A graphic circulating claims that Ato Essandoh, an actor who appeared in the 2012 western Django Unchained, was killed on the set by wild dogs at the request of Leonardo DiCaprio.
It’s not true.
Let’s first take a look at the rumor, which originally circulated in early 2013:
Did you know?
In Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio demanded that the Mandingo fighter dubbed “D’Artagnans” actually be torn apart alive by dogs, and Quentin Tarantino decided to allow it. The actor’s death was real, he died in brutal anguish and horrible pain. Tarantino later said in a groundbreaking interview with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes “It really captured the sheer evilness of DiCaprio’s character and added to the authenticity of the scene.” The actor, Ato Essandoh, was pronounced dead on the set by DiCaprio himself, but no chargers have been filed as Mr. Essandoh had volunteered his own life in the contract that he had signed prior to filming. At least Mr. Essandoh died giving a powerful and realistic final performance for such an amazing movie.
Debunking the Rumor
Aside from the fact that the narrative above is outlandish even to the casual reader, there are a couple of key facts which easily debunk this rumor.
- Ato Essandoh is still alive and responded to the rumor on Twitter.
- Mike Wallace’s last interview for 60 Minutes occurred in 2008, years before Django Unchained was even filmed.
Essandoh responded to the rumor when it first circulated in early 2013, with a series of humorous tweets on the subject. This Tumblr profile has screen shots of some of those tweets showing Ato poking fun at the rumor, “Unbeknownst to me, I’m dead. “Photo: R.I.P. Ato Essandoh.”
Unbeknownst to me, I’m dead. “Photo: R.I.P. Ato Essandoh http://t.co/wlEgmmhw” the comments section is priceless. #django
— Ato Essandoh (@AtoEssandoh) January 22, 2013
Since acting in Django Unchained, Ato Essandoh has appeared in the television series Copper as a character named Matthew Freeman.
As recently as January 2015, Essandoh still referenced the rumor on his Twitter bio, which read, “Actor. I might be dead. It depends on who you ask…”
Watch the Django Unchained dog scene below.
In July of 2013, Ato Essandoh did an interview with CityBeat, an independent newspaper/website based out of Cincinnati, OH. During the interview, writer Jac Kern asked Essandoh about the Django Unchained death hoax. The following is Essandoh’s quoted response:
It was fun because I was just on Twitter and somebody tweeted me that and I just about to dismiss it — I was like oh, that’s so stupid — and then I saw that there were like 500 comments, people who were like, ‘Is this true? Did Leonardo DiCaprio kill this poor boy? Did he sacrifice himself?’ Are you kidding me? So I just started tweeting. Once you get my snark going, I’ll just start snarking it up all over Twitter. So that was one of the best things that’s happened in my career, I guess — people thinking I’m dead!
Below is a Google Trends graph that displays interest over time in the search term “ato essandoh dead”. Curiosity regarding the rumor experienced small surges of interest in January and August of 2013. In February 2014, interest peaked before subsequently declining.
Below is a short video we have prepared which summarizes the information in this article.
Ato Essandoh was not killed on the set of Django Unchained. The actor is still alive and has joked about the rumor since it first surfaced in early 2013.
Updated February 4, 2016
Originally published February 2014