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Character Outlives Actor
aka: Died On A Bus
And the story goes on... forever.
— The final words of The Sarah Jane Adventures

This trope is where a character on a TV series is still alive off-screen (referred to by on-screen characters, writes letters, etc.) but his/her actor has died after their character was Put on a Bus.

Contrast Bus Crash, where the character who was Put on a Bus dies, and Back for the Dead, where the bus and actor come back, only for the character to die right away. The Other Darrin is a possible solution to this, but sometimes is avoided out of respect for the actor.

Not to be confused with Released to Elsewhere, where a character dies, and his killer tells us they were put on a Long Bus Trip.

The inversion is The Character Died with Him (when the character is removed from the show, often Killed Off for Real, because the actor died).

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film 

  • In Little Fockers Debbie, who got married in the first film, is getting divorced offscreen. Nicole DeHuff died of pneumonia in February of 2005.
  • A variant occured with The Three Stooges after Shemp died. For contract reasons, they had to deliver four more shorts and the studio wouldn't let the survivors off. Moe, Shemp's younger brother, and Larry still did four shorts, referring to Shemp and occasionally "meeting up" with him via archive footage filmed when he was still alive. They also did some new scenes where a stand-in was used for Shemp, making sure (not always successfully) to keep his back to the camera.
  • Trial of the Pink Panther was made after the death of Peter Sellers. Rather than having the character of Inspector Clouseau die in the film, he is instead shown to be alive and well on a deserted island after surviving a plane crash; the subsequent film Curse of... reveals he got Magic Plastic Surgery to look like Roger Moore, and did a Face-Heel Turn to settle down with a jewel thief countess.
  • Cars2: Because of the death of Joe Ranft, Red the firetruck actually lost his voice permanently and does not speak in the sequel. Not that he spoke much in the previous film anyway.
  • Jean Harlow suddenly died of kidney failure during production of Saratoga, but instead of recasting the part and re-shooting her scenes (which were roughly 9/10 completed anyway) production carried on as usual, but with three doubles filling in for her, as well as her character being written out of some scenes.
  • Although the character was already deceased in-universe, old footage of Marlon Brando was used to portray a dialogue between recordings of Jor-El and Lex Luthor in Superman Returns.
  • After the death of Paul Walker, Fast and Furious 7 director James Wan and writer Chris Morgan have revised the script so that footage Walker shot before his death, along with a Fake Walker, can be used to retire his character, Brian O'Conner, without killing him off.

    Live Action Television 
  • Many television series prior to the late 1960s did this, including Make Room For Daddy (Nana Bryant, who played Margaret Williams' elderly mother); Ward Bond, the original wagon master on Wagon Train; Smiley Burnette, who played the Bradleys' friend Charlie Pratt on Petticoat Junction and others. The character would simply stop appearing and normally, no future mention would be made of them; if there was, it would be brief, indirect references, usually as though they were still alive. Often, unsophisticated viewers probably never noticed that the character was missing, given the transition was often seamless or that the viewer was more concerned about story development or other characters. It was merely presumed, then, that the character the now-deceased actor portrayed was still alive, since no mention explicit or otherwise was made that there was a death.
  • Trapper John, M.D.: Nurse Clara "Starch" Willoughby got married during the summer of 1980, retired and moved from San Francisco; on screen, the character did not keep in touch with her former co-workers, and other than possibly brief mentions early in the 1980-1981 season, she is not referred to again and it was presumed she was still living when the series ended in 1986. That's because Starch's portrayer, Mary McCarty, died in the spring of 1980, shortly after production of 1979-1980 season episodes ended; Madge Sinclair's character, Nurse Ernestine Shoop, replaced Starch.
  • Sesame Street:
    • Initially, with Mr. Hooper, for episodes that aired in the winter and spring of 1983; this included episodes that had been completed prior to Will Lee's final illness, and also episodes that did not feature the character. (Some scripts for episodes later in the spring of 1983 were simply rewritten or, in some instances, the other adults given his lines.) After considering a number of options - one of which was to explain that the beloved Hooper had left Sesame Street, such as retiring Hooper's death was finally addressed in the groundbreaking episode that aired Thanksgiving Day, 1983 ... almost a year after Lee passed away.
    • David, Mr. Hooper's protege and first successor, who was written out in 1989 as having moved to Florida to look after his grandmother. His departure was explained in the fifth episode of the 1989-1990 season (aired around Thanksgiving 1989), where Gordon reads a postcard to Elmo telling that David was doing fine and wished everyone well. Off-screen, things were not well for Northern Calloway, the actor that played David. Depending on the source, Calloway voluntarily resigned, was fired (for recurring behavior issues and inability to get along with the cast/crew) or was forced to leave for mental health issues he had been experiencing. At the time of his death in January 1990, he had been institutionalized, and after an episode of excited delirium syndrome/exhaustive psychosis (literally a massive nervous breakdown that caused cardiac arrest), medical personnel was unable to revive him. Unlike his mentor, Calloway received no tribute or so much as an onscreen acknowledgement of his death.
  • Dennis the Menace: George Wilson, following his portrayer Joseph Kearns' death in 1962, midway through the third season. Immediately after his death and a brief hiatus to mourn Kearns' passing, two scripts where Wilson was non-essential were hastily re-written, with substitute characters added and no mention of Mr. Wilson made. Later in the season, it was explained that George had business out east, and his brother, John (Gale Gordon) was brought in to "house sit." Early in the fourth season, the Wilsons (offscreen) moved to the East Coast, leaving John the new homeowner and it was still presumed that George was alive when the series ended in 1963.
  • Chico And The Man: Initially for Chico, portrayed by Freddie Prinze, after Prinze's suicide in 1977. Three episodes still remained to be filmed to complete the third season, and three scripts that revolved around other characters were re-written to explicitly mention that Chico was "away on business" (besides giving Chico's lines to other characters). When the "away on business" (and later, "visiting his father in Mexico") explanations were phased out early in the fourth season, it became less clear whether the Chico character was still alive and then the episode "Raul Runs Away" put any doubt to rest.
  • Alias Smith and Jones: Here's an unusual example, in that it combines the trope with The Other Darrin. Pete Duel, the original "Smith," killed himself in December 1971. To fit the trope and The Other Darrin trope, the role was re-cast with Roger Davis (the original narrator) taking over the role, filling it until the series ended in 1973. Smith, indeed, lived on on-screen but looked completely different.
  • Bewitched: Another in the unusual cases where a character's originator passes away and is recast — in this case, Gladys Kravitz. When original actress Alice Pearce died in 1966, an interim character (Mrs. K's sister, Harriett) was brought in while the producers debated whether to kill off the Stephens' nosy next-door neighbor or recast the role. It was recast, with Sandra Gould taking what became her signature role ... allowing Mrs. Kravitz to outlive her original actress.
  • After Nicholas Colasanto died during the middle of production of the third season of Cheers, Coach was said to be off visiting family or taking a driver's test. The last episode Colasanto appeared in was pushed back to later in the season, and a Deleted Scene featuring Coach was used as The Teaser to open the third season finale. The audience was not told that The Character Died with Him until the Season 4 premiere and the arrival of Woody Boyd.
  • Sandy Harper in Holby City is still alive off-screen in Australia, despite the 2003 death of actress Laura Sadler.
  • Coronation Street has had several characters live on off-screen following their actors' deaths.
  • On The Bold And The Beautiful, following actress Darlene Conley's death, her character, Sally Spectra was allowed to live on off-screen rather than being recast or killed off."
  • Doctor Who:
    • The character of the Doctor continues to live on, played by a succession of actors, following the deaths of the first three actors to play the part: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. The first three Doctors also continue to appear in audio (played by other actors on occasion) and literary spin-offs.
    • Although the TV series has acknowledged the death of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (reflecting the death of actor Nicholas Courtney), no in-universe date is given and in the expanded universe of the show, the Brigadier lives well into the mid-21st century.
    • The Big Finish audio dramas have allowed companions to continue appearing in stories despite their original actors being deceased. Either they're played by other actors or they're described as being present. The Time Lord character Romana, like the Doctor, has been regenerated over time, and Lalla Ward and Juliet Landau continue to play the character in audio form despite the death of original actress Mary Tamm.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures:
    • A 2010 episode revealed that 60s Doctor Who companions Barbara Chesterton and Ben Jackson were both still alive, despite the actors who played them having died in the 1990s.
    • Sarah Jane Smith herself is still alive, despite the death of Elisabeth Sladen. The last episode of the series ends with the words "And the story goes on...forever."
      • As of 2014, this remains the case parent series Doctor Who has yet to indicate on screen that the character is deceased. Also, in the expanded universe Sarah Jane is said to live on well into the 21st century, something also reflected in The Sarah Jane Adventures itself.
  • 7th Heaven infamously used this trope when Graham Jarvis, who played a main character's father, died. The character was not only kept alive for ten months following Jarvis's death, but when the actress that played his on-screen daughter had a contract dispute, she was said to be visiting him in several episodes.
  • Nick Yemana from Barney Miller did not exactly Die On a Bus, even though the actor Jack Soo, who played him, died in real life. So the actor got a non-canon memorial-tribute episode, while Nick disappeared from the series and was definitely gone for good; there was an episode where a lot of drama was attached to the removal of his desk from the office, and characters would sometimes mention "back when Nick was here". However, it was never made clear whether he died or just went away somewhere. The final episode has Barney looking around the squadroom one last time; he remembers (via flashback clips) the cops who'd left the squad in years past. When he remembers Chano, Wentworth and Fish, Barney is smiling in fond remembrance. When he remembers Nick, though, his expression is very sad.
  • NCIS:
    • Marty, Abby's fourth season boyfriend, broke up with her via instant message because the actor who played him committed suicide.
    • Also, Ducky's aged mother was put in a nursing home after her actress died. A few seasons later, there was a mention that she died.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Thuy Trang, the actress who played Trini, the original Yellow Ranger in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, left the cast and died in a car accident several years later. The character is not dead in the show (or at least not known to be), though Fanon may state otherwise.
    • Coincidentally, the first Yellow Ranger in Super Sentai also had a tragic fate: Baku Hatakeyama, who played Ki Ranger I in Himitsu Sentai Goranger, committed suicide in 1978; but Ki Ranger returns in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and its crossover movie with Tensou Sentai Goseiger, and it is implied that Hatakeyama's character, Oiwa, is still in the suit. (It can't be the second one, 'cause he was Killed Off for Real and replaced by the returning Oiwa.) In Gokaiger, he never unmasks.
  • A weird example mixed with Harsher in Hindsight: Passions had the character of Timmy dying after a Heroic Sacrifice (to save Charity from her evil Zombie self). However, the supernatural nature of the storylines on the show often made it easy for characters to return to life, and Timmy was set to return as an angel. The plans were scuppered when Josh Ryan Evans died from complications resulting from open heart surgery a scant few weeks after taping the scene. Eerily, the date of his death was the same day Timmy died on the show.
  • Only Fools and Horses:
    • After his actor died, Mike was written out as has having been jailed abroad for embezzlement in "If They Could See Us Now". This was done at the request of Kenneth MacDonald who did not want his character to die with him.
    • Corine, Denzil's wife, outlived her actor, with the character divorcing Denzil after the actress died following a single appearance. The character was intended to have been recurring. Interestingly, she wasn't stated to have finally left him until quite a way into the series, despite no possibility of a reappearance after the third series.
  • Last of the Summer Wine generally isn't shy about having characters die at the same time that their actors do. However, incidental character Eli will probably be left in limbo forever, even though he appeared in most episodes. Actor Danny O'Dea died several years ago, but since Eli was rarely crucial to the plot, and wasn't closely related to any other characters, his ultimate fate will most likely remain unmentioned.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Neither Dr Stephen Franklin nor G'Kar were ever put on a bus before their actors Richard Biggs and Andreas Katsulas passed away, but in Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, the late actors' characters are stated to have gone exploring "beyond the rim," the in-universe euphemism for ascending to a higher plane of existence.
    • In the case of G'Kar, the character's death was actually seen on-screen before the actor died. Londo shakes off his Drakh controller long enough to ask G'Kar to kill him to save him and the Centauri from having a mind-controlled Emperor any longer, but as G'Kar tries to oblige the symbiont wakes up and fights back, resulting in G'Kar and Londo killing each other. This was set years after the five-year plot, though, which ended with G'Kar and Lyta going adventuring in unknown parts, so he really could have been "beyond the rim."
    • Doctor Franklin, meanwhile, appears in the series Distant Finale, "Sleeping In Light", so he lives at least as long as Sheridan does - 20 years after Sheridan's trip to Z'Ha'Dum.
    • Canonically, Marcus Cole will most likely outlive his actor, Jason Carter, as in the Expanded Universe, he is a Human Popsicle for a couple of centuries before he is thawed out and goes on one last adventure to finally get his chance to live happily ever after.
    • Michael O'Hare, who played Commander, then Ambassador Sinclair, finally going into the distant past to become Valen, outlived his character by 653 years before dying of a heart attack in September, 2012.
  • When Raymond Burr died in 1993, the writers of the Perry Mason TV movies offered a character played by Paul Sorvino as his replacement, claiming that Perry Mason had "gone on vacation." One snarky television critic offered this as a response: "Yeah, it must have been a permanent one."
  • Dallas had Jock Ewing go on a trip to an oil reserve in South America, in order to keep him alive as long as possible after his actor, Jim Davis (not that one), died. As with Mr. Hooper, his death (which occurred on the return trip) wasn't addressed until some time later.
  • Bill Horton on Days of Our Lives. The 3 previous actors who played the role had all died but that didn't stop them from bringing back the character for his mother's funeral in 2010. The mother (the show's matriarch Alice Horton) was killed off for good because the actress who played her died.
  • By the time BBC Ulster got around to reviving Ballykissangel for its final series, actor Tony Doyle had died. Rather than kill off a main character offscreen (because theirs was a milieu where Death Is Always Big Onscreen Drama) they concocted a bizarre storyline in which his character, Brian Quigley, had become a fugitive from a federal tax evasion charge and had fled to Brazil. If he ever returned to Ireland, he'd spend his retirement in the pokey. When the plug was finally pulled on the programme, Brian was (apparently) still alive and living in Rio, but Tony was still beyond waiting for his cue.
  • A frequent occurrence in sitcoms co-written by David Croft (whether with Jimmy Perry or Jeremy Lloyd):
    • In Are You Being Served?, Arthur Brough, who played senior salesman Mr. Grainger, died in 1978 while preparations were being made for the sixth series (though he had announced his retirement from acting following his wife's death two months before, Lloyd and Croft were hoping to persuade him to return). He was replaced without explanation in-series by the character of Mr. Tebbs. Contrary to popular perception, Brough was the only actor who died before his character was written out of the series.
    • Dad's Army gave Walker a Written-In Absence when actor James Beck was suddenly taken into hospital with pancreatic cancer; Walker leaves a note to explain that he is going up to London to conduct a "business" deal. Beck then died and so Walker never returned, but he was not mentioned again and presumably was still alive off-screen; by the time of later radio sequel It Sticks Out Half a Mile he had returned to Walmington-on-Sea..
    • In It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Michael Bates, who played bearer Rangi Ram, died of cancer in 1978 between Series 5 and 6. The character was written out of the remaining three series.
    • In Hi-de-Hi!, Leslie Dwyer, who played Punch and Judy man Mr. Partridge, died in 1986 between Series 6 and 7. His character was written out in a bizarre and rather tasteless manner; what appeared to be his dead body was found floating in a swimming pool with a knife sticking out of its back, but when the police fished it out it turned out to be a mannequin, and someone eventually found a letter from Mr Partridge explaining that he'd staged his own death and gone to live with a pub landlady in Cornwall. It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context and it wasn't very funny, either. He was replaced by the similar Sammy Morris, played by Kenneth Connor.
    • In 'Allo 'Allo!, Jack Haig, who played forger Roger Leclerc, died of cancer in 1989 toward the end of Series 5. He was written out as having voluntarily returned to prison (finding the food better than that at Cafe Rene) and being replaced by his brother Ernest. (The first actor to play Ernest, Derek Royle, also died after one season, but the role was then recast with the much younger Robin Parkinson.)
  • Rentaghost: Michael Darbyshire, who played Hubert Davenport, died between seasons. Davenport (and Mumford, whose actor did not want to continue in the show with Darbyshire) were written out by having them score permanent jobs haunting a stately home. (Obviously, in this case, the character was already dead, but still outlived the actor in the sense of not "moving on".)
  • Seven Days actor Sam Whipple died of cancer at the age of 41, and so at the beginning of the third and final season of the show, his character, Dr. John Ballard, suddenly retired to a tropical island he had won in a poker game, thus keeping the character alive within the fictional universe even though the actor himself died.
  • The 2003 Porridge Reunion Show, has Ingrid getting a phone call from Lenny Godber explaining he can't make it home; actor Richard Beckinsdale had died in 1979.
  • Kellie Waymire died suddenly in 2003, but apparently, in Star Trek: Enterprise, Crewman Cutler is still alive and well.

    Radio 
  • When Hal Smith, the voice actor for the star of Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey, John Avery "Whit" Whittaker, suddenly died, Whit was sent on an emergency archaeological expedition to the Middle East until a new voice actor (Paul Herlinger) was found. Interestingly, the radio producers made an episode specifically for the occasion, but they wound up broadcasting it before Smith passed away, because they liked the story so much and wanted to finish it without offing Mr. Whittaker. As of 2010; Whit has now outlived two actors. Herlinger retired in 2008 due to declining health (around the same time, Odyssey was temporarily put on hiatus in order to refresh the series) and died in 2010. When the series returned from hiatus, Andre Stojka had taken over as Whit. Coincidentally, both Smith and Stojka had previously been the voice of Owl.

    Video Games 
  • Kōji Totani, the Japanese voice actor of Metal Gear villain Revolver Ocelot, died during the production of Metal Gear Solid 4. As a result, the role was recast to Banjō Ginga (Liquid Snake's Japanese voice), with Liquid Snake's persona having apparently taken complete control of Ocelot's mind as a convenient excuse for the recast. This wasn't much of an issue in the English version, since Ocelot's English voice actor Pat Zimmerman was still alive and reprised the role anyway.
  • The death of Kaneto Shiozawa, the voice actor that played Zato-1 in Guilty Gear, inspired the plot point of having the symbiote that gave him powers completely take over, replete with a new voice actor. This overlaps with The Character Died with Him, as Eddie (the parasite) claimed full control of the body because Milia killed Zato-1.
  • Robin Sachs finished recording his dialogue for Zaeed Massani in the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3 a month before its release, and a special multiplayer event, "Operation: Tribute", was held in his honor.
  • Daisuke Gōri voiced the aged Heihachi Mishima from Tekken 3 to Tekken 6. After Gouri tragically passed on, Heihachi had to be recast for Tekken Tag Tournament 2. In light of this, Namco Bandai decided to make Heihachi young again instead of simply having a new VA for Old Man Heihachi.
  • Likely the fate of Rosa in Assassin's Creed II, who had been a love interest for Ezio but suffered Chuck Cunningham Syndrome after that game since her actress, Lita Tresierra, was killed in a car accident shortly before production began on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Despite the character never appearing in the games again the novelizations for Brotherhood and Revelations say that she eventually took over the Rosa in Fiore from Claudia and became an Italian Assassin leader.
  • Igor in Persona. His Japanese voice actor Isamu Tanonaka died before Persona 4 Arena was completed. In the game and anime adaptation all his lines were unvoiced or used files from older games. A new actor was hired for the role with the announcement of the Persona 3 movie, however.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • After Harry Goz, the voice of Sealab 2021's Captain Murphy, died in 2003, the character left the station to fight in "the Spice Wars". Murphy showed up a decade later in an episode of Archer, now voiced by Jon Hamm.
  • Transformers: After Scatman Crothers fell ill shortly after the Movie, Jazz didn't have any further lines in the show. (However, the focus had moved on from the original cast by that point, and there's no evidence Jazz was ever going to have a more major role post-movie.)
  • Futurama:
    • Happens to Dr McCoy, after a fashion. In "Where No Fan Has Gone Before", the main cast of Star Trek: The Original Series voice themselves, except for James Doohan and DeForest Kelley. While Doohan had simply said he wasn't interested, Kelley had died. As such, Kelley's likeness appears but has no speaking lines. James Doohan may have been uninterested due to his suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Terminal Red Shirt "Welshy" was created (complete with Welsh accent) to be his substitute.
    • Another example: Coleene, Fry's polygamous love interest from the second movie, "Beast With A Billion Backs", who was voice by the sadly departed Brittany Murphy. In the story, Coleene was last seen fully engaged in a relationship with Yivo, the planet-sized tentacly creature from Another Dimension, which gateway was closed off by the end, sealing her status as "presumably still living there with shklim and not going to make any new appearances".
  • The Simpsons:
    • After Phil Hartman died in 1998, Matt Groening had Hartman's characters on, Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure, retired out of respect. The last episode to feature Hartman, "Bart the Mother", which had Troy McClure, aired the following season. Both Hutz and McClure are alive in story and continued to appear in crowd shots, but have never done anything significant. They also appear frequently in the comics, since they don't need to be voiced.
    • This initially happened to Lunchlady Doris as well after Doris Grau's death. Eventually, she started getting voiced appearances again with the help of The Other Darrin, Tress MacNeille.
    • A real problem arose in 2006 when Marge's German voice actress Elisabeth Volkmann died. She had to be replaced to keep the German dub running, but Anke Engelke, another famous TV comedian, sounds nothing like her.
      • Homer's first European Spanish voice, Carlos Revilla, passed away in 2000. To solve this problem, Carlos Ysbert was called in to keep the dub alive.
    • In October 2013 the actress for Ms. Krabappel, Marcia Wallace, sadly died. Matt Groening has said that Edna Krabappel will be retired from the show out of respect for her actress, much like Hutz and McClure. However, thanks to the fact that much of Wallace's voice work for future episodes had already been recorded, this will not actually occur in practice until around the 25th or 26th season. The episode "Four Regrettings and a Funeral", shown on November 3rd, 2013, was dedicated to Wallace.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, rather than phase out Mermaid Man after the death of Ernest Borgnine, the writers decided to just have Joe White, who had filled in for Borgnine a few times before, take over the role.

Character Aged with the ActorCharacters and CastingThe Character Died with Him

alternative title(s): Character Outlives Actor Offscreen; Died On A Bus
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