9 Celebrities With Unbelievable September 11 Stories
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the events of September 11, 2001, a day which has been forever seared into the collective memory of Americans and the world over — a day of tragedy, of resilience, of remembrance.
Two decades on and the stories from 9/11 — from the survivors, from victims’ loved ones, from the firefighters and police officers and countless other heroes who helped from both the air and on the ground — will never be forgotten.
Some of these incredible stories come from our most famous faces; from celebrities whose lives may have been spared due to last-minute decisions, or stars who helped in their own ways or were even involved on-site at Ground Zero.
Below, discover some of the most moving, unbelievable and fateful 9/11 celebrity stories.
On the early morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Wahlberg was set to board American Airlines Flight 11 — the same plane that would, mere hours later, crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At the last minute, the actor was invited to a Toronto film festival, so he and his friends instead chartered a private jet to attend the event.
Wahlberg later came under fire for telling a men’s journal that the tragedy on the flight “wouldn’t have went down like it did” if he was on board, implying that he would have overpowered the terrorists. He apologized the next day for his “ridiculous” speculation and for disrespecting victims of the deadly crash.
Rob Lowe was on an American Airlines flight just 11 days before a plane taking the very same flight route crashed into the Pentagon. It turned out the hijackers were on board Lowe’s flight, practicing and preparing for their attack plan. "It was a dry run with the 9/11 hijackers surrounding me in the cabin, same crew," Lowe told ABC.
The actor was later called to court to give evidence against attacker Zacarias Moussaoui.
Gabourey Sidibe was supposed to attend class across the street from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Fortunately, she overslept and she only learned of the attacks when she turned on her television. It turns out that Sidibe may have been seriously injured or even died had she attended class that morning.
"Later that day, one of the towers fell on the school building that I had class in, and people lost their lives. [Borough of Manhattan Community College] shut down for a month because the school became a make-shift space for police, firefighters and EMTs,” the Precious star told
the New York Daily News.
Once classes resumed, Sidibe recalled smelling soot and ash. In the entryway of the school hangs framed photos of those who died on campus.
Michael Jackson was apparently scheduled to have a meeting at the top of one of the World Trade Center towers the morning of Sept. 11. According to one of his brothers, the King of Pop overslept that morning after he stayed up late speaking on the phone to his mother, Katherine, and his sister, Rebbie.
“Thankfully, none of us had had a clue that Michael was due at a meeting that morning at the top of one of the Twin Towers," Jermaine Jackson wrote in his book, You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother's Eyes.
“‘Mother, I’m okay, thanks to you,’ he told her. 'You kept me up talking so late that I overslept and missed my appointment,’” Jermaine wrote.
The morning of Sept. 11, Patti Austin, who was meant to be en route to perform at a concert in Hollywood, had a ticket to board United Airlines Flight 93. However, her mother had a stroke in San Francisco, so she updated her itinerary.
It turned out that terrorists on the jazz legend’s original flight were targeting the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Passengers aboard the plane helped stop the attack and the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
"I felt that my life had been saved for some specific reason," Austin told NBC. "I have yet to figure that out, but I do a lot of charity work now, which I was doing before, but I do a lot more."
On Sept. 11, 2001, Sarah Ferguson had a meeting scheduled on the 101st floor of the North Tower, in the offices for her charity Chances for Children. That morning she was running late after an interview with Matt Lauer at NBC Studios, so she never made it to the meeting. None of the Duchess of York’s employees perished in the attack. However, 700 employees from Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial firm that let the nonprofit use their office space, died in the attack.
Ferguson later spoke to Hello! Magazine about her “near-death experience.” “I take every minute as a blessing,” she said. “Because the minute you look too far forward, then you’re missing now. The minute you look back...you can’t go back.”
Surprisingly, a rag doll named Little Red, which was the charity’s mascot and sat on her desk, was discovered among the rubble.
Seth MacFarlane’s life was saved the morning of Sept. 11 when his travel agent gave him the wrong time for his flight on American Airlines Flight 11. The agent told him that the flight was set to leave at 8:15 AM, not 7:45 AM like it was actually scheduled to. By the time the Family Guy creator got to the airport at the Logan International Airport in Boston, boarding was closed. He was waiting for the next flight out when Flight 11 crashed in the North Tower, killing all 92 people on board.
“I was booked on that flight and I was drinking the night before and hung over and I missed the plane by about 10 minutes. It was a very close call for me," MacFarlane said in an interview.
Gwyneth Paltrow inadvertently ended up saving a life on Sept. 11, and the actress didn’t even find out that she did so until 10 years later.
Lara Lundstrom Clarke was rollerblading in New York City the morning of the attacks when she ended up in front of Paltrow’s silver Mercedes SUV. Naturally, she stopped to stare at the celebrity. That brief delay caused her to miss her train to the South Tower at the World Trade Center, where she worked on the 77th floor. She got off the later train when she learned of the attacks.
“Ten years later I got a letter from [Clarke] saying that she had been late for work and we had that thing and she went down to the Christopher Street station to catch her train to go down to the World Trade Center where she worked on the 77th floor of the South Tower, and the train was just pulling out,” Paltrow told Reuters of their fateful, fleeting interaction.
“So had we not had that interaction she feels like her life would’ve taken a much different course,” Paltrow added. “It was an extraordinary story and all I could think about is all of the people who had experiences like that day, but aren’t able to reach out because it wasn’t a recognizable person.”
Steve Buscemi is one of the heroes of September 11. The actor, who was a firefighter in the 1980s, volunteered with the FDNY at Ground Zero. In fact, the day of Sept. 11, the Fargo star called his old firehouse, Engine 55, to no answer — so he simply showed up to help.
“I asked if I could join them,” Buscemi told Marc Maron on his podcast in 2021. “I could tell they were a little suspicious at first, but I worked with them that day.” During his time volunteering, Buscemi refused media interviews and photos, and solely focused on working his 12-hour shifts. He said that although his physical health checked out after finishing on site, in the years since he has experienced PTSD from his work at Ground Zero.
“There are times when I talk about 9/11 and I’m right back there. I start to get choked up and I realize, ‘Ah, this is still a big part of me,’” he said. Since 2001, Buscemi has worked on a number of films about September 11, including Dust: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11, a documentary about the after-effects that firefighters have faced.