10 Times TV Deaths Happened Because the Actor Died in Real Life



10 Times TV Deaths Happened Because the Actor Died in Real Life

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Johnny Reynolds
When one of their actors tragically passed, these TV shows addressed it by saying goodbye to their respective characters. For this list, we'll be looking at unfortunate instances where an actor passing away led to the end of a character. Our list includes Finn Hudson from “Glee” (2009-15), Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso from “Cheers” (1982-93), Edna Krabappel from “The Simpsons” (1989-), and more.
Script written by Johnny Reynolds

When one of their actors tragically passed, these TV shows addressed it by saying goodbye to their respective characters. For this list, we’ll be looking at unfortunate instances where an actor passing away led to the end of a character. Our list includes Finn Hudson from “Glee” (2009-15), Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso from “Cheers” (1982-93), Edna Krabappel from “The Simpsons” (1989-), and more. Which fond memories do you have about these actors? Let us know in the comments below.

Bill McNeal

“NewsRadio” (1995-99)

Phil Hartman brought his signature style of comedy to a variety of projects, including “Saturday Night Live” where he earned an Emmy. One of his most beloved roles was on “NewsRadio” as Bill McNeal, an egotistical yet hilarious anchor at the WNYX station. Hartman played McNeal for four out of five seasons. Tragically, after the show’s 4th season, Hartman was fatally shot by his wife before she took her own life. The show’s fifth season premiere was able to act as a tribute to the character by saying his character died off-screen from a heart attack. His absence on the show was definitely felt by all.

Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso

“Cheers” (1982-93)

Every character on this classic sitcom brings their specific charm. For the bartender Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso, it was his sweet but very dim-witted nature. Actor Nicholas Colasanto embodied Coach’s personality flawlessly and turned him into one of the most popular characters. Sadly, the actor passed away in 1985 from a heart attack after playing Coach for the first 3 seasons. Since his passing occurred in the middle of season 3, his character was initially just not not around. But the Season 4 premiere eventually confirmed Coach had died. Woody Harrelson was brought in to fill the role of the bar’s resident dummy with a heart of gold. During the finale, the show still took a moment to pay one final tribute to Coach.

Edna Krabappel

“The Simpsons” (1989-)

“The Simpsons” has an incredible cast of kooky recurring characters. One of the most frequently featured staples was the cynical elementary school teacher Edna Krabappel. During Marcia Wallace’s 14 year history as the character, she earned an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance. In 2013, the actress passed away due to complications from pneumonia. Although Krabappel’s death was never explicitly stated on the show, there are several hints towards that being the case. Bart’s chalkboard message to her following Wallace’s passing and several mentions of her from other characters made it clear that Edna didn’t simply retire.

Mr. Hooper

“Sesame Street” (1969-)

Although the majority of the most famous characters from this educational series are puppets, Mr. Hooper certainly left his mark. While the owner of Hooper’s Store could be a bit harsh, he undeniably had a warm heart. Will Lee played Mr. Hooper from the show’s beginning in 1969 until 1982 when he died of a heart attack. No one would’ve blamed the kid’s show for writing the character off in a gentle way. However, the show decided to address his death through a storyline with Big Bird in a way its young viewers could understand. “Sesame Street” was praised for handling such a serious topic with sensitivity and understanding. They made sure that children and adults could say goodbye to Lee’s Mr. Hooper.

Owen Granger

“NCIS: Los Angeles” (2009-)

Miguel Ferrer went from playing Owen Granger recurring character on “NCIS: Los Angeles” to being a part of the main fabric of the show. While he was still acting on the program, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. A behind-the-scenes decision was made to reveal that the Granger character was also suffering from a cancer ailment caused by risky career choices. Within the show, the character left a hospital where he was being treated to spend time with his family. In real life, Ferrer had passed away in a house he shared with his loved ones. The show concluded Granger’s storyline by letting the audience know he had died peacefully in a beautiful place.

Leo McGarry

“The West Wing” (1999-2006)

Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” had a wonderful cast of deep characters and engaging plotlines that helped earn the show more than two dozen Emmys. One of its Emmys went to John Spencer, who played the President’s Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry. McGarry’s dynamics with other characters was fascinating to watch. His friendship with President Jed Bartlet was particularly engaging. Sadly, that friendship was cut short when Spencer died of a heart attack in 2005 part way through filming the show’s final season. At the time, Leo was running for Vice President. The series had him also die of a heart attack on Election Night. In a touching moment, the writers made it clear Leo would’ve become Vice President.

Fred Andrews

“Riverdale” (2017-)

Luke Perry became a teen icon while playing Dylan on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” He returned for a whole new generation of teen drama on “Riverdale” to play Archie’s father Fred Andrews. Thanks to Perry’s fine work, his relationship with his son felt real and the character felt incredibly compassionate. The show demonstrated his selflessness by having Fred sacrifice his life to push a stranger out of the path of a speeding car. In reality, this turn was written in response to Perry’s passing of a stroke in 2019 at just 52. “Riverdale’s” season 4 “In Memoriam” episode served as a touching tribute to the character and actor. Perry’s “Beverly Hills” co-star, Shannen Doherty, also made a guest appearance as the stranger he saved.

Finn Hudson

“Glee” (2009-15)

Cory Monteith was best known for playing “Glee’s” Finn Hudson. The star quarterback celebrated his love for singing by joining the signature club. After four years of playing the character, the world was rocked with shocking news. The 31-year-old was found dead in his hotel room with a mix of alcohol and other substances in his system. Following his death, the production start date for the show’s fifth season was pushed back. They eventually addressed Finn’s passing in “The Quarterback” without giving details about how he died. For the remainder of the series, the show continued to honor the memory of one of the Glee Club’s brightest stars.

Adam West

“Family Guy” (1999-2003; 2005-)

For years, the silly antics of Mayor Adam West provided some of the best moments on “Family Guy.” Having the hilariously odd character actually be voiced by the former “Batman” star just made everything more delightful. In 2017, West died from Leukemia and, like the rest of us, “Family Guy” said goodbye to its mayor. But life in Quahog continued on. The town’s high school was renamed after West in tribute. In his stead, his cousin Wild West, voiced by Sam Elliott, took his place. The show similarly had to write out Angela, Peter’s former boss, when her voice actress Carrie Fisher passed away from a stroke in 2016. (Xref). Both characters would be dearly missed in Quahog.

Before we get to our top pick, here are dearly missed honorable mentions:

Nick Yemana, “Barney Miller” (1975-82)

The Season 5 Finale Paid Tribute to Jack Soo After He Died of Cancer

Dr. Virgil Swann, “Smallville” (2001-11)

He Passed in the Show’s 4th Season After Christopher Reeve Died of Heart Failure

Livia Soprano, “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

Soprano Passed Away In Her Sleep After Nancy Marchand’s Battle With Lung Cancer

Barry Frost, “Rizzoli & Isles” (2010-16)

After Lee Thompson Young Took His Own Life, Frost Died in a Car Crash

Debbie Wolowitz, “The Big Bang Theory” (2007-19)

After Carol Ann Susi Passed From Cancer, Howard’s Mother Died in Her Sleep

Paul Hennesy

“8 Simple Rules” (2002-05)

Originally titled “8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” this sitcom followed the trials and tribulations of an overbearing father as his teen daughters began to date. Legendary sitcom actor John Ritter was praised for his take as family patriarch Paul. Tragically, he passed away of an aortic dissection while filming the second season. The show took a break in production to reshape the series. After it returned, the show spent an hour long episode to serve as a tribute to Paul. Subsequent episodes also showed the impact of his death on his family. While the show was never quite the same after Paul’s absence, Ritter and his final leading role weren’t forgotten.
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