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Martin Sheen nearly died making Apocalypse Now

Earlier in 2022, Martin Sheen discussed his near-death experience on the set of Apocalypse Now including his fear of helicopters, and his wife saving him.

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now

The behind-the-scenes stories of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now are as famous as the movie itself. So much happened, that the production became the subject of a 1991 documentary – Hearts of Darkness. One of the most notorious incidents is the fact that star Martin Sheen, who was only in his 30s at the time, had a heart attack while making the movie.


In an interview given to Yahoo in 2022, Sheen said that one of the worst parts of the experience was having to get on a helicopter; “They had to fly me in on a helicopter. I hated getting in those helicopters because we had so many close calls, but this day, it was an emergency. I could either go to Manila in a bus, which would take about four or five hours, or I could be there in 15 minutes in a chopper. Under the circumstances, I took the chopper!”

Sheen wasn’t allowed to return to the film set for over a month. “As they were wheeling me down the corridor, this little face appeared and stayed there during the journey. And I realized it was Janet, my wife. She smiled, leaned down, whispered in my ear: ‘It’s only a movie, babe.’ And after that, I started to heal.”

Sheen certainly views Apocalypse Now as a learning experience; “I realized that I’d gone too far. I had bit off more than I could chew and I was choking on it. I’ve often said that if I had known going in that I’d have to endure what I did, I would’ve passed. But I have no regrets because it forced me to come to grips with parts of myself that I otherwise may never have embraced. I’m grateful to Francis for that.”

Francis Ford Coppola’s productions are always full of drama behind-the-scenes. The making of The Godfather was turned into mini-series The Offer in 2022, starring Dan Fogler as Coppola.