40 TV Shows That Handled the Death of a Cast Member

Samantha Sutton | Mar 8, 2019 TV
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  • 'Cheers'

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    For the first few seasons of the show, a big staple at the iconic bar was an older, retired baseball coach aptly called Coach, played by Nicholas Colasanto. The actor later developed a severe case of heart disease, and his health deteriorated. By the time they were nearly done with filming season three, doctors advised Nicholas to stop working. When he died, his disappearance and then death was written into the show. Woody Harrelson came on as a cast member to fill the void.

  • 'Ripley’s Believe It Or Not'

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    Robert Ripley in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not photo
    NBC

    Just how long has the show Ripley's Believe It Or Not been around? About 70 years, since Robert Ripley first hosted it in 1949. Sadly, he passed away only a few episodes in, after suffering a heart attack. From there, friends replaced him as the host, and throughout the years, the show has continued to live on, even getting rebooted for 2019.

  • 'Sesame Street'

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    Will Lee on Sesame Street photo
    Bill Pierce/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

    If it's tricky to explain a characters's death on a show meant for adults, it's even tricker when it comes to those meant for kids. When Will Lee, aka Mr. Hooper from Sesame Street, suffered a heart attack and died, the show viewed it as an opportunity to tackle the hard topic on screen, with the adult cast explaining death to Big Bird.

  • 'Trollhunters'

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    Another kids' show that lost a cast mate was Netflix's Trollhunters. Actor Anton Yelchin, who is knowns for playing Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek films, died in 2016 in a freak accident, where he was crushed by his SUV. Because Trollhunters is a cartoon, the solution was simple when it came to figuring out what to do with Anton's character, Jim Lake Jr.: Find someone else to record the voice for the rest of the season.

    In this case, that job went to Emile Hirsch.

  • 'Barney Miller'

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    Jack Soo in Barney Miller photo
    ABC
    This cop show aired in the 1970s to the early 1980s and took viewers into a fictional NYPD precinct. For five seasons, Jack Soo played Detective Nick Yemana, but sadly, at some point during filming, the actor died from esophageal cancer. Rather than a traditional season finale, the last episode of season five was dedicated in remembrance to Jack, and cast members shared stories alongside some of Nick’s highlights.
  • 'NCIS: Los Angeles'

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    Actor Miguel Ferrer was a big part of the investigative show, having played Owen Granger since 2012. When he died from cancer in early 2017, NCIS: Los Angeles paid tribute to him and also created a mysterious story line surrounding his character. After being stabbed during a mole hunt, Owen was sent to the hospital. But by the time his colleagues got to him, he had left, leaving a note -- "I have some unfinished business to take care of. I'm sure you'll think of something … You always do." -- in his place.

  • 'Dallas'

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    Jim Davis in Dallas photo
    CBS

    In the original series, Jim Davis played Jock Ewing, otherwise known as the patriarch of a Texas oil dynasty. When the actor died from multiple myeloma in 1981, Dynasty created an episode where his character died in a helicopter crash.

  • 'Dallas'

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    During the Dallas reboot, another actor's death had to be written into the show: Larry Hagman, who died from complications with cancer in 2012 -- and had played the villain J.R. Ewing both in the original show and revival. His character ended up being shot, and old footage was pieced together so that it happened fairly seamlessly.

  • 'Roseanne'

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    Glenn Quinn Roseanne photo
    ABC

    During the time that Rosanne was off the air, the actor who played Becky's boyfriend-turned-husband Mark, Glenn Quinn, died from an accidental drug overdose. They honored him in the reboot, naming Darlene's son after Mark. He's also mentioned throughout the series (now The Conners) and has his picture displayed around the house.

  • 'Homeland'

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    Around the time of his death from melanoma, James Rebhorn was a busy man. Not only was he playing Carrie's dad, Frank Mathison, on Homeland, he also had a recurring role on White Collar. Still, it was losing this character that really made an impact, as the decision was made to have Frank pass away on the show, too. Carrie flew home to attend his funeral and pack up his things during the season four finale.

  • 'NewsRadio'

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    Phil Hartman in NewsRadio
    NBC

    Comedian Phil Hartman's death is still talked about today -- in 1998, in the middle of a successful career, he was shot to death by his wife in a murder-suicide. NewsRadio's fifth season opened with a memorial service for his character, Bill McNeal, and followed the coworkers as they mourned. It was said that Bill had died from a heart attack.

  • 'The District'

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    The cast of The District show photo
    CBS

    Kids of the '90s everywhere will remember Lynne Thigpen (bottom left) from her time on the PBS hit, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Years later, while starring on the show The District, the actress died suddenly, suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Her character, Ella Mae Farmer, suffered a similar fate on the show, and a whole emotional episode was dedicated to her funeral.

  • 'Hill Street Blues'

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    Michael Conrad in Hill Street Blues photo
    NBC

    Another show about cops where an actor worked right up until the very end.

    When Michael Conrad, who played Sgt. Esterhaus, ultimately died from urethral cancer, the show took a quick break from filming. And later, his character died from a heart attack in bed. He was replaced by Sgt. Stan Jablonski.

  • 'Monk'

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    The whole premise of Monk is that the main character is a detective who has OCD that gets in the way of both his job and his life. He, of course, sees a psychiatrist, and for the first few seasons, that was Stanley Kamel, who played Dr. Charles Kroger. After the actor died from a heart attack in real life, his character did the same.

  • 'The Sopranos'

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    Nancy Marchand on The Sopranos photo
    HBO

    After a long battle with cancer, Nancy Marchand died at the age of 71. She had still been working up until that point, playing Tony's mother, Livia Soprano -- so they had to address her death after the fact and used technology to do it. Rather than recast the actress, they created a final scene using CGI and shortly after had Livia pass away as well.

  • 'Suddenly Susan'

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    David Strickland Suddenly Susan photo
    Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    David Strickland had a recurring role on Mad About You and was also in the movie Forces of Nature. But it was his silly character Todd Stities on Suddenly Susan that garnished fans. Sadly, David died by suicide. His death was addressed in a tribute episode, which included some of the actor's best clips from the show. Todd's character ultimately died on Suddenly Susan.

  • 'The West Wing'

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    John Spencer The West Wing photo
    NBC

    When it comes to The West Wing, the death of White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is one of the show's saddest stories: He suffered a heart attack on election night. One episode was even dedicated to his funeral. But the truth is, the actor who played him, John Spencer, was the one who originally died from a heart attack. His death even changed some major plot points, including the outcome of the election.

  • 'Will & Grace'

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    Debbie Reynolds on Will and Grace photo
    Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    When the show was on the air the first time around, iconic actress Debbie Reynolds would make an appearance every now and then as Grace's mother, Bobbi. Sadly, Debbie passed away in December 2016, suffering a massive stroke shortly after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. When the sitcom was revived and back on TV in 2017, the characters paid tribute to Bobbi, celebrating her birthday, visiting her grave, and even having her pop up in a portrait.

  • 'Bewitched'

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    Alice Pearce Bewitched photo
    ABC

    In the earlier seasons of Bewitched, we were introduced to the hilarious but super nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz, played by Alice Pearce. Sadly, Alice developed ovarian cancer and died in 1966. Her death was never really addressed -- she was just replaced with a different neighbor. The actress did, however, posthumously receive an Emmy for her performance.

  • 'Ocean's Deadliest'

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    While this was a one-off documentary, we have to mention the death of Steve Irwin, who had a tragic and horrible death while filming. The host and crocodile hunter's was stabbed by a stingray's barb, and because of the way it hit (it pierced his heart), it killed him. While Ocean's Deadliest was eventually released, the footage of that moment was not used.

  • 'Law & Order: Trial by Jury'

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    Jerry Orbach Law and Order photo
    NBC

    Although Jerry Orbach (front and center) died from prostate cancer in 2004, his face still comes to mind when thinking of Law & Order, probably due to those reruns. He was in the middle of filming this spin-off when he passed away. And while Lennie Briscoe's death wasn't addressed on the show, there was a deleted scene surrounding his funeral on the DVD.

  • 'Dennis the Menace'

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    This old-school show revolved around a young, trouble-making boy named Dennis and his neighbor, Mr. Wilson. So when the actor who played the older man, Joseph Kearns, died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1962, things got tricky. The show shifted its focus for a few episodes, and then brought in a man to play Mr. Wilson's brother to fill that void.

  • 'The Jeffersons'

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    Zara Cully The Jeffersons photo
    CBS via Getty Images

    Zara Cully (in the front, wearing red) was famous for playing George's mother on The Jeffersons. But when Zara died from lung cancer -- even though she never drank or smoked -- Olivia Jefferson did not receive a tribute or a funeral. In fact, her death was only briefly mentioned on the show, twice in season five.

  • 'Caillou'

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    Jacklyn Linetsky in Caillou
    PBS

    Who knew that this sweet PBS show had such a sad history? One of the young actresses behind Caillou's voice, Jacklyn Linetsky, was killed in a car crash in 2003 -- and the worst part is that she was just 17 years old when she died. The character was later voiced by Annie Bovaird until 2013.

  • 'Ally McBeal'

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    Despite dying of pneumonia the previous summer, Phil Leeds, aka Judge Dennis "Happy" Boyle, returned to the show after his death, so that his character could die, too. In what the show called a "patchwork scene," old footage was used where Phil himself was sleeping during a scene, but instead of sleeping, the character died.

  • 'Silicon Valley'

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    Christopher Evan Welch Sillicon Valley photo
    HBO

    Season one of Silicon Valley had turned the character of Peter Gregory into a fan favorite, thanks to his silly antics. So when the actor who played him, Christopher Evan Welch, lost his battle with lung cancer, they gave him quite the exit in season two: While away on a safari, Peter died while running from a hippo, since he hadn't run in a long time.

  • 'The Young and the Restless'

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    Kristoff St John Young and the Restless photo
    Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

    In February 2019, news of Kristoff St. John's death shook the soap opera world and fans who'd been watching the show for years were heartbroken. Although the cause of the actor's death is still unknown (despite the fact that the autopsy has been completed), CBS aired a tribute to Kristoff with plans in place to honor his character in April with a specific story line.

  • 'General Hospital'

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    Anna Lee on General Hospital photo
    ABCPhoto Archives/ ABC via Getty Images

    Soap operas ran on TV for actual decades, so it's not too surprising that Anna Lee, who played Lila Quartermaine on General Hospital, appeared on the series from 1979 to 2003, the year she died from pneumonia. Her character passed away on the show as well, with Lila dying quietly in her sleep.

  • 'All My Children'

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    Even those who haven't watched All My Children have probably heard of the character Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci. However, her mother on the show, Mona Kane (Frances Heflin) was also pretty iconic, with Frances being on the show from 1970 to 1994. When she died in real life, her character passed away as well and had an emotional funeral.

  • 'Passions'

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    Josh Ryan Evans  photo
    Newsmakers/Getty Images

    In Passions, Josh Ryans Evans, who played Timmy, was a doll that came to life. In real life, the 20-year-old actor had a congenital disease that had stunted his growth. Josh died after going into surgery to deal with complications.

    Strangely enough, his character had just filmed a death scene shortly before.