Ryan Dunn – How Did The MTV Star Die?

Ryan Dunn was one of the stars of Jackass but died in a car crash on June 20, 2011

By Doug Norrie | Updated

ryan dunn

Fans of MTV back in the heyday of Jackass and the shows that sprung off that table-setting show will know the name well. There was a time when these dudes, pulling off some of the craziest stunts and pranks you’ve ever seen were as big as celebrities can get who didn’t star in blockbuster movies.

And considering we were still at the advent of streaming videos, tuning in to see the Jackass or Viva La Bam crews run wild was almost appointment television. So Ryan Dunn was a recognizable face who pushed things pretty close to the edge.

But Ryan Dunn also has a tragic story and in the end, lost his life in a horrific way. Let’s take a look at how he got his start on television, the unorthodox way his career unfolded, and the tragedy that cost him his life at a young age.


In the timeline following Jackass 3D, which saw Ryan Dunn return to the franchise, it was looking like he was going to be back in the fold with this crew and future productions. But on June 20, 2011, tragedy struck. Ryan Dunn and Zachary Hartwell were returning from a West Chester bar in the middle of the night and traveling at a high rate of speed (reported to be above 130 mph) in Dunn’s Porsche 911. The car lost control, crashed, caught fire and both men were killed. Dunn was 34 years old at the time.

The Hollywood Reporter had it at the time that a number of his Jackass co-stars were crushed by the news with Knoxville saying, “Today I lost my brother Ryan Dunn. I love you buddy.”

Meanwhile, Margera gave an interview that year describing his reaction to the news of Dunn’s passing saying, “I was in Arizona when I heard. I was with some friends having the best time ever and… at 12.30 I just started punching out the windows of the rental van and ripping out the speakers. I don’t even know why. I wasn’t mad at anything or anybody. And if it was 12.30 there that means it was exactly when he crashed. He was the happiest person ever. The smartest guy. So much talent and he had so many things going for him. It’s just not right. It’s not right.”

Bloodwork following the crash showed that Ryan Dunn’s blood alcohol level was significantly above the legal limit at the time.

In all, this tragedy shook the crew of Jackass as well as fans of the series. Ryan Dunn was one of the most recognizable figures on the show and easily one of its true personalities. He helped bring about a new form of television and is a big reason this style is still popular today. 


Before there was Jackass there was CKY, a group formed in and around West Chester, Pennslyvania in the late 1990s. CKY, which stands for Camp Kill Yourself, was the name for a series of videos put out by a group of skateboarding friends that had them doing increasingly foolish, dangerous, and hilarious stunts in and around the area. It would be part of what Jackass was formed off of in the coming years when the two groups merged to create the basis of the television show.

CKY was comprised of Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Brandon DiCamillio, Chris Raab, Rake Yohn, and Brandon Novak, among others. The CKY (and CKY2K) videos featured a number of different stunts including the noted shopping cart challenges, destruction of rental cars, jumping off higher and higher structures, and just general nonsense that put all of their bodies in harm’s way. Now, the stunts looks almost perfectly commonplace compared to how Jackass (and other shows) proliferated the joke stunt concept. But at the time these were pretty wild videos, shot almost entirely on handheld cameras with comparatively grainy footage. 


In what might have been kismet or fate, around the same time this group of skater friends was risking their lives for laughs in and around the West Chester area, there was another group starting a similar “venture” in California. That was the Jackass crew formed by Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine who were just starting to risk their own lives in the name of laughs.

Knoxville started by testing out self-defense instruments on himself in a group of stunts that eventually landed in the show when MTV picked it up. Tremaine saw the CKY videos and the two groups merged to bring Jackass to the world. Ryan Dunn, as part of this crew, became an MTV quasi-star when the show debuted to enormous ratings (for MTV) at the time. 

Ryan Dunn would have a part in the series as well as the movies which came out in the following years including Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, and Jackass 3D. He’s noticeably absent from Jackassworld.com and Mat Hoffman’s Tribute to Evil Knievel for reasons we will get into shortly.

In all, Ryan Dunn appeared in 23 Jackass episodes from 2000 to 2002 and became known for his willingness to put himself in nearly every conceivable situation. 


In 2003, with Jackass still among the popular MTV offerings, the show got a spinoff with Viva La Bam. It sent the titular star as well as Ryan Dunn and others part of the original crew back to West Chester to film the hijinks in around the Margera family.

The show took a number of similar themes from Jackass though almost made it into a sitcom (for lack of comparison) in that it followed the day-to-day insanity of life in the Margera household. The show was marked by what went down on the grounds at Bam’s residence where nearly everyone lived and/ or hung out at during the days and nights.

Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, and the rest of the crew lasted five seasons of Viva La Bam 


Anyone who’s followed the crews from Jackass knows that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for these dudes and a number of them have dealt with physical and mental issues over the years. The bodily toll alone on some of the stunts would be enough to take down almost anyone and many of this crew lived close to the edge in their own personal lives as well.

While filming Jackass 2 Ryan Dunn was injured in a stunt that saw him land on his shoulder after the horse he and Bam were tied to pull them off their feet. The injury was severe, resulting in a blood clot in his shoulder that ended up being a risk to his life.

During this time he was also diagnosed with Lyme Disease. The combination of the two came at a cost and Ryan Dunn chose to step away from the Jackass productions, the reason for his absence in the above-mentioned movies. Depression was cited as a reason as well.