The International Association for Near-Death Studies reports up to 15 percent of those surveyed in the U.S., Germany and Australia have had a near-death experience. Those who have gone through an NDE usually report similar experiences: they may have seen and felt a brilliant white light, encountered dead loved ones, watched their entire life flash in front of them (the “life review”) and hovered outside their body (the aptly-titled “out-of-body experience”). While some people who have these near-death experiences are afraid to talk about them, others are more than happy to share their story. The 10 celebrities on this list have all publically talked about going through a near-death experience, and they insist that their experiences were very real — not simply the hallucinations of an oxygen-starved brain, a common theory used to explain NDEs. And, as with so many others, the following celebrities assert their near-death experience forever changed their outlook on life, mostly for the better.
10. Sharon Stone
The Basic Instinct actress has in recent years contributed to stroke awareness campaigns, which is fitting considering that Stone survived a stroke that nearly took her life in 2001, when she was just north of 40 years old. Before Stone had to learn how to regain her speech and mobility again, she fought for her life in the hospital with bleeding in the brain and, during that time, it has been widely reported that she “went into that vortex of white light” and encountered dead friends. She described the experience to Katie Couric in 2002 as affecting her so profoundly that her life “will never be the same again.”
9. Nikki Sixx
The Motley Crue bassist once known for his hard living celebrated the 25th anniversary of his near-death experience in December 2012 in a very public manner, posting on Facebook: “25 years ago today I had two almost-fatal drug overdoses that changed my life forever. I can’t even see myself these days as that kid who was running head strong into the abyss, but I know he taught me how to live when he finally decided to do it for himself.” Sixx told CNN that during this 1987 close call, he went out of body and “saw things I shouldn’t have been able to see. I saw the hotel hallway, the ambulance, the limo that was there. I couldn’t have seen that because there was a sheet over me.” In fact, the two adrenalin shots that restarted his heart also inspired the song, Kickstart My Heart. Five years later, Nikki Sixx says he kicked the habit for good — and is now said to be two decades sober.
8. Peter Sellers
The British comic and character actor (Pink Panther, Dr. Strangelove) had a tough life off-stage. Struggling with depression and grappling with drug addiction and volatile relationships, Sellers never really recovered from a series of heart attacks that he suffered starting at the age of 39 in 1964. Instead of opting for heart medication, he consulted with “psychic healers.” During this first bout of heart attacks, Sellers recalled slipping out of his body, watching doctors work to bring him back and meeting an angel who told the troubled star it wasn’t his time to die yet — a message that “bitterly disappointed” Sellers. He died after a massive heart attack in 1980.
7. Gary Busey
The actor best known today for his outrageous reality TV stints had a brush with death in the late 1980s, when he crashed his motorcycle at 75 mph. Busey told Larry King — apparently the personality every celeb confides in when he or she has an NDE — that he died on the table following brain surgery. He then went out of body and “got some messages.” He claims God told him to “seek spiritual help,” which resulted in a not uncommon spiritual awakening for the beleaguered star. Busey also described angels not as what you might see on a holiday card but as “big balls of light” exuding love and warmth. He is quite passionate about his NDE; in 2003, while playing a man who died and came back as a small dog in the forgettable movie Quigley, Busey vocally disagreed with the movie’s depiction of heaven. He demanded a set redesign, held up production and got into a fistfight with another actor who disagreed with his impressions of the afterlife.
6. Burt Reynolds
The prolific TV and film actor’s NDE can be traced back to 1984, when Reynolds reportedly hurt his jaw during filming of City Heat. The pain was so intense that he began taking a prescription sleep aid, popping as many as 50 pills daily, according to a 1992 TV Guide article. After four years of being hooked on the pills, Reynolds quit cold turkey — which resulted in his going into a coma for more than eight hours. During this time, he recalled going out of his body and hearing the doctors say, “We’re losing him.”
5. Ozzy Osbourne
The heavy metal legend claims he literally “saw the light” after a serious ATV accident in 2003. The ATV landed on Ozzy’s chest, crushing him. If not for the quick actions of his bodyguard, by all accounts, Osbourne would have stayed on the other side for good. Instead, he shared his recollection of the accident and the ensuing eight-day coma with a number of media outlets — reporting that, while he didn’t see the angels and the blowing trumpets, he did see a “white light shining through the darkness” as he went in and out of consciousness. In his 2010 memoir, I Am Ozzy, Osbourne said he should have been dead a thousand times (thanks to a series of alcohol/drug binges), and he characterized the crash as a turning point where the then-50-something was forced to finally “grow up.”
4. Jane Seymour
Before the British actress earned global acclaim for her role on TV’s Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Seymour nearly died at the age of 36 in the late 1980s. Her life-changing event occurred as the star filmed a movie overseas and came down with a severe case of the flu. A nurse mistakenly injected an antibiotic into Seymour’s artery or vein instead of her muscle, which sent her into shock. In a number of media interviews, Seymour recalled experiencing a hallmark of the NDE: The out-of-body experience, whereby she saw individuals trying to resuscitate her and looked up to see a white light. Unlike others who have recalled embracing the light, Seymour fell into the camp of not being ready to die yet and having so much more life left to live. Since that time, she has reported living life in the moment and, in a particularly touching interview on Beliefnet.com, Seymour said: “I realize you take nothing with you other than the difference you maybe made in the world and/or the love that you shared with people you interact with.”
3. Donald Sutherland
The veteran actor had already made a name for himself as the star of films such as MASH and Kelly’s Heroes when he came down with spinal meningitis in 1979. Like others on this list, Sutherland was comatose when he had his NDE. The star told media outlets in his native Canada that he could hear producers discussing a dire telegram they were going to send to his wife that would set in motion plans to send Sutherland’s body back to the U.S. Sutherland indicated his body may have recovered but his brain was “fried,” and his memory had been affected by the experience. He also told Esquire that having an NDE “prevents you from going into a deep sleep ever again.”
2. Tony Bennett
In the late 1970s, Bennett’s career and personal life hit rock bottom. As Bennett told the story in his autobiography, he was self-medicating with cocaine and weed, and it was during a soak in the bathtub that he experienced what he called a “clear, yellow peaceful plane that everybody who mentions a near-death experience sees.” His then-wife revived the musician by pounding on his chest. Bennett later quit drugs and staged a much-lauded career comeback in the 1980s and 1990s.
1. Elizabeth Taylor
This icon’s off-screen drama wasn’t limited to her volatile relationships; a back injury sustained at the age of 12 while filming one of her earliest movies marked the first episode in what would be a lifelong battle with her body — including bouts with pneumonia in her 20s and a much-publicized battle with alcohol and drugs. In a particularly poignant interview with Diane Sawyer (and a whole host of media outlets and personalities, including Larry King) in 2009, Taylor recalled doctors pronouncing her dead in the late 1950s. She saw a tunnel, a beautiful light and her third husband, Mike Todd, who had been killed in a 1958 plane crash. Todd had to coax her back to life, telling her “You have things to do … I’ll be here.” Once she returned to her body, Taylor spoke of appreciating sounds, colors, music in a way she never had before. Incidentally, the tunnel Taylor and so many others mention appears to be primarily a Western phenomenon; the International Association for Near-Death Studies reports it’s rarely mentioned in non-Western cultures that have no experience with tunnels in real life.