John Bernecker R.I.P.

Memorial services for John H. Bernecker, the stuntman who died from injuries suffered on the metro Atlanta set of “The Walking Dead,” will be on Saturday in his native New Orleans. Details are posted here.

“John’s extraordinary athletic ability and charismatic personality were a perfect match for his dream job as a stunt performer in movies and television,” the family’s obit reads. “His success was quick. As a stuntman and coordinator, he performed in over 90 feature films and television shows.”

Yesterday I posted a recent article about the Walking Dead on Reddit, and was surprised by some of the comments. You can take a look for yourself. Some people are blaming the producers of the show, saying things like they could have used CGI for that stunt, or bringing up the fact that Bernecker had supposedly never done that stunt before, and that they should have gotten someone who had. And a bunch of other stuff.

First, understand that I don’t watch The Walking Dead of read the comics. I’m not speaking as any type of rapid fan, who just wants to defend his favorite show, or anything like that. And I do feel for John Bernecker’s family and loved ones. He was just 33 years old, still a relatively young man. So, of course, any unintended death is a tragedy. But the fact remains that this was his job. Risking your physical well-being, and possibly your life, is literally part of the job description of being a stuntman. That’s what stuntmen do, that’s what they sign up for.

Looking at his IMDB page, I see that his first professional stunt work was in 2009, when he was 25 years old. That’s more than old enough to make an informed decision about your life, in my opinion. He knew what he was doing when made the choice to enter this career. And he’d been working pretty steadily over the next 8 years, with 93 credits to his name. So whatever lead him to that particular career, he was clearly enjoying it enough to continue. And I’m sure this was not the first potentially deadly stunt he’d tried.

And the argument about him never having done the particular stunt he was doing before doesn’t make sense to me. Every stuntman has to start somewhere. You can’t say that companies should only hire “experienced” stuntmen, because how do you think they gain experience? They all have a first time doing something.

So again, this is a choice that he willingly made. It’s a choice that millions of other men *and women* have made. They are paid to do things that are considered too dangerous for regular actor to risk doing. And plenty of stuntpeople have been killed on the job over the years, so anyone going into this line of works knows what they are doing. So, unless some deliberate negligence can be found to have occurred on set, this really is just a tragic accident, which John Bernecker chose to risk.


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