Simon Cowell Had the Most Important Job on the Set of ‘The Shining’


The Big Picture

  • Simon Cowell worked as a runner on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining set before he became a TV personality.
  • Simon Cowell was tasked with shining Jack Nicholson’s ax between takes for the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene.
  • Stanley Kubrick’s toxic on-set behavior led to stress and illness for the cast.

Simon Cowell has made a name for himself as a TV personality on shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent. His grumpy nature stands out among his fellow panel of judges, and he’s oddly loved for his sour attitude and blunt opinions. But before he was sending people off to Hollywood, Cowell was attempting to make a name for himself by any means necessary. He took on menial jobs that included working in the mail room of a music publishing industry, and most interestingly, working as a runner on a movie set. But it wasn’t just any set Cowell worked on. No. It was Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining — one of the most famous film sets ever.

The Shining

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future. 

Release Date
May 23, 1980

Stanley Kubrick

Jack Nicholson , Shelley Duvall , Danny Lloyd , Scatman Crothers , Barry Nelson , Philip Stone


Main Genre

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy…

Simon Cowell Played a Pivotal Role in ‘The Shining’s Production

Simon Cowell’s half-brother, TonyCowell, sat down with BBC 3 and spilled the beans on life with Simon, and growing up with him. Among the stories he shared was an interesting tidbit about one of Cowell’s bigger jobs pre-fame. “Simon got his first taste of the entertainment business at Elstree Studios. It was only a stone’s throw away from where we grew up. He did plenty of menial jobs in those days and he even worked as a runner on ‘The Shining.’” Tony revealed. “I well remember him saying he used to clean Jack Nicholson’s ax in between takes for the most famous scenes. He took great pride in it, you could see your face in it, it was so shiny.”

The scene he’s referring to is the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene, in which Jack Nicholson’s character chops through a door with an ax in pursuit of his wife. The scene is iconic, and is often replicated among other famous shots from the film, such as the blood-filled elevator. Shining that ax… well, it may have just been the most important job on set and for that duty to have belonged to Simon Cowell is a surprising, albeit, amusing piece of trivia. Tony Cowell went on to share that despite working on such a huge-scale movie set, it’s nothing compared to what Cowell is doing now. “It’s a far cry from where he is now. I think the only thing he shines these days are his teeth.”

‘The Shining’ Set Was Toxic

The Shining is among one of the greatest and most celebrated horror movies in history. With impeccable acting, stunning cinematography, and disorienting sets that make you feel as if you yourself have just stepped into The Overlook Hotel, it’s a true masterclass in film as a whole. But the actual production of the film is the complete opposite. Director Stanley Kubrick is incredibly good at what he does, there’s certainly no denying that. But how he goes about getting the perfect shot or the impeccable acting performances from the actors he so often brings out, isn’t exactly ethical, or kind. He was especially cruel to Shelley Duvall, who played Wendy Torrance in the film, and even had the rest of the cast and crew treat her badly as well, in order to provoke a very raw performance from her. Wendy in The Shining is strong for her son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), but is clearly worn down. After all, the man she loved and thought she knew so well, suddenly flipped and tried to kill her and their son. He made the cast and crew do over 100 takes of some scenes, one in specific involving Duvall walking backward up a staircase while swinging a baseball bat at Nicholson’s character. By the end of her time filming The Shining, Duvall’s hair was falling out due to stress, and she had experienced multiple ill spells throughout filming brought on by exhaustion. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Kubrick was a perfectionist, which lent well to the final outcome of his films, but not so much to the cast and crew who had to work on said films. But perhaps it explains why Cowell himself is so crass and cruel at times. He himself is great at what he does and has made many people into stars through mentoring and harsh criticism. Perhaps his more gruff approach partly comes from his time working on The Shining. One thing is for sure though: he did a damn good job shining that ax.

The Shining is available to rent on Amazon in the U.S.



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