Racer and stuntwoman SJ Harris was killed yesterday morning while performing a stunt for the film Deadpool 2 in Vancouver, BC. Harris’s website says she got her race licence in 2013 and began racing in 2014, and describes her as the first African-American woman to compete in an AMA-sanctioned event. The Vancouver Sun reports this was Harris’s first job as a stunt person.

According to a friend of MO who was also working on the film, Harris was having no problems in rehearsals even if she didn’t seem to be as completely confident as a veteran stunt person might have been. During filming, however, at no more than 15 mph, she lost control and suffered fatal injuries.

Would a helmet have saved her life? Ahh, not sure, but the whole tragic incident brings up a serious topic: Does Hollywood encourage irresponsible riding by portraying helmetless riders engaged in all manner of riding well beyond “risky”? Or does everyone understand “it’s only a movie”?

Mission Impossible 2, with Tom Cruise racing helmetless through canyons at speed, was hard for some of us to watch – even harder than most TC films.

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How does the stunt community feel about riding without helmets? Our stunt person would only speak on condition of anonymity:

Of course you don’t like to do it, but we’re at the control of the writer of the film. He’s the captain and we’re the cargo, basically. If Tom Cruise runs out of a building with the bad guys five seconds behind him, it’s just not plausible that he’s going to take time to strap on a helmet before he takes off on the motorcycle. As a stunt performer, it’s our job to take the written word and make it happen.

What happened to SJ was a tragedy, but also kind of a fluke. It could also be the thing that shines a light on a situation that’s becoming unworkable at some level, as audience’s excitement thresholds keep being raised.

We like our motorcycle chase scenes as much as anybody, but not so much that we want to see anyone get killed as a result of riding without a helmet, or even more to the point, giving inexperienced motorcyclists the idea that they’re as impervious to physics as the movies sometimes seem to imply. Maybe scripts could be easily rewritten to give the chasee an extra 20 seconds to put on a helmet while the bad guys get their parking validated? Maybe something?

In any case, MO’s sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of SJ Harris. If her death results in the end of helmetless riding in movies, at least that would be one positive thing.

 

  • Jon Jones

    Dying for dumb-ass Hollywood.

    RIP.

  • Old MOron

    Well stated, JB. Condolences to the family and friends of SJ Harris.

  • Starmag

    Beautiful black woman dies for questionable B movie sequel. Her choice, but definitey not worth risking it for the tiny, tiny bit of “fame” and “fortune” that are accrued by stunt riders IMO.

  • JMDGT

    I doubt we are driven to ride helmetless because we saw a movie where someone was riding helmetless. Vaya Con Dios.

  • FreelancerMG

    It’s always a sad day to hear another person needlessly dying for the entertainment of others.

    The sad thing is, writers can easily write in scenarios that allows the protagonist character to get a helmet on before jumping onto a motorcycle. It’s actually much easier for the cast and crew all around because it makes it much easier to get a double to fill in as the face is completely covered. That Mission Impossible scene and scenes like it are done purposefully because the writers generally know they don’t have the substance and instead need to have the movie ride on the main actor/actress and having that actor and actress visible as much as possible becomes more important.

  • Jack Martin

    Peace and blessings on the family, I always hate to see a fellow rider’s demise.

  • Uncommon Sense

    I don’t believe in riding motorcycles helmet-less and put mine on EVERY SINGLE TIME RIDE. However, getting killed while going 15 mph seems to be some sort of freak accident. It is like some how getting killed in your car backing out of your garage spot and blaming the death on not wearing your seat belt. The article doesn’t provide any details as to what kind of stunt was being performed.

    Statistically, falling of any two wheeled vehicle at 15 mph is not going to kill you. If that were the case, then we’d have way more fatalities of kids and adults falling off bicycles, let alone motorcycles. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but statistically I don’t think anyone is worried about falling off a bike at 15 mph without a helmet.

    • Gruf Rude

      Actually a 10MPH tip-over in the local Harley shop’s parking lot killed a helmet-less rider a few years ago. Apparently a skull can’t handle the amount of force generated when slammed to the pavement by a toppling motorcycle.

      • John A. Stockman

        Physics rule in these situations, do the math and you’ll see why even a 10mph fall can kill someone because their head was not protected. It’s been proven already the g-force spike, even at those slow speeds, is very high. That first spike is the one that causes injury, up over 100g. Sure it’s only a few milliseconds, but those millisecond spikes are what helmets control. Not perfectly and not at higher speeds. What a tragic outcome, this woman who broke down barriers, racing not only as a woman with the guys, but as an African American woman. I stopped watching a Tomb Raider movie the other day because of a long scene where Croft is riding/racing a motorcycle with another cast member, helmet-less. Problem is, those who are motorcyclists are not influenced by these scenes, but a prospective rider who hasn’t ridden or doesn’t know much about how wearing a helmet can protect you, is. I’ve seen it and dealt with it from those wanting to get started riding a motorcycle. Is it irresponsible to show this in movies, TV, etc.? Free will comes into play, but with all the info out there about helmet testing methods, g-force loads and spikes, and how little force it takes to cause a severe brain injury or death, I’m surprised how little some educate themselves about being a motorcyclist and what it all entails. That Indian Larry guy died in a slow-speed tipover, about 20mph, banged his head on a curb. An old-school chopper guy that would be expected to not wear a helmet, his skills regarding creativity is still gone forever.

        • throwedoff

          I pulled into a gas station in June 1980 on my XS650 with a brand new Nava full face helmet on. I attempted to make a low speed U-turn only to have both tires slide out on the very smooth (almost polished) concrete surface. My right shoulder and the right side of my helmet hit the concrete at the same time, and I still remember my helmeted head bouncing and striking the concrete two more times after the initial contact. Luckily, the only thing damaged on me or the bike was my pride! I was extremely glad I was wearing that helmet as up until I bought it, I most often went helmet less. Needless to say I always wear a helmet. Sometimes I think I should wear one all the time because of my propensity for finding things to bang my head on when I’m not riding!

        • Gee S

          Physics always rules.

          If you really understand the forces involved, as counterintuitive as it seems, the forward speed of the motorcycle isn’t even a material factor, unless one runs smack into something immovable.

          The simple fact is that the acceleration of a rider’s head is mostly determined by its height above the ground when the fall starts. This is the model that Harry Hurt’s USC Helmet Testing lab implemented in its tests.

          So most motorcyclist’s fall profiles involve about 4 feet of vertical acceleration before contact with the ground. Most bicyclists add a foot to a foot and a half more room for acceleration before impact because of a bicycle’s seating position. Let’s not even talk about horseback. =8-o

          These acceleration rates to a concrete or paved surface are more than sufficient to kill you without any component of energy from forward motion. Now how appropriate does the design of bicycle and equestrian helmets seem to you?

          I just got back from trip to Delaware to pick up a Zero electric motorcycle. About 75% of street riders I saw up there were helmetless. Physics proves that if a stationary motorcycle could high side you, your chances of being killed are nearly unity.

          There’s a Simpson helmet hanging on a hook in my garage that saved my life. Do what you want, but physics ALWAYS rules.

  • Craig L.

    You do have to wonder if, with the advances in computer effects, stunt performers could wear helmets and have the characters face edited in after the fact. I’m sure it wouldn’t be cheap, but nothing is more valuable than someone’s life. Just a thought…

    • spiff

      You posted it as I was typing it. I agree 100%.

  • spiff

    With modern CGI they could cover up the fact that the stunt women (in this case) was wearing a helmet. Basic safety is worth it. In “the Cannonball Run” it was decided they would do a stunt even though the seat belts in the car didn’t work. I imagine everyone on set would take that day back.

  • Sentinel

    Very very sad. 🙁

  • I don’t think any movie would suffer from having stunt motorcyclists wear helmets. If it were mandated by law, the writers would be able to work it in gracefully during the early stages of script writing. I hope this tragic loss inspires some change.

  • symun buuntw

    Not enough experience in doing stuntz.so better not2take risk of doing it.

  • Ricky Lepre

    So sad. What a ballsy young lady. My heart felt wishes go out to her family and loved ones.

  • Ric Hill

    Helmets do save lives. At 15 mph, gyroscopic balancing does not exist as it does at 30 mph or above. She knew the risks. So did the entire production operation. Send her picture and story to the PA DMV which, a few years ago, recalled the requirement to have a certified helmet on.

  • Navroze Contractor

    This is terrible news. So many stunt people have died trying to emulate what the writer writes! In the Indian film industry there are accidents like this all the time. It is true the ‘threshold’ of thrills is raised every film but should not be at the sake of a life. This ‘I AM DOING MY JOB’ thing is just taken too far.

  • RyYYZ

    I’ll leave the discussions of whether she should have been doing this, or wearing a helmet, or whatever, for the lawyers and occupational safety people.

    It’s just sad to have lost such a vibrant, young person in this way, even more so as she was one of the relatively few women of colour in the business. Really sad. 🙁