Actor, Model Godfrey Gao, 35, Died While Filming a Reality Show in China. What Happened?

Taiwanese-Canadian actor and model Godfrey Gao, 35, died from sudden cardiac arrest. Yes, the same Godfrey Gao who starred as Magnus Bane in “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and the man who made headlines in 2011 as the first Asian model to appear in an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton.

This news shocked many of his fans, myself included, last week on Nov. 27, when we all learned of his untimely passing during his participation in an extreme reality show in China called “Chase Me” (“追我吧”). Here’s a rundown of the basic facts, as reported by the South China Morning Post:

Chase Me is one of China’s most popular sports reality shows with a cast of two regular teams, plus guests, taking part in a series of night-time physical challenges, for example racing up and down a 70-metre (230 foot) wall.

Gao, who was one of the guest competitors, died after collapsing while running at 1.30am on Wednesday, the television company said in an earlier statement.

He was declared dead at a local hospital three hours later.

Another report from the South China Morning Post provides statements from the TV show and Gao’s representatives, which said that “The show’s medical staff began rescue efforts right away, and then rushed him to the hospital”. Further, a Chinese-language article in the Oriental Times points out that Gao had been filming for 17 hours when he collapsed.

Not surprisingly, Gao’s death at such a young age, and on a show that The New York Times describes as “famous for pushing its contestants to the limits”, has triggered public outcry in China over the incident. Much like myself, people are wondering, just what exactly happened? How could a TV show allow its contestants to engage in such life-threatening stunts for the sake of ratings and views?

Even though Godfrey Gao’s family have not faulted the broadcaster, Zhejiang TV, for his death, online fans see it differently, as noted by the South China Morning Post:

According to a copy of the competitors’ contracts that circulated online, the participants agree that the programme makers cannot be held liable for any accidents that happen during filming.

…the leaked document prompted widespread criticism as many social media users asked whether the station should bear some responsibility for Gao’s death.

One Weibo user commented: “This is too much. The broadcaster should take responsibility, investigate the responsibilities of the relevant personnel, take care of his family, sincerely apologise and compensate them.”

Furthermore, those with medical expertise have denounced the broadcaster for poor medical judgment as China Daily shared:

Netizen Li Miaowen-Zhao Kexin, also an endocrinology doctoral candidate at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, wrote that Zhejiang TV lacked “medical common sense”, a comment that became most popular under a thread on Gao’s death on Zhihu, a widely popular question-and-answer platform.

“It happened at one or two in the morning, right after midnight, when the human body temperature is at the lowest, and numerous bodily functions, including nervous responsiveness, joint reflexes and functions of the heart and the lungs are also at their lowest active level. Isn’t running at this time of the hour equivalent to self-harm? Doesn’t Zhejiang TV have any medical common sense?” the doctoral candidate added.

The public pressure has prompted the broadcaster to open an investigation into Godfrey Gao’s death, and also take the blame for Gao’s passing as China Daily reported:

Reiterating deep sorrow, the TV station, through its official Weibo account, said it will bear responsibility for Gao’s death, and replace Friday’s broadcast of Chase Me with TV episodes.

At the same time, China Television Artists Association’s actors committee has now urged actors to refuse overtime work, and called on TV producers to allow talent sufficient time to rest and recover, according to a China Daily article.

Gao died days before Friday Nov. 29, when he “was meant to be a groomsman at former Taiwanese basketball star James Mao’s wedding” as Variety shared.

May Godfrey Gao rest in peace.

What do you think about the death of Godfrey Gao?

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Godfrey Gao,CC BY-SA 2.0,