The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Star Eli Wallach Almost Died Three Separate Times While On Set

The wild, wild west was indeed a wild, wild place. Death seemed to lurk just about everywhere — around every corner, behind every door, beneath every desert rock, and anywhere else beyond. Whether it was through a rattlesnake bite or the white hot barrel of an enemy's six-shooter, death had no shortage of vessels through which to access our souls back in those days. "Have you any idea of what a man must endure who leads such a life? No, you cannot. No one can unless he lives it for himself," outlaw Frank James reportedly once said of life among the bandits and the endless frontier (via True West magazine).

According to The Vintage News, actor Eli Wallach (1948-2014) got an intimate look into that life and its consequence of fatality back when he was filming Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" over half a century ago. Apparently, the late star of stage and screen found himself in a number of compromising positions during production of the iconic Spaghetti Western and almost died three separate times. 

You can't always believe a label

The first time Wallach nearly died on set was when he drank poison. He was filming a scene in which the characters had to strike bags of gold with spades to access the coins within. In order to loosen the fabric so the bags were sure to split upon impact with the shovels, the production team reportedly soaked the bags in acid.

However, one absent-minded crew member mistakenly left a lemon soda bottle full of acid sitting out where anyone could have come along and drank it. The Vintage News reports that it was Wallach who happened upon what appeared to be a refreshing beverage and took a hefty swig before anyone could warn him of its contents. Luckily, he made it to the hospital in time and had his stomach pumped before the treacherous substance could cause any irreversible damage to his body. Close call!

Bad horse! Slow down!

The second time Wallach nearly gave up the ghost while filming the 1966 film "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" actually looked like a wild west adventure in and of itself. During a scene in which his character Tuco was seated atop a horse with a noose around his neck, a mock pistol shot rang out and caused the horse to bolt down the open field with poor Eli astride the animal and no way to control it, given that his hands were bound behind his back (per The Vintage News). 

The noose (which was fake) broke free from its fastening, so it luckily wasn't a hanging hazard, but when you're barreling down the frontier on the back of a bucking bronco, you're liable to fall and break your neck on impact. According to The Vintage News, the animal sprinted for nearly a mile before crew members were able to catch up and gain control of it, and at that point, the petrified Wallach was on the brink of a heart attack after quarreling it out with death yet again.

Man, that could have been ugly

Every time the reaper visited the set of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," he had the point of his scythe aimed directly at Eli Wallach's head, and the third time he swung it, it almost took his head off completely — and we mean that literally. The Vintage News reports that Leone was directing a scene that required Wallach to leap out of a train with shackles on and a dead man attached to the other end of the chain. He then had to swing the bindings over the tracks and wait for the train to come and sever the chains (via Outsider).

While the first stunt was a success, the second nearly spelled out the end of the line for Wallach as Tuco. After leaping from the train, Wallach and the other body — which had been replaced with a dummy — were positioned on the tracks and ready to execute the task at hand. However, nobody realized that the oncoming train had a step jutting out from the side of it, and if Wallach hadn't positioned himself low enough to the ground, it would have collided with his head and separated it from his body entirely. According to Outsider, the step narrowly missed Wallach's head by no more than a few inches.