An accident with an axe, a childhood prank gone haywire, cantaloupe-carving carelessness: whatever the reason, many people make their mark in life without a finger or two. Here are some folks who’ve managed to get ahead with missing or damaged digits.
GARY BURGHOFF won an Emmy as Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly on the wartime sitcom M*A*S*H, despite having three deformed fingers on his left hand. During filming Burghoff’s hand was usually “missing in action,” carefully hidden under clipboards, behind radio sets or in his pocket.
JERRY GARCIA had half of his right middle finger lopped off when he was four — a wood-chopping axe did the job — but he became a scintillating guitarist anyway. Garcia led the long-running rock band The Grateful Dead until his death in 1995, and his soaring guitar solos were part of the Dead’s legendary live shows. Garcia also had a respectable solo career, dabbling in bluegrass and folk music.
Honorable mention: JOHNNY DEPP. During Depp’s bitter divorce with Amber Heard, she told the court that in 2015 he had cut off the tip of his right middle finger in a fit of rage while accusing her of carrying on with actor Billy Bob Thornton. Depp reportedly dipped the bloody finger in blue paint to write “starring Billy Bob” and “Easy Amber” on a nearby mirror. Photos of the finger (and the mirror) were published by TMZ in 2016, and other photos from 2015 show Depp’s finger wrapped in bandages. His finger now has only a mild dent in it where doctors made repairs.
Actress DARYL HANNAH starred in Splash and Blade Runner while missing part of her left index finger. In a 2001 story in The Sunday Times of South Africa, Hannah explained: “I got my finger stuck in the pulley of a well at my grandmother’s house when I was three.” Good luck spotting the missing digit onscreen: it’s almost always hidden behind gloves, coats, guns, etc.
Political fixer and Chicago mayor RAHM EMANUEL lost half of his right middle finger to a roast beef slicer. Time magazine picks up the story: “As a teenager, he severed his right middle finger slicing meat at Arby’s and went swimming in Lake Michigan before getting stitches. After the wound became severly infected, Emanuel had the top of his finger amputated and spent six weeks recovering.”
DONALD K. “DEKE” SLAYTON was selected in 1959 to be one of the original seven astronauts in the U. S. “space race” with the Soviet Union. Slayton was a pilot in World War II and a test pilot and instructor during the 1950s. The astronauts were selected after a rigorous screening process and had to be in excellent health. Deke passed despite a missing left ring finger (the only finger deemed not necessary for a right-handed pilot). Slayton lost the finger to a horse-drawn hay mower when he was a young boy in Wisconsin. Although a heart murmur kept him out of the first manned spaceflights, Slayton finally made it to the launch pad in 1975. He spent 217 hours and 28 minutes in space for the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
BORIS YELTSIN was a minor Communist Party official until he put himself in the right place just as the Soviet Union collapsed. As a boy his timing wasn’t so good: he blew off two fingers while playing with a grenade snitched from an Army depot. It didn’t keep him from juggling foreign and domestic policy from 1989-99 at a critical junction in Russian history.
Actor CHRISTIAN BALE is known for his onscreen intensity in such films as American Psycho, The Machinist, The Fighter and Newsies. And as of early 2009, he’s also known as “the guy with the mangled left index finger.” Bale confirmed in the spring of 2009 that he had been in a dirt-biking accident, and was quoted as saying he’d hurt his finger — “chopped it off at the end.” It’s unclear just how much of the end got chopped off. Reports said simply that he would be scarred for life, and that he didn’t feel the actual chop-off so much as notice how bloody his hand was. Bale was quoted as saying, “It looks horrible. Everyone else almost faints looking at it.”
The first European musician to stongly influence American jazz, guitarist DJANGO REINHARDT began his career in Belgium and France in the 1920s. In 1928 he was caught in a caravan fire that left his left hand partially paralyzed. Reinhardt developed a new playing technique to overcome the problem and by the end of World War II he was an international superstar.
One might almost think an altered hand is the key to guitar greatness: Black Sabbath’s TONY IOMMI joins Garcia and Reinhardt in the elite club of guitarists with finger problems. Before he was a heavy metal superstar, Iommi lost chunks of two fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident. He fashioned prosthetic tips and went on to be one of the most celebrated rock guitarists of the 1970s.
DR. ALEX COMFORT‘s book The Joy of Sex came out in 1972, in time to capitalize on the apparent need of many Americans to hear from an expert that fornication was fun. Comfort managed his intricate researches despite having lost four fingers on his left hand while fooling with explosives as a kid. No matter: The Joy of Sex remains one of the all-time best selling books on sex.
Japan’s ISOROKU YAMAMOTO masterminded the infamous 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. As a young sailor, he found himself fighting in the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, the naval brouhaha that helped decide the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War. The battle marked Yamamoto for life when an explosion destroyed two fingers on his left hand.
Silent film comedian BUSTER KEATON made ’em laugh without a chunk of his right hand. Keaton caught the hand in a clothes wringer at age two, losing the first joint of his index finger in the process. It didn’t keep him from earning the nickname “The Great Stone Face” as he starred in classic comedies like Sherlock Jr. (1924) and The General (1926).
Keaton’s fellow silent comedian HAROLD LLOYD received greater damage in 1919 when a supposedly-fake prop bomb went off in his hand, blowing off his right thumb and forefinger. Lloyd’s condition was kept secret from the public, and he was fitted with prosthetic digits which he used in the rest of his films. The phony fingers didn’t keep him from doing his own stunts — including dangling from the face of a clock 12 stories up in a famous scene from the 1923 movie Safety Last.
MORDECAI BROWN helped pitch the Chicago Cubs to four baseball championships in the early 1900s, all while throwing with a maimed hand. According to his estate’s official Web site, “At the age of 7, Brown was playing on his uncle’s farm and got his right hand caught in a corn shredder. His index finger was amputated above the second knuckle, and his thumb and pinkie were both impaired permanently. While chasing a hog a few weeks later, he fell and broke the third and fourth fingers on the same hand, both of which healed unnaturally.” Making lemonade out of anatomical lemons, Brown learned that the stub allowed him to hurl a very sharp curveball. Armed with this advantage, “Three Finger” Brown won 239 major league games.
The tip of outlaw JESSE JAMES‘s left middle finger started a famous 19th-century urban legend (even without the help of the Internet).
James could be identified by the missing joint, which was reportedly blown off while he cleaned his pistol as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. After James was gunned down by Robert Ford in 1882, a post-mortem photo showed the corpse’s left hand hidden under the right — sparking rumors that the dead man wasn’t really the famous outlaw. Some said he lived on for years or even decades under other names.
The rumors continued until DNA testing in 1995 proved that the body was, indeed, Jesse James. (For more on that, see James’s entry in the loop Exhumation Celebration.)
Speaking of the Wild West: Actor LEE VAN CLEEF faced off against Clint Eastwood in two famous “spaghetti westerns”:For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). The latter film ends with a gunfight, in which Van Cleef is clearly seen to be missing the last joint of the middle finger on his right hand. The Internet Movie Database and various other online sources claim that Van Cleef lost the finger while building a playhouse for his daughter.
Actor PAT HINGLE carved out a long career on stage and screen despite a missing left pinky. In 1959 Hingle fell down a Manhattan elevator shaft, cracking his skull, leg, hip and wrist and severing the finger. Besides nearly killing him, the accident cost him the title role in the 1960 film Elmer Gantry. The role went instead to Burt Lancaster, who won the Academy Award. Hingle’s missing finger (and pronounced limp) were written into his next part in Splendor in the Grass(1961) as being due to a fall from an oil rig.
According to his 1996 autobiography Beam Me Up, Scotty, JAMES DOOHAN landed with Royal Canadian Army troops on the D-Day invasion of France and lost the middle finger of his right hand to German fire. The injury didn’t keep him from landing the role of spaceship engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on the 1960s TV series Star Trek. Avid Trekkies will note that ‘stunt double’ hands were used whenever Doohan operated the ship’s transporter.
Television star and producer DANNY THOMAS was missing the tip of his index finger. He used a prosthetic device to disguise the disfigurement, and was often seen holding a cigar as a prop. Thomas apparently lost the finger in a gun accident.
Noted astronomer and all-around smart guy GALILEO was also missing a finger, but he was none the wiser: when his body was moved to a new resting place in 1737, the middle finger of his right hand was taken and eventually put on display. Later it was learned two other fingers had also been taken from his corpse. The three fingers disappeared sometime after 1905, then one turned up in 1927 and has since been housed at the Museum of the History of Science. The other two turned up at an auction in 2009, and now all three fingers are united and kept at the Museum.
Fictional hero FRODO BAGGINS wins fame but drops a digit in the course of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Small but plucky, Frodo is chosen to carry the ring of power sought by the evil lord Sauron. All’s well that ends well: in the book’s final chapters, a minstrel sings of “Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.”
Most American television viewers know that MATTHEW PERRY played Chandler Bing on the hit series Friends (1994-2004). Loyal viewers are able to tell which season is which by Perry’s weight fluctuations. And truly dedicated fans have noticed that Perry is missing the tip of his right middle finger. According to many sources, he lost the fingertip as a young boy, when it got caught in a closing door.