In the Golden Age of television, the pressure to keep viewers tuning in has significantly increased the amount of early character exits on the small screen. Whether it's purely for plot-driven reasons or it's because an actor has become insufferable on set, no one is safe when it comes to being ended in a devastating fashion. Unfortunately, that means that many of Hollywood's talented TV performers are rarely heard from again, peaking at an early point in their careers before disappearing completely.
For this list, we've searched through hours of harrowing sacrifices, depressing departures and utter shockers to find those on-screen deaths that shook us to the core. For these actors, the end of their television runs not only meant saying goodbye to months of commitment, but it spelled the end to their short-lived careers at the top of TV's most recognizable stars.
Not everyone can make it to the series finale to see the happily ever after on the other side, but at least most cast members have the security of knowing that they will continue to work once their show is over. For these celebrities, no such luxury was given. So join us as we take a look at 16 Actors Whose Careers Flopped After Being Killed Off TV Shows.
16 Mischa Barton - The O.C.
A child actor who came to prominence in films like The Sixth Sense and Lost and Delirious, Mischa Barton had already become accustomed to the luxurious movie star lifestyle before accepting the role of Marissa Cooper in The O.C. According to tales on set, Barton was a self-proclaimed A-lister who acted out during shoots and spent her off-time partying it up.
After three years of looking down on her castmates, Marissa was killed off in a car accident in season three. Shortly after leaving the series, Barton found work in small independent films, though none would make an impression.
After being involuntarily confined to a psychiatric facility for mental health issues in 2009, the actress has been a part of multiple public outbursts, including one incident in 2017 when she was hospitalized a second time after appearing incoherent at her California home.
15 Charisma Carpenter - Angel
An original member of Joss Whedon’s Scooby Gang, Cordelia Chase was a unique addition to the cast of Angel. As a transfer from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she went from the Queen B of Sunnydale High to a struggling actress in L.A. working for Angel Investigations. By season four, however, Charisma Carpenter’s off-screen pregnancy would lead to the character suffering a limited season story arc which eventually resulted in her character being killed off in the show’s fifth and final season.
Since her days of fighting off vampires and being possessed by malevolent deities, Carpenter has managed to find bit parts in both film and television, though nothing significant ever stuck. Supporting roles in shows like Veronica Mars and The Lying Game have kept her working, but sadly her resume has looked largely unimpressive since Angel’s end in 2004.
14 Dominic Monaghan - Lost
Before he was trapped on an island with a smoke monster, Dominic Monaghan found some success playing Merry in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When the actor was killed off in an heroic fashion in season three of the Lost, fans were left devastated. Monaghan was reportedly fine with the decision, citing the large ensemble cast and his character’s weakening story arc as reasons why he needed to be written out.
According to reports, a bad breakup between Monaghan and co-star Evangeline Lilly along with some on-set feuds eventually led to the actor’s demise. While he’s found success with roles in projects like the short-lived series FlashForward as well as the occasional indie movie appearance, Monaghan is mostly know as the host of the travel-adventure series Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. He visits remote locations in search of some of the world’s most elusive animals.
13 Denise Crosby - Star Trek: The Next Generation
Although Tasha Yar never made it past the first season of TNG, the Security Chief of the Enterprise became a fan favorite. Received as one of the most tasteless fantasy show deaths in television history, Lt. Yar's demise at the hands of the creature Armus was the end result of Crosby asking to be released from her contract. Despite trying to depict the every day dangerous encounters a Security Chief would have to encounter, Crosby’s exit was met with disappointment all around.
Years after appearing on the series, Crosby has managed to keep a relatively busy schedule with appearances in shows like The Magicians and The Walking Dead, but she has yet to find a character that’s gained her more recognition than Yar. Luckily, the actress isn’t letting it get to her. She continues to work despite the fact that her biggest role was so short-lived.
12 Julie Benz - Dexter
Whether she’s a vampire or the wife of a serial killer, the chances are you’ve probably seen Julie Benz at one time or another. Getting her start in bit roles on the small screen, she originally landed the part of Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer after trying out for the lead role. She impressed cast members enough that they rewrote the character and resurrected her for the show’s spinoff series Angel.
After working for Joss Whedon, Benz found more success as Rita Bennett in Dexter.
With Darla's shockingly brutal death at the end of season four, Benz left the serial killer series for short-lived shows like No Ordinary Family and Defiance. Although she continues to appear in the occasional indie film, Benz hasn’t found another high-profile part since 2009. Still, she isn’t stepping away from the limelight just yet and continues to churn out consistent projects each year.
11 Shannen Doherty - Charmed
For her behavior behind the scenes, Shannen Doherty has built a reputation as a Hollywood diva. After being written off Beverly Hills, 90210 due to disputes with co-stars, Doherty managed to find a second wind as the eldest Wiccan sister Prue Halliwell in Charmed. Sadly, Prue’s destiny was gravely affected by Doherty’s inability to get along with star Alyssa Milano.
After refusing a two-year contract extension, her character died in season three.
Since her days as a witch, Doherty has starred in multiple television movies and has had a public battle with breast cancer, which has since gone into remission. Next on her slate, she’s set to appear in the television remake of the 1988 film Heathers. These days, Doherty says she's blessed to be working, though she still remains as outspoken as she did at the start of her career.
10 Laurie Holden - The Walking Dead
When you’re a cast member on an apocalyptic zombie series based on graphic comic books, survival isn’t guaranteed. In season three of The Walking Dead, fans got a surprise when Laurie Holden’s character Andrea was killed off after her storyline was drastically changed from the comics.
Holden has been outspoken about the decision to off her character so suddenly.
She blames bad writing for how everything turned out.
Since hooking up with the Governor of Woodbury, Holden’s resume has taken a step backwards with small parts in movies like Dumb and Dumber To. Her biggest role has come in the Emmy-nominated series The Americans, where she played the character Renee in season five. Unfortunately for Holden, actress Danai Gurira has taken up much of Andrea’s original storyline as the popular character Michonne, a fact which has surely left the actress bitter since leaving the series.
9 T.R. Knight - Grey’s Anatomy
Shonda Rhimes hasn’t had the best string of luck when it comes to casting actors for her television series. When it comes to her longest running show Grey's Anatomy, she's had to deal with a rotating cast of characters but none of them take the cake more than T.R. Knight whose character George O'Malley was tragically hit by a bus. According to Knight, his differing opinions on the direction of his character along with the actor coming out as gay had a lot to do with his decision to not return for the show’s sixth season.
Since his horrible end, Knight has appeared on other shows, including The Good Wife and Genius, though he hasn’t topped his role in GA yet. Still, he has to feel some relief in no longer being on a show that would kill off his character in such a disrespectful and gruesome manner.
8 Michael Pitt - Boardwalk Empire
Discovered by a casting agent whom he mistakenly thought was a police officer attempting to arrest him, Michael Pitt got his first sizable role in 1999 as Henry Parker in the series Dawson’s Creek. He soon became an indie movie regular playing everything from the lover of a trans rockstar in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to a twisted, murderer with a penchant for mind games in the thriller Funny Games.
In 2010, Pitt landed his biggest part to date when he took on of the fictional bootlegger and gangster Jimmy Darmody in the prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire. Reportedly, the actor had problems on set when it came to remembering his lines and showing up on time, leading to costly re-shoots and his eventual demise in season two. Since his stint on the show, Pitt has returned to playing in indies, though roles has decreased over the years.
7 Amber Benson - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Twenty years since the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon’s female-empowering fantasy series is still a remarkable standout. As a progressive, boundary-pushing show, the relationship between Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay became one of the first publicly televised lesbian relationships that showed two female leads affectionately embracing each other. At a time where LGBTQ characters were even more scarce, Buffy wasn’t backing down from showing authentic same-sex couples.
After quickly becoming a fan fan favorite, Tara devastated the Buffy community when she was tragically killed by a stray bullet in season six. Since then, actress Amber Benson has sadly failed to appear in anything more than B-movie horror flicks or short-lived TV series. She did make a guest appearance on the hit show Supernatural where many Whedonverse actors have popped up on occasion, but apart from that, her filmography has been sadly disappointing.
6 Anthony Edwards - ER
For eight years, Dr. Mark Greene was the heart, soul and mediator of County General Hospital. As the first main character to be killed off ER, Greene’s departure was a transitional period for the medical show and one that fans recall very well.
More than 15 years after his death, Anthony Edwards is no longer the top-billing star he once was. No longer saving lives on a weekly basis, the Golden Globe-winning performer hasn’t been as active in film and television since the early 2000s. Although he still stars in the occasional TV episode, he’s no longer a household name.
In 2017, Edwards joined the list of former child stars who accused producer Gary Goddard of assault, a trauma which haunted the actor for the majority of his career.
5 Charlie Sheen - Two and a Half Men
Prior to 2011, Charlie Sheen had a winning formula as one of television’s top-billed stars. With three Emmy nominations and a Guinness World Record as the highest paid television actor, he had found the role of a lifetime as Charlie Harper on Two and Half Men, but a history of substance abuse and a series of derogatory remarks about the series’ creator Chuck Lorre would eventually become his downfall.
After months spent in and out of rehabilitation centers, Sheen landed another television role in the FX series Anger Management, though the show never found the same level of success as the actor’s previous project. Since the end of Two and Half Men, Sheen has again made headlines after coming out with news that he’s HIV-positive, a revelation that he admits has changed his outlook on life.
4 Nicollette Sheridan - Desperate Housewives
A former fashion model, Nicollette Sheridan first began being recognized as an actress after appearing in the soap opera Paper Dolls in 1984, though she would gain popularity after starring as Paige Matheson in Knots Landing. With her background, Marc Cherry would later view her as the perfect choice to play real estate agent Edie Britt in Desperate Housewives.
Unfortunately, her experience as a diva came more with drama than the series creator had intended.
After five seasons, Sheridan’s character was killed off in an accident involving a car crash and an electrical wire. The actress would later file a lawsuit against Cherry stating he had wrongfully terminated and assaulted her. The lawsuit was eventually dropped and Sheridan went back to acting. Since her time on Wisteria Lane, the actress hasn’t seen much screen time, though she hopes the recently rebooted soap series Dynasty will bring her some good fortune.
3 Columbus Short - Scandal
An actor, singer and choreographer, Columbus Short wasn’t a recognizable face until he accepted the part of Harrison Wright, a professional crisis management handler for Olivia Pope, on the series Scandal.
During his three years as one of the series regulars, there were multiple reports claiming Short couldn’t keep his temper under control. Although he never let his personal life interfere with his time on set, domestic abuse allegations from his then-wife eventually led to him being killed off the show.
Since his departure, Short has taken time away from the screen to resolve his anger issues, which he attributed to his substance abuse. With his tainted reputation, however, he has failed to find much work. Most recently he was sentenced to a year in jail after being found guilty in a new domestic abuse case with his current wife.
2 McLean Stevenson - MASH
As one of the most beloved comedy shows of all time, MASH was a topical series that depicted the real tragedies of the Korean War while often following its eclectic cast of characters through their various shenanigans. As one of the original cast members, Lt. Henry Blake was the happy-go-lucky commanding officer of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital who was routinely criticized for his lack of strict military discipline.
After three seasons, McLean Stevenson announced he wouldn’t return, leading to his character's death. According to his co-star Loretta Swift, Stevenson wished to be the star of his own series. Unfortunately, his only major starring role would come with The McLean Stevenson Show, which was canceled after one season.
Stevenson would fail to find anything as popular as the war time comedy and ultimately spent the rest of his career playing small roles in various shows.
1 Heidi Swedberg - Seinfeld
In a comically bleak storyline that only the minds behind Seinfeld could come up with, George Costanza found himself trapped by a marriage proposal in the show’s seventh season after mistakenly asking his girlfriend Susan Ross to be his fiancé. When a potential relationship with Marisa Tomei is sabotaged by his engagement, he is saved from his upcoming nuptials when Susan dies after licking the glue of budget envelopes.
On set, Jason Alexander reportedly didn’t mesh well with actress Heidi Swedberg. After some deliberation, Larry David plotted Susan's demise.
Susan's abrupt end would be Swedberg's last big moment as she would spend the next several years mostly acting in small bit roles on various TV series. These days Swedberg mostly focuses on playing the ukulele in her band Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. Her last known role was in 2010 in the television series Hawthorne.
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