The Character Died with Him
aka: Actor Existence Failure
"He's out there somewhere... beyond the rim."
on G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas), Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
A sad form of Real Life Writes the Plot
and the Logical Extreme
of Written-In Infirmity
: a character is written out of the show or even (and usually) Killed Off for Real
because the actor has left not just the show
, but the mortal coil itself.
In other words, the Grim Reaper
himself arranges a (obviously long) bus trip
. In these circumstances, don't expect the character to be Put on a Bus to Hell
, but rather an episode directly (and often respectfully) dealing with the death and deceased
This often causes major changes in the cast dynamic. If the character was a big enough part of the show, it could be derailed or even ended altogether. It's usually
seen in Anime, Western Animation
, and Live-Action TV
, but this can happen in film as well if the movie is a series (see Indiana Jones
The inverse is Character Outlives Actor
, when a character is taken out of a show
and is still alive, but the actor has died.
This is a trope, as the event affects the narrative. Contrast Author Existence Failure
which stops the narrative cold. However, outside of the narrative, it may prompt an episode or credits nod In Memoriam
If a voice actor dies (or otherwise stops being available) but the character simply stops having voiced appearances, it's Actor Existence Limbo
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Films — Animated
- Doc Hudson is the only character from the film Cars that did not appear in the film's sequel out of respect for the late Paul Newman. According to the writers, Doc is the first character in the series to be killed off permanently, as implied by the fact that his former medical clinic has been converted into a memorial museum dedicated to this character, as with the trophy Lightning McQueen wins at the very beginning of the film. Fillmore, however, was given a new voice actor for this film due to the death of George Carlin, and Red actually lost his voice altogether due to the death of Joe Ranft.
Films — Live-Action
- Indiana Jones: Marcus Brody, played by Denholm Elliott, did not appear in Crystal Skull due to Elliott's death. A statue honoring Brody, on the Marshall College's grounds, is shown, and the character's death was written into the movie with the death of the actor. Indy also has a picture of him on his desk, showing Brody during The Last Crusade (in a moment when he was lost so how the picture was taken is a bit of a mystery). Next to this photo is one of Sean Connery who is not dead, but has retired from acting.
- Sam Loomis dies offscreen at the end of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers movie due to Donald Pleasence's death.
- Colonel Sam Trautman from the Rambo series died off screen in the fourth movie because Sylvester Stallone felt it wouldn't feel right replacing the late Richard Crenna. As he himself put it: "Trautman died the day my friend Richard died."
- Cab Calloway and John Belushi both died (in 1994 and 1982, respectively), and their characters of Curtis and Jake Blues are said to have died offscreen in Blues Brothers 2000.
- Oliver Reed's character, Proximo, was meant to survive the entire Gladiator movie, but due to the actor's death during filming the character was killed off. Even so it cost the studio $3 million to recreate his face for the remaining scenes he "appeared" in.
- Marty Feldman's character in Yellowbeard was killed off when Feldman died in his hotel room during filming. Near the end of the film, it is arranged that he falls into acid and die. But most shots had already been completed and he plays a baddie, so it isn't really strange or sudden that the character dies. John Cleese dies suddenly at the beginning of the film, but he is still alive. He simply did not like the film.
- The Joker from The Dark Knight was retired after the death of Heath Ledger's death, half out of respect and half out of the fact they knew no other actor was going to top that performance. The Dark Knight Rises makes absolutely no mention of him whatsoever, even though a central plot point was Harvey Dent's Face-Heel Turn that was caused by The Joker. There was a rumor that the Joker was going to have gone to the electric chair in the interim, but that was quickly Jossed.
- Sesame Street:
- When actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, passed away, the producers were faced with the usual options for dealing with loss on a kids' show: cast a new actor or have the character simply leave the show (either with an explanation, such as he retired, or without). Instead, Sesame Street ran an episode where Big Bird understands that Mr. Hooper had died, it was OK to miss him, and that even though life would never be quite the same when someone beloved dies, it will get better. In tribute to him, the portrait Big Bird was going to give him still hangs in his nest to this day, 30 years later.
- One documentary said that the "Mr. Hooper's not coming back" scene was the only scene in Sesame Street history done in a single take because the cast was too emotionally wrecked to do more takes. That the single take captured genuine emotion and showed that grown-ups, too, can feel sad and cry when people they love die, played a huge role in keeping the scene at one take.
- This episode is also notable for not using a Really Dead Montage. The producers thought that it would be too confusing to talk about Mr. Hooper being gone forever while still showing him on screen. (However, several years after Hooper's passing, a "Really Dead Montage" would be played, usually when a newcomer asks about the store or Hooper himself; it was probably determined that enough time had passed and that the audience generally understood that Hooper was no longer with his neighbors and friends.)
- Bonanza: When Dan Blocker unexpectedly died prior to the start of the 1972-1973 season, his character of Hoss Cartwright is never seen again. It is never stated outright, but it is strongly implied that Hoss, too, died ... particularly with Ben's comments in the episode "The Initiation," where he says, "I've already buried one son!"
- Chico And The Man: Chico, although this was not stated until late in Season 4, more than a year after Freddie Prinze's death. Unlike the circumstances surrounding Prinze's death (suicide), Ed explains simply – to Raul, a character who had been brought in to replace Chico – that Chico had died, leaving the cause unknown. Earlier Season 4 episodes stated that Chico was "away."
- The Dukes of Hazzard:
- In the 1997 reunion movie (one which fans consider canon to the original series), Boss Hogg had died several years earlier; this was brought out in a tender, tearjerking scene where Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane – by this time Boss' successor as county commissioner – reflects on Boss' passing. This reflects the real-life death of Sorrell Booke in 1994, more than two years before the reunion movie was filmed.
- In a second reunion movie aired in 2000, Jesse Duke is also acknowledged as deceased, his portrayer, Denver Pyle also having passed on (in 1997, just months after the first reunion movie debuted; it was Pyle's last work, which he did despite being terminally ill with cancer).
- John Ritter:
- 8 Simple Rules' Paul Hennessy, played by John Ritter. Ritter suffered an apparent heart attack while on the set of the show rehearsing, and was rushed across the street to the hospital. Turned out he suffered an aortic dissection, and he died. The character was Killed Off for Real; no specific reason given, he "collapsed while buying milk."
- Ritter's character on Scrubs, Sam Dorian, main character J.D.'s father. The reason given for his death was a massive heart attack.
- The District: Ella Farmer, played by Lynne Thigpen, suddenly died of the cancer the character had been in remission from, when the actress passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage.
- Monk: Stanley Kamel, who played Dr. Charles Kroger, died of a heart attack on April 8, 2008 during the production hiatus between the show's sixth and seventh seasons. It was thus explained in "Mr. Monk Buys a House," the first episode aired after Kamel's death, that Dr. Kroger had died of this as well, rather than try to recast the role. The episode also introduced Hector Elizondo as Dr. Neven Bell to replace the void filled by Kamel's death. The final scene of the episode ends by settling on a photograph of Kamel as Dr. Kroger on Monk's fireplace mantle, and a card saying "In Loving Memory of Stanley Kamel" comes before the end credits.
- Oddly enough, in book form at least, Dr. Kroger actually outlived Stanley Kamel by eight months, as two Monk books by Lee Goldberg, Mr. Monk Goes to Germany and Mr. Monk is Miserable were published respectively in June and December 2008. Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, published in July 2009, was the first novel to feature Dr. Bell instead of Dr. Kroger, establishing its events as taking place during or just after season 7.
- The West Wing: Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer, died shortly before the show's presidential election. One of the producers says that they changed the outcome of the election so it wouldn't be such a downer for Santos to both have his running mate die and lose the election.
- The Waltons: the characters mourned the death of Grandpa Zeb during the first episode of the 1978-79 season, after actor Will Geer died shortly after filming had completed for the previous season.
- Suddenly Susan: Todd Styles, played by David Strickland (the final episode of series 3 was turned into a tribute to the character (and actor)).
- Cheers: Ernie "Coach" Pantusso, played by Nicholas Colasanto, who suddenly perished from a heart attack. He was replaced by Woody.
- Livia Soprano on The Sopranos, who was Killed Off for Real after actress Nancy Marchand's death.
- NewsRadio: After Phil Hartman's death shortly after production wrapped on season 4, his character Bill McNeil suffered a fatal heart attack in the first episode of season 5.
- 1970s British kids' show Inigo Pipkin changed its name to Pipkins when the actor playing the title character died, and the character was killed off with him.
- Doctor Who:
- Donna Noble's father on Doctor Who. He appeared in "Runaway Bride", but due to Howard Attfield's terminal illness and death during filming of "Partners in Crime" , his parts were replaced by Wilfred Mott as Donna's grandfather and Geoff Noble is stated to have died. As a dedication to the actor, the 10th Doctor in his final episode gives Donna's mother, as a wedding gift to Donna, a lottery ticket bought with a quid the Doctor obtained by going back in time offscreen to borrow from "a really lovely man. Geoffrey Noble, his name was."
- Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, as stated in "The Wedding of River Song". In fact, by way of tribute to the only actor to in some form act alongside all seven original series Doctors, the fact that The Character Died With Him is a crucial plot point in the episode — it is the Brigadier's death that gets the Doctor to stop running and face his fate in Utah. The character has since been mentioned a few times, the Brigadier's legacy upheld by his daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, a leader in UNIT just like her father. The Brig is unusual about this, in that he technically outlived his actors by years, but were still established as dead years down the line - the Brigadier apparently lived to the ripe old age of 150, decades longer than Nicholas Courtney. This is justified thanks to the Time Travel aspect of having the Doctor learn directly of their deaths later on and reeling from them.
- Dr. Harry Sullivan, brief companion with the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, when Sarah Jane mentions some of the Doctor's old companions' present exploits in Death of the Doctor. It isn't spelled out, but he is mentioned in the past tense while the rest of them are mentioned in the present.
- Averted with Barbara Wright. In that same episode, Sarah Jane mentions that Barbara and Ian are married, still teaching, and haven't aged since The Sixties. This episode aired in 2010. Barbara's actress, Jacqueline Hill, died in 1993.
- Oddly enough, inverted by The Master. Before Roger Delgado's untimely death in a car accident, there were plans to have his character Killed Off for Real in a final showdown with the Doctor. He later reappeared as a withered husk (later acknowledged as the same incarnation) played by Peter Pratt and then Geoffrey Beevers, before taking over the body of Tremas of Traken, played by Anthony Ainley, who would portray him for the remainder of the original series' run. Ainley himself died less than a year before the series returned to TV, and in 2007 the character returned, initially played by Derek Jacobi and then John Simm.
- Barney Miller: When Jack Soo (who portrayed Nick Yemana) passed away, a Clip Show episode was made as a tribute to him (with the cast breaking character for this occasion). Some time later, it was mentioned that Nick had passed on and his desk had been removed.
- Last of the Summer Wine:
- When Bill Owen died, the character of Compo also passed away, allowing for a funeral arc (and more than a little grieving for the country as a whole).
- Happened with most of the other characters as well. It would never be stated that they had died, but everyone else would start referring to them in the past tense.
- Gimme a Break!: After Dolph Sweet (Chief Kanisky) died of cancer, the season five opener had the family dealing with the Chief's sudden death.
- Redd Foxx died after only seven episodes of The Royal Family, resulting in Al Royal's death and the introduction of their eldest daughter Coco (Jackée Harry) to help cope with the loss.
- Only Fools and Horses:
- When Lennard Pearce died, they decided to kill off his character, Granddad (off-screen, of course). Thus the first episode made after Pearce's death begins with Granddad's funeral.
- The same happened with Uncle Albert after the death of Buster Merryfield. Although Albert died during the episode, with the first scene explaining that he hadn't joined them in the Caribbean because it had turned out the great sailor didn't have a passport.
- While Law & Order prime was not affected by Jerry Orbach's death, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, the show to which Lennie Briscoe was transplanted, was hit early by Briscoe's death (the main show did have a tribute episode).
- The Wire:
- Detective Ray Cole was played by beloved producer Robert F. Colesberry, who passed away during the show's run. The character gets a meaningful funeral, which takes on a whole new level of depth when you know the Reality Subtext.
- The same thing was done after the death of Richard DeAngelis, who played Major Foerster.
- Hill Street Blues: When Michael Conrad died, his character of Sgt. Esterhaus was written as having died of a heart attack during sex.
- Mad Men : Pete Campbell's dad was killed off in the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 early in the second season. In reality, Christopher Allport had died in an avalanche.
- Don S. Davis, General Hammond on Stargate SG-1 for 7 seasons, died a few years after he officially retired from the show. In the series finale of Stargate Atlantis, which is dedicated to Davis' memory, Carter mentions that Hammond had died of a heart attack off-screen, directly referencing Davis' actual cause of death. She also mentions that Earth's newest interstellar warship, then under construction, would be renamed in his honor. The completed ship later appears in the premiere episode of Stargate Universe.
- Colleen Dewhurst:
- Due to Colleen Dewhurst's death, Marilla Cuthbert dies near the end of the Road To Avonlea series.
- Dewhurst's character on Murphy Brown, Avery Brown, mother of Murphy, dies. It occurred early in the season where Murphy becomes pregnant. Murphy's son was named Avery in her memory.
- A rare double case occurred on the series 15/Love, where two main characters were killed off in one heartbreaking episode because of the (very) young actors' deaths in the same car accident.
- 80's sitcom Night Court had it twice:
- Original cast member Selma Diamond, who played bailiff Selma, died after the first two seasons so her character was also written off as deceased.
- The succeeding bailiff was Florence, played by Florence Halop; but Halop passed away after one season and thus her character shared the same fate. Not surprising considering the ages of both actresses. In fact, there were whispers and jokes that both actresses had fallen prey to some sort of "Night Court curse" and this is said to be one of the reasons that series creator and executive producer Reinhold Weege decided not to bring in a third elderly actress and instead replaced Halop with Marsha Warfield, who was only 32 when she began playing Roz Russell. The producers knew Florence Halop would not be around for Season 4; the ep "Flo's Retirement" was their way of prepping viewers for this.
- In a soap opera this is one of the only occasions when you know a character is NOT coming back from the dead (regardless of whether they ever found the body), although this is usually reserved for elderly actors who have played the role for so long that it would be impossible, if not outright disrespectful, to re-cast the part.
- A very touching example occurred on One Life to Live. NYPD officer John W. Perry had frequently appeared on the show as an extra before he was killed in the September 11th attacks. A year later, Commissioner Bo Buchanan was seen looking at John's picture and sadly musing, "I can't believe it's been a year" (it's not hard to believe that Robert Woods, who played Bo, didn't have to do much acting to convey his grief). The in-universe story was that Perry had been visiting New York on that day (the show is set in Pennsylvania), but had died as he had in Real Life—rushing down to the Trade Center to help, but killed when the South Tower collapsed. It was very well-handled, especially for an entertainment genre that had struggled over how or if to acknowledge the tragedy onscreen.
- On General Hospital, Anna Lee died in 2004. Her character. Lila Quartermaine, died in her sleep. In 2012, John Ingle died. Edward Quartermaine died of a heart condition. His last word before passing: The name of his beloved wife, Lila
- Then there's All My Children: Erica's mother Mona developed lung cancer the same time that her actress, Frances Helfin did, and later succumbed to it.
- Coronation Street actress Betty Driver died aged 91, so her character Betty Williams was killed off as well. This has happened several times in Coronation Street: Jack Walker, Jerry Booth, Albert Tatlock, Stan Ogden, Bert Tilsley, Blanche Hunt. Elsie Tanner and Christine Hardman were both mentioned as having died several years after they left the show and Annie Walker is talked about in the past tense.
- This was done on Days of Our Lives when the last remaining original cast member, Frances Reid (who played matriarch Alice Horton), passed away.
- When long-running soap As the World Turns was canceled in 2010, writers had planned to have the show's matriarch, Nancy Hughes — who had spoken the show's first line when it debuted in 1956 — also speak the final lines. However when 91-year old actress Helen Wagner, who'd played Nancy from the beginning, died a few weeks before the final episode was scheduled to be filmed, the plan was scrapped, and Nancy was said to have died, with other characters memorializing her onscreen.
- Love and War: John Hancock, who played bartender Ike Johnson, died halfway through the first season. The other characters are shown attending Ike's funeral. Ike was replaced by his brother Abe, played by Charlie Robinson, who inherited Ike's share of the bar.
- Joan, the first wife/biological mom of the kids in Eight Is Enough. Actress Diana Hyland appeared only in four episodes before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Joan was written out of the rest of the season and Hyland died twelve days after the first episode aired. When season two aired, it was revealed that Joan had died.
- Highlander: The Series: Werner Stocker, the German actor who played the monk Darius, died of cancer. This resulted in Darius being murdered. The episode dealing with Darius' murder was filmed after his death, but used some of the footage of the character that the studio had available spliced in. This also radically changed the direction of the entire show as both the "Watchers" and "Hunters" were created as writers scrambled to re-write the first season finale without him.
- Unlike All in the Family, on the original British show Till Death Us Do Part the demise of the protagonist's wife Elsie - when it transformed into In Sickness And In Health - was due to the genuine demise of actress Dandy Nicholls.
- When Norman Beaton died, the show Desmond's was replaced by a Spin-Off about secondary character Porkpie. The first episode begins with him consoling Desmond's widow.
- In a strange view of this trope, the character Doyle was supposed to come Back from the Dead but this became impossible when the actor playing him died of a drug overdose.
- Following Andy Hallet's death, his character, Lorne, was retired in a self-titled, one-shot comic.
- Aunt Ginny in The Middle died along with Frances Bay, the actress. "The Map", an episode that began with the Hecks coming home from Ginny's funeral, ended with an In Memoriam to her.
- The early seasons of Smallville had Dr. Virgil Swann, played by Christopher Reeve. After Reeve's death in 2004, Swann was mentioned as dying sometime in between the events of the show's third and fourth seasons.
- After the death of Larry Hagman, his character was shot off screen.
- With the death of Jim Davis, the second to last episode of season 2 of the revival was more or less a tribute to JR.
- The first episode of the UK version of Fraggle Rock after the death of Fulton Mackay opened with the Captain's nephew PK taking responsibility for both the lighthouse and Sprocket after his uncle's death.
- When Glee actor Cory Monteith died from an overdose, it was decided that his character would also pass away. Creator Ryan Murphy worked together with Lea Michele, Monteith's real life girlfriend, on a memorial episode. The episode "The Quarterback" focused on how Finn's family and friends and everyone he knew coped with the loss. The show preferred not to say how Finn died because, in Kurt's words, his life was more important than the moment of his death.
- Old Nan in Game of Thrones was obliquely treated as having died after Margaret John's death, though it was never actually spelled out in the show.
- NCIS, Ralph Waite, who played Gibbs' father, died in February of 2014. In the season finale, Gibbs is told that his father died of a stroke and then had Gibbs coming to terms with it as a side plot. The episode is dedicated to the memory of Ralph Waite.
- Lee Thompson Young's death happened near the end of season 4 of Rizzoli & Isles, with no time to do more than write his character, Detective Barry Frost, out of the last episode of the season. The second episode of season 5 will focus on the death of his character.
- A rare non-actor version of this once occurred in the classic adventure strip Terry and the Pirates. The wisecracking Ace Pilot Dude Hennick was based on a Real Life friend of Terry's creator, Milton Caniff, named Frank Higgs. Higgs, like Dude, flew on relief efforts for wartorn China in the years leading up America's entry into World War II. Dude had not been seen on the strip in years when, on a Christmas Day, 1945 strip, Caniff spoke directly to the reader, revealing Dude had been based on Higgs... and that Higgs died in a plane crash. "I know today you're probably thinking of your own 'good Joe' who didn't get to see this Christmas, but if you liked Dude, I hope you'll spare a thought for Higgs. Dude died when he did."
- Invoked but ultimately averted with Doonesbury's Uncle Duke after the death of Hunter S. Thompson. When Duke reads the news of Thompson's passing, his head immediately explodes, only to reappear so that he can make sure he didn't misread the story. After Duke confirms the story, his head promptly explodes again. For the remainder of that week, Duke descends into a bizarre, probably drug-fuled series of Ralph Steadman-inspired hallucinations. Considering who was being paid tribute, this actually seems more appropriate. Ironically, this probably would have pissed Thompson off - he hated Uncle Duke.
- This has happened numerous times on The Archers, as it is such a Long Runner that actors are often in it for long enough to become elderly. Usually the death is offstage, but relatively soon after the actor's own death; a notable exception was Nelson Gabriel's death, which occurred after the character had been a tax exile for some time, still talked about by the other characters but not appearing.
- After Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack, his characters on Dragnet and One Man's Family were written out of their respective stories (Dragnet's Romero even dying of an offscreen heart attack).
- The As Told by Ginger episode "No Hope for Courtney'' was rewritten mid-production after the death of Kathleen Freeman so that her character Ms. Gordon would be dead as well.
- On Family Guy, Peter's mother Thelma died following the death of Phyllis Diller.
- In The Simpsons episode The Man Who Grew Too Much, Edna Krabappel was stated to have died following the death of Marcia Wallace. After Ned Flander's dream about him and Edna doing the tango, he looks at the picture of Edna and remarks sadly, "I sure do miss that laugh." Nelson the School bully replies "Ha-ha! I miss her, too."