How 10 TV Shows Dealt With The Death Of Their Actors

Say what you will about Glee — it’s awful, offensive, hypocritical, run by an egomaniac who pleasures himself to photos of his bald scalp in Teen Vogue — but it’s hard to deny that Finn was one of the very few good things about it. On a show full of unintentional stereotypes, Finn was arguably the only “real” character; his pain about going from being a high school somebody to a college nobody felt authentic, and because I hate the idea of giving Ryan Murphy a compliment, I’m going to give all the credit in the world to actor Cory Monteith, who died this weekend.

Monteith played Finn Hudson with just the right amount of cheerleader-dating quarterback egotism and goofy musical theater earnestness, and now the show has a giant hole to fill for next season, a hole that will likely be filled with a subtle mashup of “I’ll Be Missing You” and “I Will Remember You,” in an episode decidated to Trayvon Martin. That is, obviously, a terrible idea and Glee should have been cancelled after one season, but it’s worth taking a look at how other shows dealt with the loss of one of their stars, to get a sense of what Glee might do.

Nancy Marchand, The Sopranos


The most famous example, and the exact opposite of what a show should do. Nancy Marchand, who played Tony Soprano’s angry, ancient badger of a mother Livia, died from lung cancer in 2000. Livia was still a major character in the Sopranos universe, though, so creator David Chase was tasked what with to do with her, both in terms of her relationship with Tony and the possibility of her speaking to the FBI. Naturally, Chase killed Livia, but not before she shared one final scene with her son. Well, “she.” The Livia that appears in “Proshai, Livushka” was created using CGI and previous sound clips of Marchand speaking. It cost $250,000, but looked like $25, money that a summer intern later spent on cheap beer and thawed ziti at the Olive Garden.

Phil Hartman, The Simpsons


*sigh* I won’t bother with the specifics of Hartman’s forever-too-soon death; the monster who committed the murder doesn’t even deserve hate-filled recognition. We’ve previously covered how NewsRadio handled Bill McNeal’s “absence,” but The Simpsons did something different: instead of killing off Troy McClure or Lionel Hutz, the characters were simply retired. (His final episode, “Bart the Mother,” was in season 10, perhaps not coincidentally around the time the show’s quality began to feel more wrong than that man’s face, mommy.) The other show that felt the string of Hartman’s passing: Futurama. He was preparing to voice cocky captain Zapp Brannigan, a character written specifically for him. Billy West later took over, and mimicked his voice after Hartman’s.

John Ritter, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter


This is completely beside the point, but did you know that there actually WERE eight rules? The first reads, “Use your hands on my daughter and you’ll lose them after,” and the list ends with, “Dates must be in crowded public places. You want romance? Read a book.” Even a cast as talented as the one 8 Simple Rules had couldn’t sell lines like that, though. There was Katey Sagal, Kaley Cuoco, and, of course, John Ritter, who played Paul Hennessy, the quintessential sitcom patriarch, for one full season, before Ritter died of a heart attack in 2003. He appeared in the first three episodes of season two, but in the fourth, the aptly-titled “Goodbye,” viewers learned that while out buying milk, Paul collapsed and passed away. Creator Tracy Gamble retooled the show, adding David Spade and James Garner to the cast, but ratings quickly tanked, because David Spade, and the sitcom was cancelled after one more season, because David Spade.

Nicholas Colasanto, Cheers

Nicholas Colasanto

Whenever I think about Nicholas Colasanto, I feel guilty. Colasanto was all set to retire from acting after nearly thirty years in the business, and a heart disease scare in the 1970s, when he was offered the role of Coach on Cheers. He took it, and before long, Cheers was one of the biggest shows on TV, thanks in no small part to the slow, yet cheerful Coach Ernie Pantusso. By season three, however, Colasanto’s health was beginning to worsen and he had trouble remembering his lines. In late 1984, he checked into a hospital; in 1985, Coach appeared in his final episode, “Cheerio Cheers,” and Colasanto died. The guilt: his replacement, Woody Boyd, introduced the world to Woody Harrelson. The world is worse off for losing Colasanto; the world is better off with Woody Harrelson in it.

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