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Actor Existence Limbo

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"She's not actually in this episode. Do we still have to pay her?"
Sardonyx, referencing Sugilite (Nicki Minaj), Steven Universe, "Know Your Fusion"

Acting and voice acting can be a fickle thing, but sometimes what can be simply corrected with The Other Darrin will not be possible; we call that the Actor Existence Limbo.

Actor Existence Limbo is when a voice actor worked on a series, but an incident caused the voice actor to be missing in action. Rather than replacing the VA, they make the character role unvoiced. So if that character is part of a piece of media that requires voice acting, reused lines from previous appearances would be possible at best. If the media were a video game, then said character would likely be an NPC if reused lines aren't enough.

One of the reasons why an actor will be placed in limbo rather than replacing them is due to potential of bad publicity. Affairs can be called out by the press, possible grudges can happen between both sides. Simply put, an AEL can be harmful to those who enjoyed the actor.

When the character is plain killed off due to the Actor Existence Limbo becoming too much, it becomes a case of Actor Leaves, Character Dies. When the network does this, it is a Role-Ending Misdemeanor. See also Demoted to Extra and Fake Shemp.


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  • In 2011, after Gilbert Gottfried was fired for making insensitive remarks about Japan, the Aflac duck, whose annoying voice as he quacks out "AFLAAAAAC!" is pretty much his whole shtick, was in trouble, right? Wrong! The next ad with him was filmed in Silent Movie style. The ad ends with the duck hit by a train, oh no! ...but then we see him harmlessly stuck to its front. The whole thing was pretty much a Lampshade Hanging - he was silenced for the time being, and thought to be gone, but it's not over yet! He got his voice back when Dan McKeague took over.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Crayon Shin-chan, Buriburizaemon was reduced to cameo appearances after his voice actor died in 2000. It would not be until 2016, in Episode 894-2, that Buriburizaemon would finally regain a speaking role, now voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya.
  • This trope is the reason Sayla Mass is largely absent from Universal Century Gundam series' after the original, despite being the daughter of Zeon Deikun, Char's sister and Amuro's close friend. Her VA You Inoue was unavailable for both Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack, leaving Sayla with only a brief role in ZZ Gundam and a brief cameo in Zeta. It wasn't until the Prequel Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, when the role was recast, that Sayla had a major animated role again.
  • For Pokémon Journeys: The Series, May/Haruka wound up falling into this due to her Japanese voice actor KAORI suffering from vocal health issues that prevented her from returning. As a result when Ash's other female companions return to the show, she's glaringly absent outside of archive footage and a voiceless cameo during Ash's fight with Leon.
  • In Season 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, Specter's seiyuu was busy with theater work to record lines, resulting in Specter never speaking until the very end of the series.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who had a mild case of this with Sarah Sutton, who played Nyssa. Originally, she was not intended to be a long-term companion, and so was hired on a serial-to-serial basis. When it became clear that Sutton was going to be a longer-term player, her contracts had to be renegotiated, leading to her having to sit out "Kinda" while all the legalities were hammered out. Her absence from the serial was explained by Nyssa falling into a sudden coma.
  • When Hartley Sawyer was fired from The Flash (2014), his character of Elongated Man was reduced to a half-melted blob with a text-to-speech voice to wait out the possibility of a new actor taking the part.
  • The very rare case of a TV production team willing to wait out Actor Existence Limbo is the reason Spartacus: Blood and Sand has a prequel in place of its second season. The lead actor of the show, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with cancer and the chemotherapy understandably made it impossible for him to portray his muscle-packed character for a while, so they filmed the backstory of all the other characters before Spartacus was forced to join the gladiator school. Unfortunately, the therapy didn't take, leading to the protagonist being recast for the rest of the show.


    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppets:
    • Rowlf was for years unvoiced in movies and TV specials (or only made small grunts or laughs) after Jim Henson's death since it was thought that he was the character that most resembled Henson.
    • Jim Henson's Dr. Teeth and fellow Muppeteer Richard Hunt's Scooter and Janice were in the same boat for the longest time as well.
    • After Steve Whitmire was fired, Matt Vogel took over Kermit; Eric Jacobson took over the Newsman; David Rudman, who has performed many of Richard Hunt's roles for the past decade, took over Beaker; Peter Linz took on Statler, Lips, and Link Hogthrob; and Frankie Cordero (with John Tartaglia doing the puppetry) took over Wembley of Fraggle Rock for the Rock On! miniseries. They have yet to find new performers for his other two notable Muppet roles, Rizzo the Rat and Bean Bunny.
  • Sesame Street:
    • This was the case for many of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt's characters. on the show. Ernie didn't start reappearing in new material until three years after the former's death (with Steve Whitmire likewise taking over the role) and other characters like Guy Smiley and Gladys the Cow have only recently started appearing with speaking roles again, with Eric Jacobson taking over Guy Smiley in 2005 and Jennifer Barnhart taking over Gladys 3 years earlier.
    • The Elmo's World segments had Mister Noodle's brother, played by Michael Jeter, suffer from this due to his fatal seizure. As a result, the character wouldn't appear again until 14 years later, when Elmo's World got rebooted.
    • Joey Mazzarino left the show in 2015, causing Murray Monster and Horatio the Elephant to be sidelined. Horatio would eventually return in 2019, now puppeteered by Tyler Bunch (with Peter Linz doing the voice for his one line in Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary Celebration). They have yet to find a new performer for Murray (with some sources saying that Sesame Workshop has no plans to recast Murray).

  • When Earle Graser, who played The Lone Ranger on radio, was killed in a car accident in 1941, Brace Beemer was almost immediately picked by the show's producers to replace him. Since Beemer's voice was quite different to Glaser's, a story was quickly written in which the Lone Ranger spent five episodes recovering from serious gunshot wounds and unable to speak, so that listeners would either not notice the change in voice or put it down to the injuries.

  • After a popular player named Blue622 passed away in 2020, NoPixel's dev team paid tribute to him by adding some code that turned his character Boe Jangles into a permanent NPC stationed in front of the character's house, smoking a joint.

  • In the Tsukiuta stage play series and its spinoffs, the characters often make guest appearances in each others' series - for example, five Tsukista members appeared in SQS episode 4, as did most of Alivestage, and Tsukista episode 12 also featured 5 SQS members. They usually give some excuse regarding why their friends are busy, and what they're off doing — SQS Episode 4, the sequel to Tsukista's Space Opera AU, has a fantastic scene of Haru and Shun losing it over how much they miss Hajime. But why not the whole cast? It's almost never for plot reasons. Sometimes, it's because one actor is leaving and the next hasn't yet debuted — they wouldn't want an actor's first or last appearance to be as a guest. But sometimes, they're just busy. The first Machine Elements stage play was rescheduled due to COVID, and Aoi (Tatsuki Jonin) was originally supposed to appear in it, but when it was rescheduled, he was busy. Likewise, when the second Identity V stage play from the same producer was rescheduled due to Covid, Freddy Riley and Mike Morton didn't appear because their actors (Toshihiko Tanaka and Keita Seto) were in the second Machine Elements stage play at the same time. Occasionally, unavailable actors will appear in a pre-recorded video segment — Nozomu (Chiharu Sawashiro) in SQS Episode 4, and Shiki (Sho Higano), a main cast member, in SQS Episode 5.

    Video Games 
  • AkaSeka and 100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams, from the same publisher, left new versions of Yuichiro Umehara's characters Ono no Imoko and Hinoto, respectively, unvoiced while he was on hiatus due to illness.
    • This hit the two games again with the death of Keiji Fujiwara in 2020, affecting his characters Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Martin respectively.
  • Murphy Guyer didn't return for Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, and Ammon Jerro suddenly became an unvoiced NPC.
  • Bill from Left 4 Dead was killed off in the second game's DLC, since his VA was unavailable for nearly a year. Bill was also not voiced for the Crash Course DLC due to having no time left to record lines for the character since the DLC was so close to release. Zoey, Francis, and Louis all have new lines while Bill just reuses lines that were in the game before the DLC.
  • The Japanese voice of Final Fantasy VII's Reno, Keiji Fujiwara, passed away in 2020, which was a few days after the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, but before the development team could record the Japanese audio for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. The team didn't want to immediately recast the character, which left Reno without a voice actor. Out of respect for Fujiwara, archived audio of Reno's past appearances would be used for Rebirth (though this subsequently reduced his role in the game).
  • Gundam:
  • Due to Chikao Ohtsuka's death in 2015, Aletheia of Granblue Fantasy hasn't made any major appearances in events or received a 5★ upgrade out of respect for him. Aletheia did appear in the Glorybringer quest in 2018, but the audio used for the characters appearing in the quest were purely short voice clips, possibly reused.
  • Subverted with Guilty Gear: when Zato-1's voice actor Kaneto Shiozawa passed away, the character remained in the series... technically. Zato-1 was losing control of his body to a sentient parasite named Eddie (voiced by Takehito Koyasu in the XX series), who continued to use his body and appear under that name after Zato's death. The character is referred to again as Zato-1 in Guilty Gear Xrd, due to Zato being revived between games by the Big Bad Triumvirate of the first installment, -SIGN-, though both Zato and Eddie are now voiced by Koyasu.
  • This happened multiple times with the Japanese voice cast of Kingdom Hearts III, and for different reasons.
    • Ichirō Nagai, who voiced Philoctetes, died of a heart attack in January 2014. He was given a non-speaking role worldwide.
    • Pierre Taki, who voiced Olaf, was arrested for cocaine use... after the game was already released. Because of the Japanese cultural expectation that actors guilty of drug-related charges be removed from works wherever possible, Olaf's lines were dubbed over by Shunsuke Takeuchi in an update patch. This only impacted the Japanese version, however.
  • Metal Gear:
  • Isamu Tanonaka, the voice of Igor in Persona 3 and Persona 4, died in 2010 due to myocardial infarction. To work around his death, they re-used his previously recorded lines in Persona 4 for The Animation in 2011 and Persona 4: Arena, with the character being absent from Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and being replaced with Elizabeth and Margaret, based on the player's path. He was seemingly recast for Persona 5 with Masane Tsukayama, only for the new Igor to be revealed to be an impostor who had captured the real Igor, still voiced by Tanonaka's old recordings.
  • Ulf Andersson, the voice of Wolf in PAYDAY 2, damaged his vocal cords while recording a Christmas carol for the game in late 2014. The recovery process took about a year, during which he announced he would be leaving Starbreeze Studios to found a new company. Edited versions of his existing lines were used any time an update added content that required more dialogue.
  • Super Robot Wars has an extensive recorded voice banks that they could re-use, even if said voice actor was to pass away (as was the case of Hirotaka Suzuoki and Banjou Haran). However, in some cases, even if the actor is still alive, they just opted not to use them for various reason. Most notable of this case would be series starring Akira Kamiya, which has been a staple in earlier titles and '70-'80s anime. Since Kamiya has generally retired and also admitted that he has strained his throat for doing a lot of Hot-Blooded Kiai in the past that he couldn't record new ones (but still could come back for roles that don't require him to do so, like Ryo Saeba), not to mention that his legendary status means that pulling him out of retirement will cost a very expensive price tag and latter Super Robot Wars titles practically mandate voice acting, Bandai Namco worked around this by not including anime that starred him (they actually could if they want, but the official reason from Takanobu Terada which was agreed by Akira Kamiya himself was that 'It's simply not the time yet.'), such as Raideen, Daimos, Gaiking, Dangaioh, and in the case of the '70s Getter Robo TV Show, they just used the cast in Getter Robo Armageddon (with Ryouma being voiced by Hideo Ishikawa) as the staple form of Getter ever since Super Robot Wars Z 2 onwards. When some of those anime series ended up appearing in Super Robot Wars X-Ω, the pilots over there were left unvoiced, causing them to suffer from Power Creep when more powerful attacks accompanied by voice acting became available for other units.
  • Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate could not use an English voice for Cloud Strife because his then-current voice actor, Steve Burton, was the only one legally allowed to voice the character in English, but the game's dub was a non-union project, and his contract specifically barred him from working under a pseudonym or going uncredited (as was the case with the actors playing, for example, Pit or Lucina). As a result, the games use Cloud's Japanese voice in every version; Burton indicated that he was never even contacted. This also extended to Sephiroth, possibly for similar reasons.

    Western Animation 
  • Due to having numerous Celebrity Voice Actors, The Batman reduced many villains to non-speaking roles after their debut episodes. Poison Ivy, however, was featured prominently in a two-parter without any lines at all.
  • BoJack Horseman: Abe D'Catfish, a minor character brought in after Kelsey's firing from Secretariat 's biopic, featured Garry Marshall as his VA for a Casting Gag/Self-Deprecation nod by playing a hack director and a stand-in of how watered down the once gritty project had become. Early season 3 deals with its premiere in film festivals, but Marshall passed away before recording could begin. Now what? How about having his last cameo in a No-Dialogue Episode set in his native Pacific Ocean City with bubbles muffling his speech? That'll do it!
  • After already being replaced once, Valmont in Jackie Chan Adventures is reduced to a pair of nonspeaking cameos in Season Five.
  • The Simpsons:
    • After Phil Hartman's death in 1998, his characters Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure were reduced to cameos in group shots. However, Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz both continue to appear regularly in the comics, since a voice actor is not necessary.
    • After Doris Grau's death in 1995, Lunchlady Doris also became a mute background character, until 2006 when she returned, voiced by Tress MacNeille.
    • Same thing happened to Mrs Krabappel when Marcia Wallace died in 2013, but eventually The Character Died With Her.
    • Following Maggie Roswell walking out over a pay dispute in 1999, most of her characters were given to Marcia Mitzman Gaven. However, Luann Van Houten (Milhouse's mother) instead became completely silent until 2004.
  • A coincidental example in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Before Mako's passing, several episodes were written in the first half of Season 3 where Iroh was imprisoned and largely silent, which wound up serendipitously working out. His replacement actor Greg Baldwin briefly voiced a few lines in Season 2 to get viewers used to his new voice before the character fully returned later, and Greg does a good enough impression of Mako that those not in the know might not even have noticed (it helps that he was a self-taught Mako understudy before the latter's death).
  • Jazz and Cliffjumper stopped appearing in The Transformers when Scatman Crothers fell ill and Casey Kasem quit. What made their disappearances ironic is that they were two of the very few season one characters who survived the movie.
  • The cast of Star Trek: The Original Series, minus James Doohan, appeared in the Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before," but since DeForest Kelley had died, he had no lines.
  • After its cancellation by Fox and resurrection by TBS, Mike Barker left American Dad! over "creative differences." Since then, while Terry Bates still appears in the show, he has not spoken a line since Season 12, Episode 3. Eventually he's Put on a Bus, leaving Greg to follow a tour across the country.
  • In Steven Universe, fusions tend to be voiced by famous singers, such as Nicki Minaj and Aimee Mann. Due to the obvious difficulty in getting characters voiced by people in a field known for constantly traveling to be recurring characters (as well as the potential salary issues involved), fusions are rarely used despite their many abilities, and are often silent outside their first appearance, such as in the case of Opal, who was silent from her debut until the movie, almost six years later. This receives a Lampshade Hanging in "Know Your Fusion", where Sardonyx actually breaks the fourth wall to ask if they'll have to pay "her" for using recycled sound bites from Sugilite's previous appearance.
  • On Cyberchase, Slider's father Coop was voiced by Tony Hawk in "Measure For Measure". Subsequent episodes have the character silent, mostly because he appears in cameos, and they wouldn't get a big name like him for a brief cameo in a Canadian show.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: The voice actress for Trixie Tang — Dionne Quan — retired prior to Season 9, which has resulted in Trixie at best being occasionally seen in background shots, but not voiced.
  • Arthur:
    • Sue Ellen had no speaking roles for the entirety of Season 9 due to the departure of her original voice actress, Patricia Rodriguez. She was replaced by Jessica Kardos for the remainder of the series.
    • Nemo, Francine’s cat, had almost no speaking roles after Season 19 due to the passing of voice actor Greg Kramer in 2013. The season finale “The Last Day”, Kramer's final performance, was dedicated to him. His only speaking role after this (and only his second appearance at all) was in the special "An Arthur Thanksgiving", in which he was voiced by Tony Daniels.
    • Principal Haney also gets written out following the death of his voice actor Walter Massey in 2014. The show’s writers likely felt recasting him would be in bad taste. Season 19’s opening episode “Brain Sees Stars” was dedicated to him.
  • Sofia the First: Grand Mum appears in the series finale after her voice actress Florence Henderson's death but has no lines.
  • DC Super Hero Girls has a large cast of characters and episodes usually running for 2-4 minutes. It's because of this that not every character will speak when they appear. Some standout examples include Wonder Woman's Hero Of The Month episode (which has the distinction of being the only HOTM episode where the honored hero doesn't speak), "Ha Ha Horticulture" (everyone at school that's not Harley and Ivy falls asleep due to Ivy's plant serum going wrong, but Principal Waller is the only person who speaks when waking up), and "Mood Ring" (of the eight characters affected by Star Sapphire's broken Violet Lantern ring, only Batgirl, Harley, and Grodd speak).
  • Justice League Action follows this idea the same way DC Superhero Girls does. For example, of Zatanna's nine appearances in the series (including the shorts), she only speaks in four of them. One short had Batman being controlled by Poison Ivy and another episode had him captured by the Joker, but he doesn't get a single line in either case.
  • Wally West, The Flash III and one of the Justice League's founders and a major character throughout the series, is reduced to a silent background character during the third season due to his voice actor Michael Rosenbaum being busy with Smallville while season 3 was having its voice work recorded. Rosenbaum was able to finish his work on Smallville in time to allow the Flash to resume his usual position in time for season 4.
  • On SpongeBob SquarePants, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy have been reduced to appearing on pictures and as toys since season 9 due to the death of Ernest Borgnine (Mermaid Man) in 2012 and Tim Conway (Barnacle Boy) suffering from dementia a few years later before passing away in 2019 and Stephen Hillenburg's wishes being that the two not be replaced by soundalikes. Grandma SquarePants would similarly be relegated to voiceless cameos after Marion Ross retired from acting.
  • After Goofy's voice actor Pinto Colvig left the Disney studio in the late 1930s, the film-makers needed to come up with a quick solution to hide the character's voicelessness before finding a replacement. They did this by creating an entire series around a world of mute Goofy look-alikes performing everyday tasks, while a narrator (voiced by John McLeish) explained what the characters were doing to the audience. The How to... shorts went on to become the most famous of all the Goofy series and continued even after Colvig returned to voice the character in the mid-1940s.
  • On October 21, 2016, comedian Kevin Meaney had a fatal heart attack while alone in his house. This created a problem when Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling entered production, as the special was going to feature cameos from various characters that existed throughout the original show's run, including Meaney's character Widow Hutchison. In the final special, Widow appears unvoiced during a crowd shot with other minor characters at the premiere of the revival of The Fatheads.
  • During the Spider Island story arc of Marvel's Spider-Man, Laura Bailey lost her voice for a week when she got sick. As such, even though her character Gwen Stacy appears in all 5 parts of the special spending most of it as a mutated spider creature, she only speaks in parts 1-2 and the beginning of part 3.
    • The season 3 episode "Generations" shows that the Chameleon disguised himself as Anya's stepsister Maria, but due to how he's normally voiced by Patton Oswalt and was unavailable, when he's disguised as her, she has the same voice actress as her.
  • The Adventure Time: Distant Lands special "Together Again" had Death appear unvoiced because production on the special started after the death of his voice actor Miguel Ferrer.
  • Looney Tunes: After Elmer Fudd's voice actor Arthur Q. Bryan died in 1959, he was initially replaced by Hal Smith, whose voice sounded too different. As a result, Elmer would be completely silent in his final appearance, 1962's Crow's Feat.
  • Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi: Yoda does not speak in any of his appearances. This is likely due to Yoda's usual voice actor Tom Kane having retired from voice acting in 2020 following a debilitating stroke, and his movie actor Frank Oz being either unavailable or too expensive.note 

     In-Universe Examples 
  • In Player Two Start, after Nicole Sullivan dies on board American Airlines Flight 11, her character in the Nicktoon Sam & Kira becomes permanently mute during the show's final season.