Between Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, modern TV audiences are used to characters being killed off, regardless of anything going on behind the scenes with the actors who play them. But there was a time when the most common reason that a character would be written off of a show was due to an actor’s departure– voluntarily or otherwise.
While the ways that a character can leave a show are numerous, most of them tend to involve something innocuous like them relocating to another city or changing careers. This is often done as a way to give a character an honorable sendoff, and also to leave the door open for an eventual return– or at least a cameo or two– somewhere down the road.
However, characters don’t always leave shows so peacefully. There are times when the writers and producers of a series decide that they want some finality to the exit of a character, and decide to completely kill the character off.
Sometimes the character’s death just makes the most sense within the universe of a show, and other times– well, let’s just say that the creative forces behind TV shows sometimes take out their anger and frustration at an actor through their character.
Here are 19 Characters Who Were Killed Off Because Of Their Actors.
19. Ana Lucia Cortez (Michelle Rodriguez) – Lost
Like many young stars, Michelle Rodriguez struggled with alcoholism and other personal issues during her ascent to stardom. By the time she was 25, the actress had been arrested for a physical altercation with a roommate, drunk driving, driving with a suspended license, and a hit-and-run incident.
In the midst of those darker days, Rodriguez scored a guest spot in the first season of Lost that turned into her being added to the main cast for season two. During her brief tenure filming Lost in Hawaii as former LAPD officer Ana Lucia Cortez, Rodriguez’s problems continued, being pulled over by local police multiple times for speeding and eventually getting charged with another DUI.
That arrest, followed by Cortez’s death on the show, led to speculation that Rodriguez’s off-screen behavior was the cause for her character being killed off. Producers later disputed this, saying that it was just a coincidence and that Rodriguez only ever wanted to do a single season. Whether they were just covering for her or whether Cortez’s death was always intended to happen when it did, there’s no denying that Rodriguez chose to end Cortez’s life by leaving the show.
18. Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) – Scandal
Just because a show is called Scandal doesn’t mean that its producers want controversy to surround it outside of its fictional universe.
After spending the first three years of the series as one of its main characters, litigator Harrison Wright was murdered in Scandal‘s season three finale following some unsettling accusations surrounding Columbus Short, the actor who portrayed him. In 2013, Short was accused by then-wife Tanee McCall of physical abuse, including threatening to cut her throat with a knife. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence.
It wouldn’t be the only time Short was accused of violence, as he had also made headlines for assaulting someone at a party in 2015. Short would eventually admit to struggling with alcohol and cocaine addiction during that time.
17. Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) – Angel
While the cast of Buffy spin-off Angel was largely unique from its predecessor, save for the title character and a few cameos here and there, one other recurring character completely jumped ship in the transition: Cordelia Chase, played by actress Charisma Carpenter. In fact, with being considered a main cast member in three seasons of Buffy and four seasons of Angel, Cordelia is the character who had the largest presence across the two series– even more so than Angel.
So what finally ended Carpenter’s long-running role as Cordelia? Pregnancy. When the actress became pregnant during the filming of Angel‘s fourth season, her character arc had to be re-written around her pregnancy, leading to Cordelia going in a coma and eventually dying. The show just wasn’t the same without her.
16. Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) – Breaking Bad
Psychopathic drug kingpin Tuco Salamanca made such an impact on Breaking Bad that it’s shocking he was only on the show for four episodes. And it would’ve been an even longer stint if producers had their way– but the actor that played him wasn’t having it.
While the writing team on Breaking Bad planned to have Tuco stick around for a while as one of Walter White’s most dangerous adversaries, actor Raymond Cruz told them that he just couldn’t handle playing the insane killer anymore. It certainly must be taxing playing a character that is so intense and violent for pretty much every moment he is on screen, and Cruz wanted to step away from Tuco.
The actor agreed to return for the first two episodes of the second season in order for the writers to adequately bring his character’s arc to a close. They were then forced to completely rethink how to structure season two as it had originally hinged heavily on Tuco.
Being able to take a couple of years off from Tuco apparently gave Cruz the strength to revive him again (briefly), as the actor reprised the role for three episodes of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul.
15. Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) – Desperate Housewives
There was just as much drama and fighting on the set of Desperate Housewives as there was on the show itself. It can be tough to know who the true “divas” are among a group of women who can’t seem to get along, but here’s a hint: which actresses had a consistent career leading up to the show and have remained active since it ended? They probably weren’t the difficult ones.
As hard as things might have been behind the scenes of Desperate Housewives, most of the cast knew they were part of a good thing and toughed it out for all eight seasons of the show. The notable exception in terms of the initial core cast is real estate agent Edie Britt– played by Nicollette Sheridan– who was dead by season five.
In addition to Sheridan being rumored to be very difficult to work with, she also allegedly butted heads with series creator Marc Cherry throughout her time on the show. Those issues came to a head when Sheridan brought a lawsuit against Cherry not only for wrongful dismissal, but for assaulting her. She later amended the claim, admitting it was only a “light tap” on the head.
14. Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) – House
Few actors have had careers as varied as that of Kal Penn. How many people can play starring roles in movies like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, but also appear in award-winning indie dramas like The Namesake and be nominated for an Emmy for playing a doctor in an acclaimed TV show?
The TV show in question is House, which Penn joined in season four as a main cast member, playing Dr. Lawrence Kutner. After two seasons on the show, Penn took a job with the Obama administration as a White House liaison and couldn’t continue working on a TV series full-time. Interestingly, rather than simply have Dr. Kutner take a job at another hospital or something to that effect, House‘s writers decided to have the character mysteriously commit suicide. Other than giving the titular Dr. House a tough case to solve, it was a strange end for a character whose actor had seemingly left the show amicably.
13. Lt. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) – M*A*S*H
It’s not often that a TV show eclipses the popularity– and even the quality– of the movie it is based on, but it does happen occasionally. Decades before Buffy the Vampire Slayer did just that, the TV series M*A*S*H took a well-liked movie and transformed it into an extremely well-loved show.
One of the main characters was Lt. Henry Blake, portrayed on television by McLean Stevenson. His co-star, Loretta Swift (who played “Hot Lips” Houlihan), said recently that Stevenson didn’t like not being the star of the show, and he quit M*A*S*H in order to hopefully find a project he could be the lead on. He got his wish– though 1977’s The McLean Stevenson Show only lasted one season and was quickly forgotten.
Initially, Blake was going to just be discharged and sent home. But the show’s writers decided to have the plane carrying him home be shot down in an effort to make his departure even more powerful. His death was kept secret from the cast until the scene was shot where they received the news of Blake’s death in order to elicit more genuine emotional reactions.
12. Maude Flanders (Maggie Roswell) – The Simpsons
Of the dozens and dozens of supporting characters on The Simpsons, few have more direct and frequent contact with– and comedic tension against– the titular family then their next-door neighbors, the Flanders. Whether it’s Homer ogling Maude’s cleavage or Ned’s buns– stupid sexy Flanders!– the Christian family has been the source of some the show’s most memorable moments.
When Maggie Roswell, the voice behind Maude Flanders and several other prominent women on the show, asked for a raise to help cover the increasingly expensive plane tickets between the Simpsons‘ Los Angeles studio and her Denver home, Fox refused– and she quit. As a result, her biggest character was killed off, one of only a handful of major Simpsons characters to meet their end during the show’s 28-season (and counting) run.
Some of the producers of the show tried to paint it as Maude being killed simply as a way to introduce a new thread to the show and reinvigorate Ned’s character, but the timing of her death and Roswell’s departure was a little too coincidental.
11. Will Gardner (Josh Charles) – The Good Wife
The producers of The Good Wife were willing to go to great lengths to keep their cast intact even when there was serious behind-the-scenes drama– following a reported rift between actresses Julianna Marguiles and Archie Panjabi, the show was written in such a way that the characters would hardly ever have to interact– and even went as far as to film the actresses separately when they would have a scene “together.”
So what does an actor have to do to get their character killed on that show? Quit, apparently. After five seasons on the series, actor Josh Charles decided he was ready to move on to other opportunities. The result was to have his character, Will Gardner, gunned down in the courtroom in one of the most shocking deaths in recent television history.
10. Eddie LeBec (Jay Thomas) – Cheers
The cast of regular and recurring characters that most of us associate with Cheers didn’t fully come together until the show was already on the air for a few years. Among the characters that were introduced in those early seasons was Eddie LeBec, who married Carla and fathered children with her. However, actor Jay Thomas made what he probably thought was an innocent, throwaway joke on a radio show that ended up costing Eddie his life. Maybe.
While the story has become somewhat disputed over the years, the commonly-held belief is that Thomas was fired from the show– and Eddie killed off– because he made a crack about how hard it was having to kiss actress Rhea Perlman. Thomas has often confirmed the story himself, though at other times he claims he was joking about kissing the Carla character and not Perlman herself.
One person who has consistently stuck with the original story is Jay Levine, a veteran comedy writer and the man who came up with the episode where Eddie dies, lending some serious credibility to that version of events.
9. Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley) – Bones
After spending nearly seven years on the series Bones, Dr. Lance Sweets– played by John Francis Daley– became the first main character on the show to be killed. And all because Daley wanted a few months off to direct a movie.
If John Francis Daley’s name rings a bell beyond his stint on Bones and his early role on Freaks and Geeks, there’s a good reason: he has written and/or directed several major Hollywood movies, including the Vacation reboot, Horrible Bosses, and most recently, a little film called Spider-Man: Homecoming.
It was when he asked Bones‘ producers for a little time off to direct Vacation that it was decided Lance Sweets had to die. Producers were worried that the movie gig would lead to other similar opportunities for Daley, and that one hiatus would turn into another and another. And so, rather than worry about having to write around more extended breaks in the future, they decided to just go ahead and kill his character off to free him up for his burgeoning Hollywood career.
8. James Evans (John Amos) – Good Times
Good Times was originally intended to be a more sophisticated sitcom about a black family, with the heads of the house being the central characters. However, when Jimmie Walker’s catchphrase-spouting J.J. character became unexpectedly popular, storylines began to be written with him in mind– and therefore, with a more silly vibe.
The actors who played parents James and Florida Evans– Esther Rolle and John Amos, respectively– were critical of this new direction, feeling that the show had begun to play into tired stereotypical black tropes that they had hoped the show was going to help break free from, painting black characters as one-dimensional comic relief and little else.
While Rolle tended to make her complaints much more publicly, it was Amos who was eventually let go from the show over his disillusionment and his battles with Good Times creator Norman Lear over the show’s direction. His character was killed off screen in a car accident after the third season.
7. Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) – Downton Abbey
Although most actors would love the chance to work on an acclaimed ensemble series like Downton Abbey, there’s no denying that it’s a very intense time commitment that doesn’t leave much room for anything else career-wise.
That is exactly the issue Dan Stevens had with the role of Matthew Crawley on the popular show. While he had nothing but positive things to say about most aspects of working on Downton Abbey, he simply couldn’t keep working on a project that required so much time and energy from him. So Stevens took the end of the three-year contract that most of the cast had signed as a good stopping point for his time on the show, and chose not to renew his deal. This led to Matthew Crawley’s tragic death in a car accident.
Stevens has definitely made the most of the freedom that stepping away from Downton provided, appearing in thirteen movies and seven TV shows since– including the billion-dollar remake Beauty and the Beast and his current gig on the series Legion.
6. Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg) – Seinfeld
When Susan Ross, fiancée of George Costanza, died from licking the glue of budget envelopes that George bought to save money, it seemed in line with the often dark comedic tone that Seinfeld had become known for. Nobody had any reason to think that she was killed off for behind-the-scenes reasons.
A few years ago, Jason Alexander– who played George– said during an interview with Howard Stern that he found it very difficult to play off of Susan’s actress, Heidi Swedberg. Alexander said that he felt that his comedic instincts didn’t mesh with Swedberg’s, and that fellow castmates Jerry Seinfeld and Julia-Louis Dreyfus concurred once they had direct scenes with the actress. As Alexander tells it, one day Dreyfus remarked to series co-creator Larry David that they should just kill her– and with that comment, Susan’s death was plotted.
Alexander would go on to regret his comments, saying that Swedberg was a great person and that he could’ve tried harder to work with her. Regardless, it seems pretty obvious that the blasé reaction to Susan’s death by the show’s characters wasn’t too far off from how the actors felt about Swedberg’s departure from the show.
5. Prue Halliwell (Shannen Doherty) – Charmed
Shannen Doherty has never been known for being the most pleasant person to be on a set with. From her Beverly Hills 90210 co-stars to the people who worked with her on the movie Mallrats, stories about how fun and easy Doherty is to work with are few and far between.
But there has only been one time when Doherty was so difficult that her character was actually killed off, and that was the supernatural WB series Charmed. While there were also stories that fellow Charmed lead Alyssa Milano wasn’t exactly a peach to work with, it was Doherty who ultimately left the show amidst the various personality clashes.
It was never made entirely clear just how “voluntary” Doherty’s exit was, but it ultimately seemed like all sides felt it was for the best. While there were initially talks to simply recast the role of Prue Halliwell, it was eventually decided that Prue would be killed and that Rose McGowan would join the show as a new character for the remaining five seasons.
4. George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) – Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes certainly had her hands full with the cast of her breakout show. She had to deal with Katherine Heigl bashing the show to the press, Isaiah Washington getting into fistfights and using homophobic slurs on set, and T.R. Knight feeling like his character wasn’t being treated well. And while the issues with Knight seem like the tamest of the bunch, he was the one who’s character met the most gruesome end.
Though Grey’s has become a show known for somewhat refreshing its cast every few years, the core regulars stayed largely in intact for the first five seasons. Knight’s character, George O’Malley, was there from the beginning and had been one of the series’ most popular characters– but during the season five hiatus it was announced that Knight would not be returning.
Among his reasons for leaving were what he called a “breakdown in communication” between him and Rhimes, not agreeing with the direction of George’s character, and simply wanting to try different things with his career.
3. Valerie Hogan (Valerie Harper) – Valerie/Valerie’s Family/The Hogan Family
When television icon Valerie Harper was set to return to with a new show in 1986 following her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, the world was excited. In the first two seasons, Valerie didn’t disappoint and was both a critical and ratings success. It also introduced the world to a young actor named Jason Bateman.
When the show was renewed for a third season, Harper felt she deserved a pay raise, which network execs declined. Similar to a stunt she also pulled after the first season of Rhoda, Harper walked out on the show until her demands were met. While a deal was reached that got Harper back to shoot the first episode of season three, she walked out again, demanding more money. NBC executives were tired of the very public battle Harper had been waging, and decided they’d had enough and fired Harper from her own show– also killing off her character.
Astonishingly, this didn’t spell the end for the series. Harper was replaced by Sandy Duncan as the kids’ new mother figure, and following two name changes– first Valerie’s Family, then The Hogan Family— the series lasted four additional seasons without Harper.
2. Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) – Two and a Half Men
You don’t need to have seen a single frame of the hit CBS series Two and a Half Men to know the story of star Charlie Sheen’s battle with both drugs and creator Chuck Lorre– and subsequent public meltdown of epic proportions.
With that in mind, you probably aren’t surprised to learn that Lorre made sure that Sheen’s character didn’t just get a peaceful sendoff, and was instead killed via being hit by a train. Charlie Harper is further shamed during a very disrespectful funeral where it is revealed that he was, among other things, sexually attracted to animals and was caught having a threesome with a hooker and a goat prior to his death.
However, killing Charlie Harper once wasn’t good enough for Lorre. In the series finale, it is revealed that Charlie wasn’t actually hit by a train and was instead being held captive by longtime crazy girlfriend Rose. He shows up in the finale– though digitally faked and not actually portrayed by Sheen, who refused to appear– where he is killed definitively when a piano falls on him.
1. Chef (Isaac Hayes) – South Park
Whenever the kids of South Park needed an adult to help them understand a confusing situation, they’d go to the chef of their school cafeteria– who always went by the name “Chef”– though he would often just sing them a completely unrelated and inappropriate song about women and sex.
Voiced by bandleader Isaac Hayes of Shaft soundtrack fame, the musician gamely went along for the ride as South Park satirized just about every conceivable topic. That is, until the show made fun of Scientology, apparently.
Although Hayes never mentioned Scientology in his statement about leaving the show – instead condemning its mockery of religion in general 0 his dissatisfaction happened to come just after a high-profile episode the show did making fun of the religion and star member Tom Cruise. Hayes never admitted that he left over the Scientology skewering, but show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone remained convinced otherwise.
In response, they first shamed the Chef character by turning him into pedophile, then followed that up with him being struck by lighting, falling violently to his death, and then being eaten– and defecated out– by wild animals. Tell us how you really feel, guys.
Are there other characters who were killed off because of actors? Leave them in the comments!
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