msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/21/2009 3:16:08 PM ET 2009-01-21T20:16:08

An 81-year-old actor is recovering after being accidentally shot during a dress rehearsal with a gun that was supposed to be empty.

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The incident happened Sunday on the final practice run by a seniors theater group for their production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

One actor picked up a pistol he had borrowed from another cast member and fired it at the head of fellow actor Fred Kellerman, who was playing the character Lenny. At the end of the play, Lenny takes a fatal gunshot to the head.

"I heard a loud bang. I knew something was wrong. But I never passed out," Kellerman told The Bradenton Herald.

He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. Kellerman said doctors determined the bullet tore into his skull, ricocheted off bone, then came back out and tore off a piece of his ear, the Herald reported. Doctors sewed the piece of ear back on, Kellerman said.

"It took a chunk off my ear, but I was told it will grow together. I really feel no pain," he told the newspaper. "I was really lucky."

The gun was supplied by a member of the Sarasota Senior Theater group, Bradenton police said. The group had used the gun in the past as a prop, but the member told police she did not check to see if the gun was loaded when she brought it for the show Sunday.

The actor who pulled the trigger, who is also the president of the group and the play's director, told police "it was stupid" not to check to make sure the gun was empty.

Just two hours after the shooting, the play went on as scheduled with another actor performing Kellerman's part.

Kellerman says he isn't angry about the mishap. He plans to be back at rehearsal Friday for a musical the group is putting on next month

No charges have been filed, but the shooting is still under investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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