The Stories Of Celebrities Who Almost Died During 9/11

A shocking act of terrorism that fundamentally changed daily life, commercial aviation, and global politics, the events of 9/11 comprised an unspeakable tragedy that defined and united multiple generations of Americans. On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists working under the direction of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hijacked multiple passenger airplanes and directed them to attack significant United States landmarks. One jet collided with the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, in Washington, D.C. Two more aircraft struck and toppled the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a heavily occupied multi-use complex. All told, nearly 3,000 innocent people died on 9/11.

It's a stunning and horrendous notion, then, that the staggering casualty count could have run even higher. With so many flights and targets in highly populated cities involved, many more individuals could have died on 9/11 had the course of events, or the routine of their day, gone a little differently. The violence of 9/11 claimed lives from most every walk of life, including celebrities. So too did famous people experience a 9/11 near miss. Here are some well-known figures who very well could have died on September 11, 2001.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, the unofficial King of Pop, spent a few days in New York City in September 2001. To promote his forthcoming album "Invincible," he participated in two nights of performances and tributes from other acts to populate a future TV special to celebrate his 30 years as a solo act, apart from the Jackson 5. The second and final night of the two-evening taping occurred on September 10.

Jackson had more business to attend to in New York on the morning of September 11, primarily a meeting in an office on one of the higher levels of a World Trade Center tower. He would've been in the impact zone of a hijacked plane had he attended that meeting. Instead, he skipped the appointment, opting to sleep in a little later. After the tribute show, Jackson had stayed awake past 3 a.m., hanging out and talking with his mother and sister, Rebbie, in his hotel room.

Gabourey Sidibe

Eight years before her Academy Award-nominated debut role in the 2009 drama "Precious," Gabourey Sidibe was an 18-year-old student, a recent high school graduate attending Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) as a freshman. At the time, the school operated out of two facilities, one situated on the same street as the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. On September 11, 2001, Sidibe had an 8 a.m. class at that campus, but in what she says was a rare move, she overslept. "I woke up too late to get there on time. Even though I was disappointed in myself for waking up so late, I decided to just turn on my TV and catch a talk show. In about 10 minutes, I became aware of the planes hitting the towers," Sidibe told the New York Daily News

As the events of the day unfolded, the World Trade Center collapsed after being struck by planes, and one of the towers toppled onto the BMCC where Sidibe was supposed to be attending class. "People there lost their lives. BMCC shut down for a month because the school became a makeshift space for police, firefighters, and EMTs," Sidibe said.

Patti Austin

One of the many musical luminaries on hand to pay tribute to Michael Jackson at his 30th anniversary extravaganza at New York City's Madison Square Garden: soft rock and R&B star Patti Austin. She's best known for her 1982 hit "Baby, Come to Me," a duet with James Ingram that topped the pop and adult contemporary charts. Austin also performed with Jackson on "It's the Falling in Love," a track on his 1979 album "Off the Wall."

Austin was scheduled to perform at the Jackson concert on September 10. But when her mother suffered a stroke earlier in the month, and Austin needed to be with her in San Francisco, she tried to cancel her appearance. Organizer David Guest moved her to the September 7 show, allowing her to leave New York four days earlier than initially planned. Austin was originally set to leave New York on the morning of September 11, via United Airlines Flight 93, with service to San Francisco. That was one of the terrorist-hijacked planes. "I felt that my life had been saved for some specific reason," Austin said during a 2011 show at the Hollywood Bowl (via NBC Los Angeles). "I have yet to figure that out, but I do a lot of charity work now, which I was doing before, but I do a lot more."

Mark Wahlberg

By 2001, pop-rapper Marky Mark had evolved into Mark Wahlberg, one of the most bankable and popular Hollywood actors of the era. In 2001 alone, Wahlberg starred in the musical drama "Rock Star" and the blockbuster remake of "Planet of the Apes." Wahlberg had booked a ticket for a September 11 trip on American Airlines Flight 11, which took off from Logan Airport in the actor's hometown of Boston, en route to Los Angeles. He didn't get on that plane, however. About a week before, Wahlberg decided to postpone his trip back to LA in order to attend some film industry events in Toronto instead. 

Had he been a passenger on Flight 11, Wahlberg believes, it may not have met its tragic and violent end. "If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did," he told Men's Journal in 2012. "There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'Okay, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'" He later apologized via a statement reported by Reuters, calling his words "insensitive."

Seth MacFarlane

He'd eventually become a television mogul, film director, and recording artist, but in 2001, Seth MacFarlane was known for one thing: being the creator and chief voice actor in Fox's raunchy animated series "Family Guy." On September 10, 2001, MacFarlane gave a speech at his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, and afterward, hit the bars for a night of drinking with some professors. He woke up so hungover that he ran late for his flight out of Boston that would take him back to work in Los Angeles. Upon arrival at the airport, he approached the gate and asked to be let onto American Airlines Flight 11. "The woman behind the counter said, 'You're too late, they just closed the gate.' I said, 'Alright, well, you know, I'll take the 11 o'clock,'" MacFarlane told "Piers Morgan Tonight." 

He went into a lounge to sleep off his hangover and woke up 45 minutes later to a hubbub, and saw the live news footage of successive planes crashing into the World Trade Center. At one point, a newsreader announced that one of the planes was American Airlines Flight 11. "I turned to the guy next to me and said, "That was the flight I was supposed to be on. I was late. I missed it."

Sarah Ferguson

Upon her 1986 marriage to U.K. royal Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson became Sarah, Duchess of York. She retained that particular title after her 1996 divorce from Prince Andrew, and also kept up the busy professional life of a royal, devoting much of her time to charitable causes and nonprofit organizations. The duchess helped found Chances for Children, and it kept an office on the 101st floor of one of the World Trade Center towers. 

Ferguson was supposed to arrive at the WTC at 8:45 a.m. for a meeting with her charity's small staff. American Airlines Flight 11, taken over by a group of terrorists, made destructive contact with the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Ferguson's car arrived at the complex less than a minute after that plane hit. The duchess helped load the staff, awaiting her arrival in the lobby, into the limo and then they all immediately left the premises. "The Duchess of York is desperately upset for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy," a spokesperson said in a statement (via ABC News). "It is unbelievable, she was just a few minutes away when the explosion took place."

Ian Thorpe

One of the most accomplished swimmers on the world stage, Ian Thorpe represented his home country of Australia in the Summer Olympics in 2000 and 2004. Across the two competitions, Thorpe took home five gold medals, three silver medals, and a bronze medal to go along with 11 titles acquired at world championship meets dating back to 1998.

During a break in training between his two Olympiads, Thorpe and a friend took a vacation to New York City in September 2001. On the morning of September 11, Thorpe jogged around Manhattan and briefly stopped at the World Trade Center. He and his friend were supposed to visit the observation deck that morning, but those plans changed when his traveling companion overslept. "I said we could go up the World Trade Center in the morning and then you do the Empire State Building at night," Thorpe told Compete Network. "I grabbed a coffee and walked back to my hotel room, and literally in that period of the time the planes hit. It was a very, very close call."

Julie Stoffer

Julie Stoffer is best known for her stint on the original run of MTV's "The Real World." She was among the disparate roommates selected to live in a camera-covered house, this one in New Orleans, filming over several months in 2000.

In September 2001, Stoffer was in Boston and was booked for departure on United Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles. Stoffer had made plans to visit her boyfriend, who was in LA at the time, but they'd had a fight the previous evening. Very close to canceling the jaunt as a result, she still woke up early and decided to make the flight, calling a Boston friend to ask for a ride to the airport. That friend urged her to skip the trip, to send a message to the boyfriend she thought was treating Stoffer poorly. Convinced, Stoffer returned to bed and never went to the airport. United Flight 11 was one of the planes hijacked and rerouted into the World Trade Center.

Michael Lomonaco

A star of the competitive and first-class New York dining scene, Michael Lomonaco honed his skills as a chef and cook at exclusive restaurants like the 21 Club and Le Cirque. In 1997, he took the job as culinary director at Windows on the World, the upscale, tourist-attracting collection of restaurants that occupied parts of both the 106th and 107th floors of the World Trade Center's North Tower.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lomonaco's commute took less time than it usually did, so he popped into the WTC's shopping area to get his eyeglasses repaired. He'd arranged a 12 p.m. appointment, but the shop had an opening. His glasses were just about ready when the first hijacked plane made contact at 8:46 a.m. "I just thought, 'Could that be the subway?' It turns out it was the impact of the first plane," Lomonaco told MarketWatch. The store lost electricity and was evacuated by security. Upon heading outside, the chef saw wreckage on the ground and falling from the towers. Then his thoughts turned to his restaurant. "I was trying to make a mental list of who was working," he said. He decided to go back to the building to assist with evacuating his employee, but then saw the second plane hit. "I heard the roar of the jet engines. I looked up at the moment of impact," Lomonaco recalled.