play the lead role in the action-adventure series ‘Cover Up.’ He appeared in the leading role of ‘Mac Harper’ in the series. It turned out to be his last series.
Accident and Death
Jon-Erik Hexum was shooting for the seventh episode of the series ‘Cover Up,’ titled ‘Golden Opportunity,’ in October 1984, when the shoot got delayed and Jon started playing with a gun on the set. It was a .44 ‘Magnum’ handgun. Jon had forgotten to unload the gun completely and had left one blank round in it.
Mimicking a gunshot to his temple, he pulled the trigger and got shot in the head. The blank did not penetrate his skull. However, shooting from such a close range caused significant damage to his skull.
Jon was immediately taken to the ‘Beverly Hills Medical Center,’ where he underwent a 5-hour-long surgery for his wounds. On October 18, 1984, Jon was finally declared brain dead. His body was then transported to San Francisco.
His family donated his heart, kidneys, and corneas.
His mother sued ‘20th Century Fox’ for being careless on the shoot. The issue was resolved through an out-of-court settlement. His character on the show ‘Cover Up’ was replaced by another character played by Antony Hamilton.
Family & Personal Life
Jon-Erik Hexum was dating actor Elizabeth Daily at the time of his death. Elizabeth later revealed that although Jon was not suicidal, he had been excessively frustrated about the direction of his career.
According to Elizabeth, Jon had a childlike energy. She also stated that many people had advised him to be careful while playing with guns and other weapons on screen.