Plenty of TV shows kill off their characters. There are some circumstances, though, where a character death is the result of tragedies that happen off-screen. When the actor playing a character dies, the show often has to find a way to deal with that actor's death. Usually, the character that the actor plays is killed off as well. Other times, the role is recast.
Though the causes of death for these beloved actors were all very different, each and every one of these shows had to handle a tragedy off-screen. Sometimes, the deaths of these characters can be a way to process the death of an actor. It's a way to mourn collectively.
Cheers was one of the sitcoms that defined an era, and Nicholas Colastano helped to define its tone. He played Coach, one of the bar's servers, and he was replaced after his death by Woody, played by Woody Harrelson.
Although the show managed to recover from his death, his loss was felt on the show for the rest of its run. Coach's death was a reminder of the impermanence of everything. It was an idea Cheers tackled quite well for a show about a group of people who mostly just hang out in a bar. The death of an actor is never easy, but it can dig at probing questions about what life means.
Carrie Fisher was a tremendous loss for millions of Star Wars fans, but for a much smaller group, she was also a presence on TV. In Catastrophe, she plays the mother of Rob, one of the two main characters on the show.
The show's very final episode is a tribute to her and reveals that she died offscreen. It's a moment of deep and sincere sadness and one that reminds us what a wonderful presence Carrie was outside of Star Wars. To put it simply, she was one of the funniest people alive. Her wit was beyond measure, and her character on Catastrophe let her show that side of herself.
Anton Yelchin died at a remarkably young age, and he left a lot of unfinished work behind. One project many didn't know he was involved in was the animated series Trollhunters. The series is a classic adventure tale, and Anton played a crucial role as a voice actor in the series.
Because of the nature of animation, there were plenty of episodes left that Anton had already recorded. For the final episodes of the series, though, Emile Hirsch took over the role Anton had played. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it allowed the show to finish telling its story on its own terms.
Silicon Valley isn't a show that naturally covers topics like the finality of death. When Christopher Evan Welch, the actor playing an eccentric billionaire who is the main funder of the main character's project, died of lung cancer, the show had to deal with his passing on screen.
On the show, they decided that the investor had died on safari, not because he'd been mauled to death, but because he tried to run away from a hippo, and he hadn't run in a very long time. Making his death a joke was in keeping with Christopher's performance. It seems like what he would have wanted.
The loss of Cory Monteith between the fourth and fifth seasons of Glee was truly terrible. He was the beating heart of the show, and his presence is part of what made the show a success, to begin with. The show wrapped up after its sixth season, but it managed to take a number of steps to pay tribute to one of its central cast members gone way too soon.
Glee was not consistently great, but whenever it chose to highlight what Cory had meant to the show, it was terrific. The show's characters lost a friend, but so did the show's cast. Glee balanced those things perfectly.
It's slightly ironic that J.R. Ewing, the character who was shot in the original Dallas, lived to the end of that show. When the show's revival came around, Larry Hagman, the actor who played J.R. on the original show, reprised his role. Shortly after joining the revival, though, Larry died as a result of his leukemia.
The incident was dealt with when J.R. was shot twice, as he is in the famous episode from the show's original run. We also spend time on his funeral and learn a bit about his master plan on the show. Needless to say, J.R. Ewing got the farewell that he had earned.
For years, one of the staples of Monk was his relationship with his therapist, Dr. Kroger. Monk would go to therapy to discuss his latest case and issues he was having in his own life. Those scenes were often a perfect mixture of comedy and revelation for his character.
When Stanley Kamel, the actor behind Dr. Kroger, died, Adrian Monk spent an episode mourning his passing. From there, he found a new therapist, and the formula continued in the same fashion. Of course, things were never really the same without the sweet, charming, thorough presence that Dr. Kroger brought to the show for years.
Mad Men was a show where plenty of people died, but only one of the show's actors ever died while their character was alive on the show. Christopher Allport, who played Pete Campbell's father, died in an avalanche. He was supposed to be a recurring character but only got the chance to appear on a single episode.
His character was eventually killed off in an airline crash, and an episode was also dedicated to him. He got a proper send-off from the show. His death was a surprise on the show, one that had an impact on his son. In real life, it was probably even more of a shock.
The West Wing thrived in large part because of its incredibly strong ensemble. One of the pillars of that ensemble from the very first episode was John Spencer, who was the chief of staff to President Jed Bartlet for most of the show's run.
John died during the show's final season, and his death was written into the show as a tragic event casting a pall over a winning campaign. Losing the character was always going to be tragic, but losing the actor behind him was just as terrible. John's character Leo had just been elected Vice President, but he would never get to be second in command.
Jerry Orbach was a pretty foundational presence on Law & Order for much of its run. When Law & Order: Trial By Jury, one of the show's spin-offs, began airing, Jerry died two months before the show's premiere. He appears in the show's first two episodes, but he's never mentioned again beginning in the third episode.
It's a tragedy that Detective Lennie Briscoe, who was the longest running detective on Law & Order, was so quickly brushed aside after his death in one of the spin-offs. We never got a chance to mourn the character properly or do anything else to say goodbye.
It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally, a show's star dies unexpectedly, and the show is forced to figure out if it can build around that massive hole at its center. In the case of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, the show decided to acknowledge John Ritter's death.
John was the father at the show's center, but after his death, the show shifted its focus to the family's mother and the brother and father that she brings in for support after her husband's death. While the show's comedy was hit or miss after that, the show's decision to kill off its main character is worth praising.
Part of what made Tony Soprano a different kind of gangster was his relationship with his mother, and her relationship with him. Nancy Marchand played Tony's mother Liva, but she only appeared in 21 episodes before her death. On the show, Tony's mother was killed off, though the audience does learn even more about Tony's relationship with her after.
The Sopranos went on to become one of the most acclaimed TV series of all time. Although Tony's relationship with his mother was cut short, there was plenty of other drama to mine over the course of the show's seven seasons.
Phil Hartman was a legend in the world of comedy, and his death during the fourth season of NewsRadio was one that the show had to address. In the fifth season, we learn that Phil's character died of a sudden heart attack. For the show's fifth and final season, he was replaced by Jon Lovitz, who was a formidable comedian in his own right.
Even so, the absence of Phil Hartman was acutely felt during that final season. The show couldn't totally recover from his absence, and maybe that's okay. Sometimes, a loss is a loss, and all we can do is try to move on without losing ourselves in it.
Luke Perry's death was a shock to both Riverdale fans and to people who remembered him from his days as a heartthrob on Beverly Hills 90210. On Riverdale, Luke played Fred Andrews, the dispenser of sage advice to Archie, the show's main character.
His last episode on the show is a fairly unremarkable one, but future installments will certainly have to deal with the fallout of Fred's absence and death. Luke was a central presence on the show, and his disappearance will be deeply felt. Whether it was fighting for the people of Riverdale or for his son, Fred was one of the very best parents on the show.
You wouldn't think that people could get attached to a voice actor the way they do to an actor who is physically appearing on screen, but that wasn't the case with Mako Iwamatsu. Mako played Uncle Iroh, the older father figure to Zuko, the show's tortured antihero.
Although he was only on the show for two seasons, Mako's presence was strongly felt. He gave Iroh a wise, knowing feel that was hard to replicate. Without much effort, he always seemed like the wisest person in the room. He was jolly and funny without ever being unserious. Mako made such an impact on the show that a character was named after him in the sequel series.
Hill Street Blues is one of the defining series in TV history. It's hugely influential, and it had one of the greatest casts of any TV drama. One of the members of that cast was Michael Conrad, the actor who played Sgt. Esterhaus on the show.
On the show, they killed off his character and addressed his death in the episode after his death. Eventually, his character was replaced by a new Sergeant, but the show was careful to give its characters time to mourn their old boss. He may not have worked in the field, but his presence was crucial to the show's success through its early seasons.