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"Somewhere out there is a man who committed two murders: one of them was a woman, the other one my memory of her."

"Why has she killed herself? The movie does not supply that sensible question with an answer, and so I will supply one: Katie Chandler killed herself so that she could be cremated and her ashes could be used as a prop in this movie."
Roger Ebert on Stealing Home (1988)
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A character, dead from the start or killed very early in a work, who is either depicted as The Ghost (not literally) or developed entirely via flashbacks. May make heavy use of Posthumous Narration. Averts We Hardly Knew Ye. Video Wills, Apocalyptic Logs, Troubled Backstory Flashbacks, suicide notes, and mention by other characters on what he or she was like may help.

Expect them to appear in a Happier Home Movie, which the protagonist will watch over and over until he realizes It's All Junk.

The Afterlife may be used as a Framing Device.

The Lost Lenore is often such a character. Undead characters and spirits don't count: the effect should be that, despite a character being dead and absent from the present, they still have as large a part in what's going on as the rest of the characters. At the very least, the viewer should get to know the character surprisingly well despite not being physically present.

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Generally this character's demise is a Plot-Triggering Death. Compare with Dead Star Walking, Dead All Along, and Dead to Begin With. Contrast with Forgotten Fallen Friend. See also Death by Origin Story, which can sometimes overlap, if the origin story is a flashback. The Predecessor Villain is often a specific type of Posthumous Character. Greater-Scope Villain can be a villain version of this trope, depending on how it's used. Starts with Their Funeral can lead to this trope if the dead character is shown in flashbacks. An Impersonation-Exclusive Character will often be one of these.


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    Comic Books 
  • Natalia Wilford and Leon Kronski in the first Blacksad album. The entire plot of said album revolves around Blacksad tracking down Natalia's killer and avenging her death.
  • Jen of Black Science dies in the first few pages of the first book, but subsequent flashbacks to the lab flesh her character out a bit.
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color: Clémentine, who is dead at the start of the story. Emma reads the diary she left for her to start things off, which shows how they met years before.
  • This type of character is a staple of superhero comics. Examples from The DCU:
    • Jor-El, Lara, and most other Kryptonians in the Superman mythos. Jonathan and Martha Kent also fit the trope pre-Crisis.
    • Supergirl's parents Zor-El and Allura In-Ze. Supergirl often feels Survivor Guilt because she survived but her parents didn't.
    • Batman's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.
    • Abin-Sur, the Green Lantern who bequeathed his ring to Hal Jordan.
    • A borderline case: The Flash when Barry Allen died and his protege Wally "Kid Flash" West took up the mantle. Barry was shown in flashbacks many times over the years, had new stories written entirely about him in his heyday and, because he and Wally are both time travellers, he's popped up in several present-day stories. All this before he finally came back from the dead decades later.
    • Robin/Red Hood Jason Todd's parents, Catherine and Willis Todd, were deceased by the time he ran into Batman Post-Crisis.
    • The Comedian in Watchmen, dead on page one. Literally the first thing you see is his blood. Most of the Minutemen, for that matter.
    • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Paula von Gunther's husband Gottfried von Gunther was killed in front of her by the Nazis when she refused to work for them, with the threat that her little daughter Gerta would be next if she didn't cave. By the time she and Diana met she'd been working for the Nazis so long she'd gone from numb to enjoying inflicting pain.
    • In Wonder Woman Vol 2 and Vol 3 Diana's aunt Antiope's long ago defection from the main branch of Amazons, and subsequent death, are very important to the tale as her sister still mourns her loss and as Antiope founded the Amazons of Bana-Mighdall who end up rejoining the Amazons of Themyscira after Wonder Woman comes across them.
    • The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016): Antiope is around to watch her niece Diana grow up, but Penthesiliea is brought to the comics from the mythology only to die in antiquity against Greek heroes (though a different set than those who killed her in her famous mythological death) leaving Hippolyta with lingering guilt for having temporarily left the Amazons during the time Penthesiliea was killed.
    • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: Helen died thousands of years ago, but the story of her life is retold and her bloodline is central to the plot. Her spirit also helps out the characters by revealing itself acting out events from her own life.
  • The Disney Ducks Comic Universe has Never Say "Die" in full effect, but there are a few characters that can be assumed dead from context.
    • Humperdink Duck, Grandma Duck's husband and Donald Duck's grandfather, is most likely dead, as his wife currently lives without him, and most of the family rarely bring him up.
    • Cornelius Coot, the founder of Duckburg, is memorialized in a giant statue, and everyone speaks of him in past tense. Seeing as how he lived through the American Revolution, and his grandson was a contemporary of Scrooge McDuck, it can be safely assumed that he's long dead.
    • Fergus McDuck and Downy O'Drake, Scrooge's parents, are an interesting example. Both are some of the few characters to be canonically confirmed as dead (Scrooge receives a letter informing him of Downy's death while in Klondike, causing him to have a breakdown, and Fergus' corpse(!) is shown. Scrooge also later visits their graves). However, the only series in which they have a major role, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, takes place mostly in a time period when they were still alive.
  • Bearclaw and Joyleaf from ElfQuest.
  • Lobster Johnson from Hellboy, a Captain Ersatz for Captain America, was a real-life superhero in the 1930s. Even though he died years before Hellboy came to Earth he has pretty regular appearances in the series, both in flashbacks and as a ghost.
  • Despite taking place in the DCU Lab Rats is decidedly not a superhero comic, even if Superman does show up for an arc. Kris is one of the many Lab Rats who died before the series started and the only one given a name or any background.
  • Examples from the Marvel Universe:
    • Captain America's parents.
    • Fantastic Four: The Thing's parents and brother Jake. Alicia Masters' biological parents. Doctor Doom's parents. Reed Richards' mother. Franklin Storm, the father of Susan and Johnny only technically avoids this trope (introduced at the end of Fantastic Four #31, killed off in #32).
    • Bruce Banner's mother (later revealed to have been murdered by her husband).
    • Henry "Ant-Man" Pym's first wife Marya Trovaya and Janet 'The Wasp' Van Dyne's father Vernon were both introduced and killed off in Tales to Astonish #44. Marya appeared only in a flashback.
    • Spider-Man's Uncle Ben. Also his parents, Mary and Richard Parker. Betty Brant's brother Bennett (killed in the issue in which he made his first appearance) and Mary Jane's mother (seen only in flashbacks) also fit the pattern. Additionally, while Gwen Stacy was not originally an example, her long-lasting death and continued impact on Peter and his world in spite of it have retroactively made her into one.
    • Tony Stark's parents.
    • Daredevil's parents (his mother was later retconned to have been alive all along) and Elektra's father.
      • In Daredevil: End of Days Daredevil himself only shows up in flashbacks after being killed in the opening scene.
    • From the X-Men books: Charles Xavier's father, mother, and stepfather (Juggernaut's father); Cyclops' and Havok's mother Katherine Summers; Magneto's wife Magda (mother of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch), first daughter Anya, parents, sister and extended family, and his former lover Isabelle; Banshee's wife Maeve (Siryn's mother); Storm's parents; Nightcrawler's stepbrother Stefan Szardos; Polaris' mother and apparent father, Mr. Dane (some retcons later, it was decided that Magneto was her biological father).
  • An odd thing concerning Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) as many characters tend not to mention parents and it's assumed that many of them were dead due to the Robotnik War. Then, after it, they all come out in droves, revealing that they're not really dead.
  • In the Ultimate Marvel universe Wolverine was Killed Off for Real in Ultimatum. That did not stop him from starring a miniseries later, Ultimate Wolverine (but just in flashbacks).

    Fan Works 
Animorphs
  • The Eleutherophobia series starts with Essa 412's death, but his actions have left Tom with lasting mental scars. The aftermath of Rachel's death looms over the Berenson family and Tobias. There's also Vicky Austin, a cooking show (and Yeerk) host whose suicide is mentioned a couple of times.

Crossover

Danganronpa

  • In New Hope University: Major In Murder, Dr. Eugene Alameda, the man responsible for coming up with the idea of forcing talented university students into a killing game, has apparently been dead for five years as of the start of the fanfic.

The DCU

  • In Power Girl fanfic A Force of Four, Superman dies before the beginning of the story, and his demise affects everyone and everything. Power Girl wonders if she’s up to the challenge and regretting every time she was bitchy to him, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are mourning him and Badra takes advantage of his death to set her plans in motion.

Fusion Fic

Godzilla / King Kong / MonsterVerse

  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon):
    • Although Dr. Serizawa is dead, his memory lingers strongly with Vivienne Graham especially, who is in mourning for most of the story after she learns of his death.
    • San's brothers Ichi and Ni are dead following the Battle at Boston, but they're still casting a shadow on both San and Vivienne from beyond the grave: their lifelong abuse of San is one of the core reasons San is the way he is at the story's start, and it was Ichi who ate Vivienne alive during the movie's events which led to San bringing her back as an Artificial Hybrid. Subverted once Ghidorah comes Back from the Dead.
    • Emma Russell and Admiral Stenz are both dead, but they appear in dreams or flashbacks, and the results and consequences of Emma's actions during the movie are present throughout the story.

Jackie Chan Adventures

  • Queen of All Oni: Hiruzen and the Oni Elders are long dead by the time the story starts, only appearing in flashbacks.
    • Going further back, there's Kagehime, the first Shadowkhan, who was dead long before even the above-mentioned flashbacks.
  • The Ultimate Evil: Shendu becomes interested in Valerie Payne originally due to her resemblance to Lo Mei, daughter of his imprisoner Lo Pei. Later it's confirmed that Valerie is Lo Pei's descendant, and Shendu's past with Lo Mei causes transitions in their relationship. Also, Valerie has to continuously deal with her father's violent death.

My Little Pony

  • A Diplomatic Visit: The sequel Diplomat at Large eventually reveals that Queen Skydancer, ruler of the hippogriffs, died during the Storm King's attack.
  • In Pony POV Series, the entire world of G3 with the exception of Star Catcher, Pinkie Pie, and Star Wishes are already dead, or in some cases Deader Than Dead, before the story starts. However, some of them do have confirmed Reincarnations in the G4 timeline.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

  • A Crown of Stars: Winthrop, Big Bad of the story this fanfic is a sequel to. He got executed before the beginning of the history, but his monstrous actions have got a lasting, severe effect upon Shinji, Asuka, and their world, and throughout the story, the characters are trying to repair and fix what he damaged and broke.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: Kal-El's baby was dead fourteen years before the beginning of the story, but it is because of him Asuka has powers and it is because of him Asuka decides using them altruistically and in the later chapters, she wonders if her biological father would approve of her.

The Octonauts

  • In Junior Officers, the previous lieutenant Hakara has been dead for about six years by the time the story starts. Her memory and her tragic fate are discussed in Season 2.

Punch-Out!!

  • In Ma Fille, Katrina's mother Heather is recently deceased when the story begins.

Super Mario Bros.

  • In Clash of the Elements The Elemental Overlord and the Dark King count. Though this is a weird case of this trope, since though their physical bodies are dead their spirits still reside within their new successors. However, in the case of the Dark King, we learn more about him through his subordinates, especially in Smithy and Cackletta's flashbacks.
    • Also, Former M.S.I. Commander Zeta, who was killed thirty years ago and the act of avenging him forms the basis of Alpha's motivations.

Dormant/Dead/Unsorted

  • Francis, Luso's father and Freise, Bowen's wife were both dead by the time they were mentioned in The Tainted Grimoire.
  • In Boys Do Tankary, Nyra, Vincent's older sister figure, first love, and dead ringer for Saori, is this. When Vincent spared her when encountering her on the battlefield, they were locked in a cell for a month and told to kill each other; before the time ran out, Nyra made Vincent shoot her. Nyra later turns out to be alive, though.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Reflecting Balance, one of the previous town oracles, Cassandra, is mentioned a few times by one of her descendants, and by the main villain of the story. Her connection to the events of the story is eventually explored in a few chapters focusing on the backstory of the town.
  • Broken Souls begins with Harry and his team investigating the death of reporter Konrad Tschida, whose discoveries become the driving force of the rest of the story.
  • The flashback chapters of Secret Dreamer have this with the first-generation characters of Fire Emblem Awakening, especially Frederick and Cordelia.
  • In Wonderful (Mazinja), Danny's heroic demise before the beginning of the story inspires his daughter Taylor to become a better person and a hero.
  • Ambience: A Fleet Symphony: Damon's father Deimos was Killed Offscreen almost 20 years ago in the plot-triggering nuclear exchanges of World War III, but his actions and inventions continue to have an impact on the events of present day.
  • In Faded Blue, Blue Diamond fills this role in place of Rose Quartz.
  • In the SpaceBattles.com worldbuilding thread A Guide to Lost and Hidden Locations on Earth and Near-Earth Mr. Incredible is mentioned at several points to be deceased at the modern day of the world, on top of characters who would already be dead at this point like the El's, Wayne's, Ben Parker, and the like.
  • Alternate Tail Series has Joseph Mcgarden, Levy's grandfather and the one who taught her Letter Magic. He was also a mentor for numerous other wizards such as Freed, Ur, Ivan, Gildarts, Layla, and Irene.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the anime version of AKIRA, the eponymous character himself has been dead for over three decades.
  • Doc Hudson is established to have died offscreen in Cars 2.
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is an anthology film with the Framing Device consisting of Hal Jordan telling the stories of other Green Lanterns to rookie Lantern Arisia. Several of the Green Lanterns that Jordan informs Arisia about are indicated to be deceased (more specifically, Kilowog's drill instructor Deegan, the first Green Lantern Avra and Hal Jordan's predecessor Abin Sur).
  • Simon "Gazerbeam" Pallidino from The Incredibles. He was recruited by Syndrome to battle a prototype Omnidroid, then somehow he learned of Syndrome's nefarious plan, as well as the password to Syndrome's computer system. He escaped the fortress, only to die in a cave (presumably killed by one of Syndrome's probe droids) — foreseeing the end, he carved the password in the cave wall with his Eye Beams. All of this happens off-screen, prior to the main plot; all we see is Mr. Incredible reading about Pallidino's disappearance in a newspaper article, then stumbling upon Gazerbeam's remains in the cave. The password Gazerbeam carved on the wall comes in handy. Gazerbeam is only seen alive in a flashback where he's a guest at the Parrs' wedding — for about half a second.
  • Mufasa and Scar both die in The Lion King, so their mentions in the sequel The Lion King II: Simba's Pride certainly qualify as this trope.
  • Auguste Gusteau in Ratatouille, sort of. While the man himself is seen only in flashbacks (or, more accurately, in television documentaries), the version of Gusteau that gets most of the actual characterization is an imaginary construct that serves as Remy's conscience.
  • Mrs. Brisby's husband Jonathan from The Secret of NIMH went on a mission with the rats to put sleeping pills in Dragon the cat's milk, but he was killed in the process. He only appears onscreen in Nicodemus' flashback. She later admits that she never knew exactly what caused her husband's death.
  • Ellie in Up. Carl's desire to fulfill her dream of living in Paradise Falls is what drives the story, and he often talks to the house as if it were her.
  • Shelby Forthright in WALL•E. He's the one that gives AUTO the "never return to Earth" order 700 years before the events of the film.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Brain's wife is dead at the start of Accident. In fact, the first scene shows the accident that caused her death.
  • In Aliens, Ripley learns her daughter Amanda, who was almost 11 during the events of the original movie, died of old age while she was still in cryo-sleep. It's Ripley's heartbreak over losing Amanda that fuels her Mama Bear tendencies towards Newt, determined to protect her at all costs.
  • Subverting most people's expectations, the version of Norman Osborne introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 dies of a genetic illness in the first half-hour of the movie, after his only scene. However, it's revealed that he was responsible for the deaths of Peter Parker's parents, and his amoral experiments at Oscorp prove to be the Meta Origin connecting every single costumed character in the movie. His death also drives his son Harry to become the Green Goblin, after his efforts to cure the genetic virus end up backfiring and mutating him into a monster.
  • Lester Burnham in American Beauty comes right out and says it at the beginning via narration, making the events of the movie one big Flash Back.
  • Professor Theodore Gettell and Chief Warrant Officer Sam Jacobs from The Angry Red Planet.
  • Assassin's Creed (2016): Mary Lynch dies in the film's prologue and it is only later that the audience discovers that she was an Assassin, just like her husband, and the scene that Callum walked in on was not her being murdered by her husband but her husband assisting her with a Heroic Suicide.
  • Maria Vargas from The Barefoot Contessa. The film starts with her funeral.
  • Alex, in The Big Chill. It's his suicide that sets the film in motion. Footage intended to be used as either flashbacks or the intro to the film was actually shot with Kevin Costner in the part but ultimately not used.
  • The Big Night: Andy's girlfriend Frances, who has been missing throughout the movie is eventually revealed to have been Driven to Suicide.
  • In The Body (2012), Mayka is dead at the start of the film and her character is developed entirely through flashbacks. Her body vanishing from the morgue is what drives the plot.
  • Everything that happens in The Bourne Supremacy traces back to the assassination of Vladimir Neski, a Russian politician who'd been killed before revealing that a Russian oil baron was using stolen CIA funds to buy up Russian oil leases. Jason Bourne soon uncovers that he was the one that killed Neski, in his very first Treadstone assignment.
  • The title character in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The people looking to collect the price resort to grave robbery.
  • Nina in Cake. She committed suicide shortly before the film, and aside from photographs, she only appears in hallucinatory conversions with the protagonist, Claire. Notably everything we hear about the real Nina makes her seem "sickeningly sincere," but the imaginary Nina comes off as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, as she's essentially a manifestation of Claire's inner critic.
  • Most of Chicago Deadline (1949) involves flashbacks telling the tangled story of the deceased Rosita Jean D'Ur, as uncovered by an inquisitive newspaper reporter. (The TV remake, Fame is the Name of the Game (1966), borrowed the Twist Ending of Laura.)
  • Citizen Kane: The entire movie goes over the events of Kane's life attempting to determine the significance of "Rosebud".
  • Meg Ryan's character, Ct. Walden, in Courage Under Fire. The entire plot of the movie is to determine the circumstances of her death, and whether or not to posthumously award her the Medal of Honor.
  • Aristide Leonides is dead at the start of Crooked House. His granddaughter Sophia hires her former lover Charles to investigate the murder.
  • Shelly Webster, Eric's girlfriend from The Crow, was given this treatment, both in flashbacks and from the other characters - including Eric himself, who came Back from the Dead in order to avenge them both:
    Eric: Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I always thought they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.
  • Will and Caroline suffer this fate in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, being referred to as "ground zero" of the deadly virus that wiped out most of humanity.
  • The Descendants has a variation of this. The main character's wife is in a coma from less than a minute into the movie from which she never recovers. She at the end of the movie. While she is not truly a character, she and her actions drive a significant portion of the plot. May cross into Living Macguffin.
  • Don't Breathe: Emma, the Blind Man's Daughter, who is glimpsed only through photographs and a Happier Home Movie.
  • The title character of Drowning Mona dies only a couple minutes into the movie and is fleshed out almost entirely via flashbacks.
  • Edward Scissorhands: The inventor created Edward from scratch in his castle and treated him like a son. He dies of a sudden heart attack right after showing Edward his supposed model hands, leaving him alone in the castle with and with well... with his Scissorhands. Edward stays there for sometime until he is discovered by an Avon lady, Pegg Boggs kicking off the story's main plot.
  • Equilibrium: Father turns out to have in fact died years ago, with DuPont taking his place as leader of Libria.
  • Helen Kimble in The Fugitive; unlike most characters mentioned here, she only gets a few flashbacks, but they're enough to establish that she and Dr. Kimble were Happily Married.
  • Enter the Void: Oscar and Linda's parents appear rather prominently in multiple flashbacks, but they're both long dead in the present after dying in a car crash.
  • Alice Alquist in Gaslight. The story starts after her character is murdered and we see her backstory unravel during the course of the movie.
  • The Godfather Part II has Don Fanucci, Don Ciccio, and Vito Corleone, all of whom died before the main plot of the film and appear only in flashbacks.
  • The Hunger Games: Mr. Everdeen, who died in a mine disaster.
  • In I, Robot, when Spooner goes to U.S. Robotics to investigate a death, he's greeted by Dr. Laning, a top researcher of the company, but it's then revealed that it's actually a holographic recording left for Spooner by Dr. Laning, as Laning's corpse lies a few feet away. Several times through the story, Spooner activates the holographic projector, as it reveals clues that lead to Spooner discovering that his crowning achievement, VIKI, the computerized system meant to automate the infrastructure systems is planning a Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • Murder mystery I Wake Up Screaming starts after Vicki's murder. Her story is told via flashbacks from her sister and her boyfriend.
  • Mal in Inception. She was Cobb's wife who killed herself when she became convinced she's still in a dream and has been haunting his thoughts ever since, derailing their dream excursions more than once.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK. Despite dying soon after the movie begins, he appears frequently in flashbacks and faux documentary footage.
  • Swede in The Killers. The greater part of the film is flashbacks of events months and years prior to his death. Interestingly enough, the Ernest Hemingway story on which it was based ends just before he is killed.
  • Harlan Thrombey is found with his throat slit in the very first scene of Knives Out, but has a pretty substantial part in the movie due to flashbacks reconstructing the last night of his life.
  • Jack (Michael Caine) has died before Last Orders commences. His friends embark on a road trip to scatter his ashes in the sea in accordance with his last wishes. Their memories of Jack appear in flashbacks (and sometimes in flashbacks within flashbacks).
  • The police detective in Laura falls in love with the title character after seeing her portrait and interviewing her friends—while he's investigating her murder. Subverted in that she's not actually dead.
  • The woman in the bed is dead at the start of The Loft, with even her identity in doubt. She is later revealed to be Sarah and flashbacks reveal more about her and how she came to be there.
  • Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones of the narration and Framing Device variety.
  • Man of Steel:
    • Pa Kent dies in one of several flashbacks.
    • Jor-El continues to interact with several characters as a Virtual Ghost.
      Zod: Still lecturing me, Jor-El. Even in death.
  • Memento:
    • Teddy, who is killed in the first scene but due to the film's Anachronic Order appears in many scenes after that.
    • Leonard's late wife, who exists only in his memories anymore.
  • In the film, Menace II Society, Caine's whole story is really a flashback of the choices he made, which resulted in his death.
  • In Mistress of the Apes, Susan's husband is an anthropologist who goes missing in Darkest Africa. Susan mounts an expedition to find him, only to learn that he has been murdered by Evil Poachers working for Thurston. He never appears onscreen and is not even named.
  • The Mountain Man in The Mountie. Corporal Grayling discovers Cleora attempting to retrieve his body from a tree as he is riding towards the camp. Grayling helps recover it and bring it back to camp. Finding out who the Mountain Man was and why is killed becomes a big part of Grayling's effort to stamp out corruption and bring law to the region.
  • MouseHunt: Rudolf Smuntz is already dead by the time the movie begins. There's a flashback from when he was alive.
  • Mulholland Falls: Jennifer Connelly's Ms. Fanservice character is killed off almost immediately, and her character is only developed through flashbacks or in-universe film footage.
  • Lionel Shrike in Now You See Me. He died in an attempt to stage a comeback as a magician by escaping from a safe thrown into the Hudson River. His son has been planning revenge on all those who contributed to the tragedy, which is the plot of the entire movie.
  • Promising Young Woman: Nina is never seen in person, yet her death years before the film begins drives Cassie and by extension the entire plot.
  • In Psycho, the big twist at the end reveals that Norma Bates has been dead for many years. It turns out that the woman our main protagonists have been seeing was her corpse, which was preserved by her mentally unstable son Norman, who couldn't bear the guilt of having murdered her.
  • The Mad Scientist who created the killer baboons in Primal Force has been dead for ten years before the film's events, but he is depicted making his Motive Rant about dabbling in God's domain via flashbacks.
  • Marni from Repo! The Genetic Opera died before the story starts. She's referenced a lot in parts like 'Infected' and 'Legal Assassin', and her ghost appears sometimes, although she says little more than "Assassin! Murderer! Monster!"
  • Rio Bravo: Feathers' husband, a caring yet crooked gambler, was shot over his cheating some time before the film.
  • Sapphire starts with the discovery of Sapphire Robbins' murdered body on Hampstead Heath.
  • Gayle's son Randy in SAVE ME. His death, and her both feeling implicated in it and refusing to admit her guilt to herself (or anyone else), form an overwhelming aspect of her motivation.
  • Mark Bitwell, in Self/Less. He dies some period of time before the movie begins, and his body is used for shedding, with the main character's mind put in it. The memories left behind in his head cause the protagonist to seek out his family and, subsequently, kick off the plot of the movie. Played with in that Mark turns out to not be completely dead. If the protagonist stops taking a certain medication, Mark can take control of his body again. The ending fully subverts this when the protagonist chooses to die so Mark can return.
  • The Big Bad in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is revealed to have died years (perhaps decades) before the story actually began. A case of art imitating life, as he was played by Sir Laurence Olivier, who had been dead for over a decade.
  • While he died 20 years before the events of Spectre, Franz Oberhauser's father Hannes unintentionally set the subsequent chain of events by showing Parental Favoritism to an orphaned James Bond over his real son, causing Franz to commit patricide out of pure malice and envy for not being favored, before faking his death and renaming himself Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Hannes' actions also triggered the Cain and Abel relationship between Bond and Blofeld in later years, with Blofeld orchestrating the numerous miseries his foster sibling faced for this tiny reason.
  • Katie Chandler (Jodie Foster) in the 1988 Dump Months release Stealing Home, as noted in the page quote.
  • Carson in Struck By Lightning. His character dies in the first scene as the opening credits finish rolling. The majority of the movie is an extended flashback of his life.
  • Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Boulevard enters the film as a body floating facedown in a swimming pool and proceeds to narrate the events leading up to his death.
    • As originally filmed, Joe was speaking to other "dead" people in a morgue. Test audiences found the scene ludicrous and it had to be hastily revised prior to public release.
  • The Western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff starts with some pioneers burying one of their fellow travellers. And then mid-service, gold is discovered in his grave, leading to the main plot with the resulting Boom Town.
  • Brian in Things We Lost in Fire is killed at the beginning of the movie, his character is seen mostly through flashbacks.
  • Harry Lime in The Third Man is the central figure of the entire story, even though the movie's second scene is his funeral. Of course, he's not really dead...
  • All but one of the principal characters in The Usual Suspects. The story unfolds as the lone survivor recounts for the police the events that brought the suspects together and how they eventually met their ends. With a healthy dose of Unreliable Narrator, of course.
  • Vicki opens with Vicki Lynn's murdered body being carried out of her apartment building and loaded on to the meat wagon. She appears throughout the film only in flashback.
  • The titular character of Vidocq. In the last 10 minutes of the film you find out he faked his death to get closer to the Big Bad.
  • Watchmen: The Comedian is killed off in the first minutes of the movie, And is mainly presented in flashbacks.
  • Wild: Barbara, dead when the film begins, her death having been what sent her daughter Cheryl into her self-destructive spiral, which leads to Cheryl's hike along the Pacific Crest Trail that's the backbone of the plot. Flashbacks are used to develop the relationship between Barbara and Cheryl.
  • The Wolverine: Famke Janssen reprises her role as Jean Grey in several dream sequences.

    Multiple Media 

    Music 
  • "Terrible Things" by Mayday Parade is about a man telling his son about his wife who died years prior.

    Pinball 
  • In WHO dunnit (1995), both Trixie and Victoria's mothers are deceased before the game starts.

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance, Julia qualifies for this, as we only learn about her in Magnus' flashback.
  • The Magnus Archives:
    • Gertrude Robinson, the previous archivist. She was responsible for the chaotic state of the archive, and seemingly for a great deal more. At the end of season 1, we find out that she was shot, and her body is in the archive's basement.
    • One of the most common recurring figures in statements is Gerard Keay, a young man who devoted his life to hunting down and destroying Leitners and later became Gertrude's assistant; he died of brain cancer several years before the beginning of the series, yet he's made an impact on numerous statements. Midway through season three, Jon travels to America and finds Gerard's ghost - after his death, Gertrude bound him to the same Leitner that his mother was bound in, and Julia and Trevor have been carrying him around for years, using him as a glorified bestiary. Jon burns the book in order to let him rest for good.
  • Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at the start of 1865, but his presence looms large over the rest of the cast. Preserving the legacy of Lincoln is Stanton’s primary objective. Lincoln also appear via flashbacks at the start of certain episodes.

    Roleplay 
  • The first student to die in v1 of Survival of the Fittest is a kid on the plane shot for wearing his hat sideways, due to Danya's hatred of "punks". From there to the very end of the game, this student is never mentioned again, or even named, until endgame when Adam reflects back on the student's execution and remembers how he had been back in school, finally revealing to the reader the character's name and personality. It finally comes full circle to the boy being shot just for wearing his hat sideways, giving the reader a whole new perspective on a boy who had originally just been a throwaway redshirt.
  • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions Qunicy Rnager, who was created to make fun of another author's typo and killed by an exploding spell checker in his first appearance, only to be fleshed out afterwards and even made an appearance in a time travel storyline.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cluedo: The players work to solve the murder of Dr Black, who has already been killed before gameplay begins.
  • The 1st Edition Necromunda Special Character Bull Gorg was the most famous gladiator Pit Slave to have ever lived and lead a slave revolt that captured one of the more populous settlements in the underhive. After his defeat and capture, Gorg was executed by the Guilders and although there have always been in-universe rumours of his survival he is officially dead, yet still received rules and was available as a hired gun.
  • Planescape:
    • Aoskar, the god of portals, tends to be mentioned a lot. Centuries ago, he tried to usurp the Lady of Pain's control over Sigil, and eventually she killed him, destroying his temple (which became the Athar's home) and presumably then stating her edict that deities were no longer allowed in the Cage. Since that time, while many have challenged her rule, none come close to succeeding.
    • Cantrum, the founder and original leader of the Dark Eight, who was assassinated early on (some say by a heroic and mighty paladin, others say by an abishai who got lucky). Whatever the case, his death serves to remind devils that, no matter how strong you are, you are never invincible.

    Theatre 
  • Rebecca: Like in the novel, Rebecca herself is dead before the musical starts. That doesn't stop her from making life miserable for everyone.
  • Older Than Print: Darius in The Persians by Aischylus.
  • Examples from William Shakespeare:
    • Yorick, Old Fortinbras, and the dead king in Hamlet.
    • Portia's father in The Merchant of Venice. Portia spends much of the play dealing with the weird test he had set up for potential suitors, since according to his will she can't marry anyone who doesn't pick the right casket and must marry the man who does. She is not entirely pleased with this situation.
  • Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The inspector in question is calling upon the Birling family to investigate the events leading up to her suicide.
  • The Baker's father in Into the Woods, who set most of the plot into motion years earlier, but was believed to have perished in a "baking accident". Zig-zagged when it turns out that the Mysterious Old Man is the Baker's father, whose reveal comes just in time for him to die again, only to kind of come back to life to sing a duet with the Baker in Act II.
  • The Mizner brothers in the Sondheim musical Bounce.
  • The eponymous anarchist in Accidental Death of an Anarchist is dead at the start of the play, and the play revolves a farcical investigation into his death.
  • The Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking in the Mrs. Hawking play series. He is talked about constantly due to the strong psychological effect he had on two of the main cast. His wife Mrs. Hawking found a new freedom from his patriarchal oversight with his death, while his nephew Nathaniel lost his beloved and admired uncle.
  • In The Green Pastures, Abel appears only as a corpse, with his brother Cain standing over him.
  • In Icebound, Grandmother Jordan dies at the beginning without ever appearing onstage, but she is discussed throughout the play, and on two occasions letters from her are read, which prove crucial to the plot.
  • In The Rose Tattoo, Rosario delle Rose, Serafina's husband, succumbs to death by Retirony before he can appear on stage. The film of the play does show him briefly on-screen (alive), though his actor (Larry Chance) remains uncredited.
  • Alison's House: Alison Stanhope, who gained posthumous fame as a poet, has been in the ground for 18 years but she is still the chief concern of the whole Stanhope family. John's children remember how tender Alison was to them. John and Agatha remember how Alison fell in love with a married professor but denied her feelings in order to spare the family social embarrassment.
  • Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen is dead by the 15-minute mark of Act 1, but shows up as a manifestation of Evan's psyche for the rest of the show.
  • Maureen Lyon, whose murder is heard (but not seen) at the start of The Mousetrap. Her death lingers as The Ghost over much of the subsequent action.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • Mukuro Ikusaba zig-zags this. When you find the person in question, they're already dead. However, both the cast and the player did meet Mukuro while she was still alive...disguised as Junko Enoshima, who was then killed by the real Junko before the first trial even began.
    • Played straight with Headmaster Jin Kirigiri, who is killed in the opening cinematic and isn't properly introduced until the game's final chapter. His existence and role have major plot implications for his daughter Kyoko, who spent most of the game as an amnesiac.
    • Downplayed with Chihiro Fujisaki. While he survives the first trial, most of his contributions to the franchise as a whole take place after his death.
  • In Daughter for Dessert, Lainie, who died giving birth to Amanda, is shown throughout the story in flashbacks, which are eventually tied together to narrate the protagonist's relationship with her.
  • Emiya Kiritsugu in Fate/stay night. Does not apply in the prequel Fate/Zero, obviously.
  • fault milestone one has Cid, Eline, and the original Rune Zhevitz, all of whom only show up in lengthy flashbacks.
  • Heart of the Woods has Helena, Abigail's sister. Since Abigail was born 200 years ago and currently lives on as a ghost because Helena let Abigail be sacrificed in her place, it's obvious that Helena is no longer alive.
  • In Highway Blossoms, there's Amber's grandfather. He died shortly before the start of the game, and his death had a profound impact on Amber.
  • It's hinted that Satoshi from Higurashi: When They Cry died before the beginning of the series, and he only appears in flashbacks. He's actually comatose due to Hinamizawa Syndrome.
  • In The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car, Shelby's Alcoholic Parent is dead, but he not only owned the titular car, he also bit Shelby.
  • Spirit Hunter series:
    • Saya Kujou in Death Mark, the spirit healer who owns both the Kujou manor and Mary the doll. The protagonist discovers her dead body in one of the rooms, where it soon vanishes. The Reveal confirms that Saya is the protagonist's younger sister in the Kujou clan, who possessed a black rabbit that has helped the protagonist till Chapter 4.
    • Spirit Hunter: NG:
      • Satomi Kijima died two years prior to the game, explaining why Akira lives with his aunt instead of her. Most of the information about her is related through exposition or the supplementary character profiles.
      • Yuri Takamura is already deceased by the time of the story's start, and it's her ghost that Kakuya possesses to attack Akira and get him involved with Kakuya's game.
  • Makihasa Tohno in Tsukihime is the root of the problem in all three far side routes, part of the near side ones and Shiki would also be a badass (and possibly psychopathic) assassin of demons with an intact family and not destined to die in 5-10 years tops. It's pretty impressive for a character who's already dead to be worse than the serial killer in town or Nero Chaos.
  • Zero Escape:

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • The Artist is Dead!: No points for guessing who.
  • Mary Elizabeth in the original incarnation of the Basil Flint universe — fleshed out and killed again in Flat Feet and High Heels, things do not bode well for her fate in Mary Elizabeth's Sock.
  • Marty from Count Your Sheep
  • Krayne from Fated Feather
  • Van Rijn from Girl Genius. By the time Agatha finds him, he is a long-mummified husk.
  • Ameer from Grey is.... He dies sometime in the two years White is gone. We get to see a fair amount of him in the flashbacks though.
  • Surma Carver from Gunnerkrigg Court. Her past is one of the central mysteries of the story.
    • And there's also the first generation of the Court: Jeanne, Diego, and Sir Young. Unraveling their story has become another of the central mysteries. Though Jeanne is a borderline case, as she initially shows up as a ghost, in the present.
  • Jade's Grandfather in Homestuck initially (the first time we see him is Jade being startled by his stuffed body... somehow). However he is disqualified for being alive during most of the kids' adventure because of shenanigans. The same goes for John's Nanna, who comes back as a sprite.
    • Crowbar, Matchsticks, and Quarters of the Felt are dead when the Midnight Crew Intermission begins. However, they come back through time shenanigans. Twice.
    • The trolls' ancestors (save for The Condesce and The Handmaid, who were still alive at the time they were introduced) all qualify. The Ψiioniic was technically alive at the beginning of Act 5 Act 1, but he was introduced after his death.
    • On Post-Scratch Earth, Jane's grandfather and Jake's grandmother, the counterparts of John Egbert and Jade Harley. Dave and Rose's counterparts, however, were alive in the "present," but were only seen in the form of a recap told by a character from the future centuries after they died. Thanks to Homestuck's predetermination ensuring that they will be killed, they essentially become this too.
    • Due to dream bubbles, dead characters not only continue interacting with the living, but get up to their own shenanigans and adventures.
  • Neilli is the most prominent one in Juathuur. So she would have everyone believe, that is.
  • Atlas from Lackadaisy was killed before the comic even started. His death is one of the main reasons the speakeasy isn't nearly as successful as it used to be.
  • Eugene Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick, though he manages to visit as a ghost. Most of Soon Kim's Order of the Scribble, of whom only Serini is possibly alive. Also, Redcloak's brother Right-Eye.
  • Melody from Penny and Aggie.
  • Faye's dad in Questionable Content dies a couple years before the strip begins, and is only seen in Faye's stories about her past.
  • Eric from Sam & Fuzzy. The original partner of Hazel, Eric died before the strip began and his shadow hangs over both Hazel and Fuzzy. Especially given that Fuzzy is inhabiting his body.
  • Joshua Shephard of The Silver Eye died a number of years before the story's beginning, but quite a few of the flashbacks are from his point of view.
  • In Sleepless Domain, 3/5 of Team Alchemicalnote  are killed early in the work due to an encounter with a particularly powerful monster, and continue to be relevant throughout the work as the survivors Undine and Tessa are lead characters.
  • Brian Rammer is dead in the mainline Sluggy Freelance universe but is still alive in at least two alternate universes.
  • Something*Positive gives us Rose and Scotty, two childhood friends of the protagonist.note  Rose was Davan's first girlfriend, but eventually succumbed to alcoholism and depression; Scotty, meanwhile, was Driven to Suicide when his longtime girlfriend left him, only appearing alive for four unconscious panels. Word of God admits that he wishes that he had at least used Scotty a bit before killing him off.
  • Split Screen: Jeremy's wife and child are practically the third and fourth main characters of the comic, despite having been killed three years prior to the comic's start.
  • Unsounded:
    • Vienne was killed by the Aldish state and her work stolen, only for Mathis to slaughter everyone at the constabulary, steal it back and flee south. Her work is still sought after by several powers, and Mathis and Matty are driven by their memories of her.
    • Bastion's sister is long dead and he crafted his "assistant" Timofey after her, only for the spirit to inform him he was a boy and the dress Bastion had programed for him was emasculating.
    • Duane and Lemuel's mother died giving birth to Lemuel, so was dead even prior to any storytelling flashbacks.
    • "Lucky Puppy", a friend of Sette's, died of illness prior to her meeting Duane. She never mentions that her friend is dead.
    • Bastion's master Delicieu was split in half by a spell by Prakhuta decades ago while Delicieu was trying to drain Bastion's life. They successfully hid his body and his death.
    • The entire ruling Foi-Hellick family was disembowled in the street, save Roger who escaped, to make an example of them during the Foi-Hellick Affair.
    • Lemuel's close friend and fellow soldier Danilla was killed during the Foi-Hellick Affair.
    • Roger Foi-Hellick's lover, the rebel leader "Vampire," was killed a decade ago in the Foi-Hellick Affair when the Etalarche Curse caused him to attack Roger and he fell on Roger's sword.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics: Unwinder purchases the late Gary P. Rastov's entire War of the Seven Stars novel series. Although he hates the books, Unwinder becomes obsessed with the author. Even the comic's cast page notes this:
    Gary P. Rastov is never pictured, but is a full-fledged character in the strip nonetheless. ... Though he's dead by the time of Unwinder's Tall Comics, his work is regularly referenced, and Unwinder personally has a very complicated relationship with his writing.
  • White Rooms: Cool Rits, the only childhood friend of the Rits that we know.
  • Milo from The Zombie Hunters. Assuming that he really is dead.

    Web Original 
  • Kagerou Project: Ayano. She committed suicide two years to the day before the main plot begins, yet she is linked to almost every main character in some way (she was friends with Shintaro, Takane/Ene and Haruka/Konoha, is Hiyori's niece, was the older adoptive sibling of Kido, Seto, and Kano and is Kenjirou's daughter) and her actions lead directly to the formation of the Blindfold Gang. It is revealed during her personal song Ayano's Theory of Happiness that she committed suicide in an effort to obtain an eye power because she discovered exactly what her father was up to.
  • Learning Larry, the host of the Show Within a Show, dies at the start of Paul and Storm's series Learning Town. He is then seen often in flashbacks and dream sequences, and his ghost appears in the first season finale.
  • New York Magician eventually has Michel's grandma.

    Web Videos 
  • Arby 'n' the Chief: After being (accidentally) melted and killed while shut in an oven in season 7 episode "Heat", Cortana continues to appear and lecture Chief through his "visions" in select later episodes.
  • A number of characters in There Will Be Brawl fall under this trope, but the really notable one is mob boss Mewtwo, who had been killed early on in the series, but was later revealed to have been the ones to cultivate the psychic powers of Ness and Lucas, who turn out to have been the serial killers all along.

    Western Animation 
  • Joshua and Margaret from Adventure Time are this. It is unknown how they died, but there are frequent views of them from the past via flashback, picture, video, etc.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Avatar: The Last Airbender
      • Katara and Sokka's mother is one of these. Princess Ursa (Zuko and Azula's mom) could be considered one of these, even though it's implied she's still alive...and she was.
      • There's also Fire Lord Sozin, who started the war that series plot revolves around, but only appears in one flashback episode. Fire Lord Azulon, as well.
      • Then there's Monk Gyatso, Avatar Roku, Avatar Kyoshi, and Lu Ten, all of whom are important to the plot, but are long dead before the series began. This is the implication of a series set 100 years later and with reincarnation; someone close to the cast will inevitably have died, either due to extreme old age or the main character himself (since it wouldn't be reincarnation if there wasn't a dead guy to begin with).
    • Due to the 70 year Time Skip between Avatar and Sequel Series The Legend of Korra, essentially every character from the original series (barring Katara, Toph, and Zuko) is dead, although Aang shows up at the end of Book One in a vision (just as his predecessor did for him in the original series), while the spirits of Iroh and Zhao show up in latter seasons.
      • It's later mentioned in Book Three that Toph started Walking the Earth some time ago and hasn't been seen since. Book Four reveals that she's still alive and well.
      • Other major dead characters include Yakone (father of Book One's main villains), Wan (the first Avatar), and Guru Laghima (Book Three Big Bad Zaheer is a fan of his writings).
  • Bojack's father on BoJack Horseman, as well has his mother Beatrice's family, all of whom are only seen in flashbacks.
  • Fancy Nancy has two examples:
    • Nancy's grandmother on her mother's side, Margie Clancy, passed away before the start of the series.
    • Mrs. Devine mentions having late husbands.
  • Futurama: Many of Fry's relatives and former acquaintances are introduced this way, notably his dog in "Jurassic Bark". With all the time-traveling going on in that series, though, many examples may turn out to be subversions of the trope. (Under what category fall the heads of presidents that were actually dead before the show started?)
  • G.I. Joe: Resolute has Major Bludd and Bazooka turn up as corpses, having been killed by Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow respectively.
  • Castle Greyskull may look like a skull, but it isn't grey. So how did it get its name? Answer: It was named after its original owner. An episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) told the story of King Greyskull, a legendary hero of Eternia. In fact, when Prince Adam chants "By the power of Greyskull!", he is actually invoking King Greyskull's power, not the castle's.
  • The premise of Jem is Jerrica Benton performing in a band with her sisters by using holograms to give herself an alter ego, the titular Jem. Said holograms are controlled by an artificial intelligence named Synergy, who was constructed by Jerrica's father Emmett Benton before he passed away. It is also established that Emmett Benton's wife Jacqui, who served as the basis for Synergy's appearance, died in a plane crash when Jerrica was young.
  • Since LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles happens between episodes IV and V, Obi-Wan Kenobi is already dead, though he frequently appears as a ghost to talk with Yoda. Ditto for Qui-Gon Jinn.
  • Let's Go Luna!: Carmen's abuela, who died when Carmen was little. She gave her guitar to Carmen.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Song Oak got sick and died when her daughter Kipo was very young.
  • Millicent Trueblood in Pound Puppies (1980s). She's the founder of Holly's Puppy Pound and the aunt of Katrina Stoneheart and only appeared in flashbacks during the episode "How to Found a Pound". The house where Katrina lives was inherited from Millicent, while Holly inherited the Puppy Pound.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Snowball I, the original family cat, who died some time before "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (the first episode of the TV series to be aired), and had made no appearances beforehand, either in the episodes which preceded it production-wise or the Tracey Ullman shorts. She has been seen in family photographs and flashbacks (and also in a near-death experience of Bart's), and many of the tie-in books are dedicated to her memory.
      • In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", Lisa also mentions having a pet hamster named Snuffy who died, though no other reference has been made to him since.
      • In the episode "On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister", Lisa mentions that Bart once comforted her when her pet hamster died.
      • In "The Boys of Bummer", Lisa mentions that Bart had a rabbit named Cottontail that Homer apparently buried alive.
    • Other good examples are the town's founder Jebediah Springfield and Clancy Bouvier, Marge's father.
    • Superintendent Chalmers's wife, Rosemary, was first mentioned at the very end of Season 16's "Pranksta Rap", with Chalmers saying she's very sick. She wasn't brought up again until Season 23's "Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts", where it is revealed that she had died.
  • The Sofia the First series finale, "Forever Royal", reveals this as the fate for Queen Lorelei (Roland's wife before he married Miranda) and Birk Balthazar (Sofia's unnamed father before Miranda married Roland). Sofia's father was a sailor who was lost at sea. While not outright stated, it's heavily implied given how they show her mourning over a ship in the bottle while holding his hat. In the case of the queen, Roland made a wish in the wishing well from "When You Wish Upon A Well" so that they can have children since she couldn't bear any. Unfortunately, she ended up passing away since her body couldn't handle it. Again, it's not outright stated, but still heavily implied.
  • Steven Universe:
  • Hamato Yoshi in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) is one of these. After appearing in occasional flashbacks, he is the focus of the series' hundredth episode.
  • Optimus Prime in Transformers: Robots in Disguise is this following the end of Transformers: Prime, occasionally appearing as apparitions to Bumblebee.
  • On Vampirina, Vee's Uncle Dieter passed away before the events of the series, though he temporarily returns in the episode "Dia De Los Muertos".
  • Dr. Jonas Venture, Sr. in The Venture Bros. has been dead for about 20 years before the series begins, but he is still shown through flashbacks, visions, and "safety" films. Many of these show how Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture's life got so messed up by him despite Venture Sr.'s '50s dad clean-cut image.
  • Allura's father, King Alfor, in Voltron: Legendary Defender.
  • Xavier's parents in Xavier: Renegade Angel. Xavier accidentally killed them in a fire prior to the series, but they still appear frequently in flashbacks. Well, his father, anyway-his mother is revealed in Season 2 to have faked her own death to get away from him.
  • Ted Kord (as well as his predecessor, Dan Garret) in Young Justice.

 
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Grandpa Gohan

Goku's adoptive grandfather, Gohan, died before the story of Dragon Ball began, but returns to the land of the living for a brief time to test his strength and give him some closure.

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