The life of a stunt double is hard. The life of Johnny Depp’s stunt double? That’s another thing entirely. Such was the fate of Tony Angelotti. Depp was known to do some crazy things on set. Angelotti only stepped in when it was perilous. Taking the role of Depp’s stunt double almost cost Angelotti his life.
When Johnny Depp stepped on set as Captain Jack Sparrow, he stole the show. The vibrant and larger-than-life actor created some very large shoes to fill. Yet someone had to fill them. Actors rarely do their own stunts. Not only are there Union rules about it, they often lack the proper training to pull them off safely. Sometimes it’s not even a matter of training. Sometimes things just go wrong. That is why stunt doubles exist. They do the dangerous stuff so the star stays safe to continue filming.
This is what happened to Angelotti. Things went wrong on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Lack of proper testing and working equipment led to an injury that could’ve killed Angelotti. He explained that they were doing something called a “yo-yo stunt” when the actor’s body actually becomes a yo-yo of sorts. In the scene, Jack Sparrow falls off a cliff with a rope tied around his waist, which unravels and leaves him dangling from one leg by a rope.
The scene included an 80 fall. film makers initially tested the stunt at 40 feet and it failed. Despite this, producers went ahead with the stunt anyway. “When I was up, looking down, I gave the call of “three, two, one, go,’ they pulled my quick release that would allow me to unravel. However, the operator of the descender did not have the brake on and I went into a freefall,” said Angelotti.
That is when things went horribly wrong. “So my body was the yo-yo and he hit the brake, and I had the five wraps around my waist. I spun so uncontrollably fast that the centrifugal force actually ripped my pelvis apart,” he said.
“I felt the ripping of inside my pelvic area, the burning, ripping sensation. And once I got to the bottom, I recoiled, like you would like a yo-yo, and sort of did this flailing backflip, and then I went into this massive split.”
Angelotti suffered internal bleeding that required an emergency transfusion of six units of blood due to a knocked femoral artery. His ACL was also torn, requiring a complete reconstructive surgery and a plate inserted into his pelvis, which had been completely torn apart. He spent a year in recovery before needing an additional surgery when his pelvic plate broke. He said he suffered PTSD from the event.
This injury was nearly a career-ender for the stuntman. He can no longer do the wild stunts he used to do and is limited to light stunt work only. “It quite hobestly, f—ed me up,” he said. Post-recovery, he has found a place in the film industry as a stunt coordinator.
Angelotti sued both Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer as well as the stunt coordinators. His lawsuit, however, was dismissed due to California laws that protect employers. Worker’s Comp is the only recourse an injured employee has in California unless they can prove gross negligence occurred. Since Angelotti knowingly took the stunt double role, with full knowledge that he could be injured, the court ruled no gross negligence had occurred.
Despite being unsuccessful in his lawsuit, the stunt double has raised awareness about safety in the industry. His challenge to the law has led many lawmakers to reconsider the way laws protecting employees are written. Though that doesn’t help Angelotti whose career will never be the same, it could prevent other from going through what he did.