List of television actors who died during production

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The following is a list of television actors who died during production of the television show in which they were appearing. In many cases, a show will handle the death of an actor by killing off their character or otherwise writing them out of the show. In other cases, the show may recast the part with another actor. In extreme cases, the show may be cancelled outright.

List[edit]

Actor Character Show Number of appearances Date of death Cause of death Season in production Effect on production
Nana Bryant Julia – Margaret Williams' mother Make Room for Daddy 1955 unknown 3 No on-screen explanation given; the character simply stopped appearing midway through the third season
John Hamilton Perry White Adventures of Superman 1958 Heart attack Character killed off and replaced as Daily Planet editor by his brother, portrayed by Pierre Watkin.
George Reeves Superman Adventures of Superman 1959 Ballistic trauma to the head 6 Series cancelled.
Ward Bond Major Seth Adams Wagon Train Approximately 130 1960 Heart attack 4 No on-screen explanation given; the character simply stopped appearing midway through the fourth season and was replaced by John McIntire (Christopher Hale) as the "new wagon master."
Joseph Kearns George Wilson Dennis the Menace 100 1962 Cerebral hemorrhage 3 Character written out. With Season 3 episodes still in production, the first two episodes filmed after Kearns' death do not feature Mr. Wilson nor any acknowledgement of why he is absent; the episodes simply focus on other characters. Starting with the last six episodes of Season 3, the character of John Wilson (Gale Gordon as George's brother) is introduced and will remain for the rest of the series' run; the initial explanation of George's absence is that he is "away" on business. George (along with wife, Martha) are officially written out in the fourth-season premiere as having moved, and after a few scattered mentions in a few subsequent episodes are not referred to again.
Alice Pearce Gladys Kravitz Bewitched Approximately 60 1966 Ovarian cancer 2 Character recast with Sandra Gould filling the role, starting with Season 3. With Season 2 production still continuing when Pearce died, an interim character – Harriet Kravitz (Mary Grace Canfield), Gladys' sister-in-law – is introduced, with the explanation that Gladys and her husband, Abner, are on an extended vacation.
Smiley Burnette Charley Pratt Petticoat Junction 1967 Leukemia 4 Character retired without explanation, and replaced by Floyd Smoot (Rufe Davis) and later, Wendell Gibbs (Byron Foulger).
Bea Benaderet Kate Bradley Petticoat Junction 163 1968 Lung cancer 5 No on-screen acknowledgement was given, although Kate's absence – although she is possibly deceased, no direct comment on her death was ever made – is alluded to in passing in the 1968-1969 season finale wherein two of her daughters, Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo (Meredith MacRae and Lori Saunders, respectively) comment wistfully, "Mom taught us to swim in that very same water tower." Benaderet's character was replaced by Dr. Janet Craig, played by June Lockhart.
Arthur Leslie Jack Walker Coronation Street 1970 Heart attack Character killed off.
Pete Duel Hannibal Heyes (Joshua Smith) Alias Smith and Jones 33 1971 Ballistic trauma to the head, self-inflicted 2 Character recast with Roger Davis, the series' narrator.
Dan Blocker Hoss Cartwright Bonanza 400-plus 1972 Pulmonary embolism following surgery 13 No on-screen acknowledgement was given, although Hoss' death is alluded to in at least two episodes. A previous character – Candy Canaday, played by David Canary – returns to the series to replace Hoss; however, Blocker's death was partially cited as a reason for the series' ratings going into decline in the fall of 1972 and eventual cancellation.
Roger Delgado The Master Doctor Who 1973 Traffic collision 10 Character regenerated.
Patricia Cutts Blanche Hunt Coronation Street 2 1974 Suicide by barbiturate poisoning Character recast, role taken over by Maggie Jones.
Freddie Prinze Chico Rodriguez Chico and the Man 62 1977 Suicide 3 Episodes completed prior to Prinze's death were aired on schedule. The first aired episode after Prinze's death included an on-air acknowledgement from Jack Albertson (Prinze's co-star) thanking everyone for their kind words and outpouring of sympathy. Following the airing of Prinze's last completed episode, for the rest of season three, Chico's absence is explained as being "away" (either on business or visiting his father), with completed scripts focusing on other characters and Chico's lines either removed or rewritten for other characters. Starting with Season 4, Chico was replaced by a 12-year-old boy named Raul (Gabriel Melgar), while other characters initially continued to explain that Chico was away. Finally, in the very special episode "Raul Runs Away," aired January 20, 1978 (nearly one year after Prinze's death), it is explained that Chico had died but with no explanation of the circumstances. However, the ratings declined and, with Prinze's death a primary factor, the series was cancelled in the spring of 1978.[1]
Diana Hyland Joan Bradford Eight is Enough 4 1977 Breast cancer 1 Character killed off before the beginning of the next season. Joan's death is addressed in the second-season premiere, and a new character, played by Betty Buckley, is introduced early in the second season.
Zara Cully "Mother" Olivia Jefferson The Jeffersons 1978 Lung cancer 4 Character killed off and addressed briefly in an early Season 5 episode.
Will Geer "Grandpa" Zeb Walton The Waltons 1978 Respiratory failure 6 Character killed off, with his death addressed in the seventh-season premiere.
Jack Soo Detective Nick Yemana Barney Miller 1979 Esophageal cancer 5 Character killed off. A special tribute episode, with Soo's castmates giving out-of-character tributes to him, was aired in the spring of 1979.
Mary McCarty Nurse Clara "Starch" Willoughby Trapper John, M.D. 22 1980 Heart attack 1 Character retired; in the Season 2 premiere, it is explained Starch had gotten married, moved away and retired. Afterward, the character is replaced by Nurse Ernestine Shoop (Madge Sinclair).
Jim Davis Jock Ewing Dallas 1981 Multiple myeloma 3 Character killed off after an extended absence.
Will Lee Mr. Hooper Sesame Street 1982 Heart attack 15 Character killed off, with his death addressed in a very special episode, aired almost a year after his death. Shows featuring Mr. Hooper that were taped prior to Lee's death were aired, with no acknowledgement of the reason for his absence from between his final aired appearance (in early 1983) until the airing of the "Goodbye, Mr. Hooper" episode on November 24, 1983.
Michael Conrad Phil Esterhaus Hill Street Blues 1983 Urethral cancer 4 Character killed off. Episodes completed prior to his death were aired, with the first episode completed after Conrad's death addressing Esterhaus' death.
John Comer Sid Last of the Summer Wine 1984 Throat cancer 7 Character killed off.
Jack Howarth Albert Tatlock Coronation Street 1984 Liver complaint Character killed off.
Bernard Youens Stan Ogden Coronation Street 1984 Gangrene Character killed off.
Toke Townley Sam Pearson Emmerdale 1984 Heart attack Character killed off.
Jon-Erik Hexum Mac Harper Cover Up 7 1984 Ballistic trauma to the head, accidentally self-inflicted with a blank cartridge 1 Character killed off and replaced by Jack Striker, portrayed by Antony Hamilton.
Nicholas Colasanto Coach Ernie Pantusso Cheers 1985 Heart ailment 3 Character killed off at the beginning of the next season and replaced as bartender by Woody Boyd, portrayed by Woody Harrelson.
Dolph Sweet Carl Kaniski Gimme a Break! 88 1985 Cancer 4 Character killed off, and his character's death was addressed in the fifth-season premiere.
Selma Diamond Selma Hacker Night Court 1985 Lung cancer 2 Character killed off and addressed in the third-season premiere.
Samantha Smith Elizabeth Culver Lime Street 4 1985-08-25 Crash of Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808 1 Production initially continued, but series cancelled after airing only five out of eight episodes produced.
Florence Halop Florence Kleiner Night Court 1986 Lung cancer 3 Character killed off and addressed in the fourth-season premiere. Her successor was played by 32-year-old Marsha Warfield, who remained for the rest of the series run.
Ted Knight Henry Rush The Ted Knight Show 1986 Cancer 6 Series cancelled; production was to have resumed in September 1986, with Knight planning on returning to work.
Joe Gladwin Wally Batty Last of the Summer Wine 1987 9 Character killed off.
Jim Henson various Muppets, most notably Ernie (Sesame Street) and Kermit the Frog Sesame Street 1990 Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome 21 Replaced by other Muppet performers, including Steve Whitmire (who assumed the roles of Ernie and Kermit).
Arthur Pentelow Henry Wilks Emmerdale 1991 Heart attack Character killed off.
Redd Foxx Alphonso Royal The Royal Family 7 1991 Heart attack 1 Character killed off; show retooled before being cancelled at the end of the season.
Phil Hartman Bill McNeal NewsRadio 1998 Ballistic trauma, inflicted by his wife, Brynn Hartman 5 Character killed off at the beginning of the season in a tribute episode. Long time friend Jon Lovitz joined the cast for the fifth (and final) season.
Troy McClure, Lionel Hutz, et al. The Simpsons 54 Major recurring characters of Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz retired, occasionally being used in background shots.
Bill Owen William "Compo" Simmonite Last of the Summer Wine 1999 Pancreatic cancer 22 Character killed off.
Nancy Marchand Livia Soprano The Sopranos 2000-06-18 Lung cancer and emphysema 3 Character killed off.
Gordon Wharmby Wesley Pegden Last of the Summer Wine 2002 Lung cancer 23 Character killed off.
Lynne Thigpen Ella Mae Farmer The District 2003 Cerebral hemorrhage 3 Character killed off. Third season finale included a tribute to her character.
Luna the Moon Bear in the Big Blue House 4 Show went on four-year hiatus.
Thora Hird Edie Pegden Last of the Summer Wine 2003 Stroke 24 Character killed off.
John Ritter Paul Hennessy 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter 2003 Undiagnosed aortic dissection 2 Character killed off, with his death explained in a subsequent episode. A new character, portrayed by James Garner, was introduced to replace Ritter's character.
Clifford Clifford the Big Red Dog 68 Series ended; replaced by prequel Clifford's Puppy Days.
Tony Capstick Policeman Last of the Summer Wine 2003 25 Character never seen again.
Richard Biggs Milo Morton Strong Medicine 2004 Aortic dissection 5 Character killed off.
Jerry Orbach Lennie Briscoe Law & Order: Trial by Jury 2 2004 Prostate cancer 1 Character never seen again; character's off-screen death mentioned on other shows within the Law & Order franchise.
Stan Richards Seth Armstrong Emmerdale 2005 Emphysema Character killed off.
John Spencer Leo McGarry The West Wing 2005 Heart attack 7 Character killed off with a heart attack; running mate Matt Santos (portrayed by Jimmy Smits) wins presidential election.[2]
Mako Iwamatsu Iroh Avatar: The Last Airbender 31 2006 Esophageal cancer 2 Voice work already completed for the second season, had one non-speaking appearance in the beginning of the next season and was replaced by Greg Baldwin, who accurately imitated his predecessor's voice and voiced the character for the third and final season, alongside with two guest appearances in season two of the sequel series.
Christopher Allport Andrew Campbell Mad Men 2008 Avalanche 1 Character killed off.
Stanley Kamel Dr. Charles Kroger Monk 2008 Heart attack Character killed off with a heart attack and replaced as Adrian Monk's psychiatrist by Dr. Neven Bell, portrayed by Héctor Elizondo.
Clive Hornby Jack Sugden Emmerdale 2008 Hypoxia Character killed off.
Kathy Staff Nora Batty Last of the Summer Wine 2008 Brain tumor 29 Character written out.
Maggie Jones Blanche Hunt Coronation Street 2009 Character killed off.
Elisabeth Sladen Sarah Jane Smith The Sarah Jane Adventures 2011 Cancer 5 Production suspended before the commencement of filming of three planned 2-part serials, resulting in an abbreviated broadcast season and leaving some story arcs and plot points unresolved.
Betty Driver Betty Williams Coronation Street 2,800-plus 2011 Pneumonia Character killed off.
Larry Hagman J.R. Ewing Dallas 2012 Acute myeloid leukemia 2 Character killed off with two fatal gunshot wounds (a reference to the "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger of the original series), an episode revolving around his funeral, and an episode detailing his master plan.
Richard Thorp Alan Turner Emmerdale 2013 Character killed off.
Cory Monteith Finn Hudson Glee 81 2013 Heroin and alcohol overdose 5 Production delayed; character killed off in a special tribute episode without specifying cause of death.
Lee Thompson Young Barold "Barry" Frost Rizzoli & Isles 2013 Ballistic trauma, self-inflicted 4 Production suspended; character 'on holiday' at the end of the 4th season, then killed in a car accident on the way home in the 5th season opener, character was given a funeral in the second episode with ongoing mentions.
Marcia Wallace Edna Krabappel The Simpsons 2013 Pneumonia 25 Character retired, later killed off screen. Edna's death – which includes previously recorded dialogue by Wallace) – is acknowledged in the 25th season episode "The Man Who Grew Too Much."
Christopher Evan Welch Peter Gregory Silicon Valley 5 2013 Cancer 1 Character is still currently referenced in series, but not seen on screen.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Snauffer, Douglas; Thurm, Joel (2008). The Show Must Go on: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series. McFarland. p. 78. ISBN 0-7864-3295-0. 
  2. ^ Steinberg, Jacques (April 10, 2006). "'West Wing' Writers' Novel Way of Picking the President". The New York Times. 

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