Life happens. In every type of work out there, people move on from their positions unexpectedly. Management fills the hole with a comparable replacement and everything keeps moving. In world of TV, however, the stakes are a little higher. Actors in most roles can’t be easily replaced, unless the show doesn’t care about continuity or keeping up appearances, which is rare. Most of the time, when an actor decides or is forced to leave, the writers need to come up with a way of excusing that actor’s character in the narrative. Sometimes the character will merely say goodbye and move away. In some shows, the character’s storyline will wrap up nicely and they can leave with closure. Many times, however, the character needs to be killed off. Such kills are the most surprising for audiences and are the moments that we’re looking at here.
But we’re not looking at any old death in a TV show. Most characters that die in a show do so because it was for the good of the show; it was planned and part of the script. There are occasions, though, when the actor forces the show creator’s hand. Whether the actor quits, demands to be killed or are fired, these deaths are unexpected and are designed to shock the audiences. On this list, we have 15 characters that were killed off and 15 behind-the-scenes explanations for why they got the ax in the story. It should be obvious, but we’re dealing with character deaths here, so there are going to be some spoilers. Heads up. Here are 15 real world reasons why famous characters were killed off.
15. Dr. George O’Malley – Grey’s Anatomy
After T.R. Knight announced that he would be leaving Grey’s Anatomy because of “creative differences,” creator Shonda Rhimes, decided to kill him off in spectacular fashion. Knight suggests that Rhimes was not particularly open to him coming out as a gay man, a claim that she denies. Knight had a fair bit of controversy on set, but none of it was likely his fault. Knight also mentioned that he wanted his character to have a bigger role, but that the writers were not willing to write in more for him. Once Knight said that he would be backing out of future episodes, Rhimes had his character, Dr. George O’Malley, get hit by a bus and suffer horrific injuries. His resulting brain damage left him unable to speak or move or really do anything except die.
14. Prue Halliwell – Charmed
Shannen Doherty has gained a reputation over the years for being difficult to work with. There was always talk about her and Jennie Garth‘s beef on the set of Beverly Hills, 90210, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise to hear that there were problems on the set of Charmed. Apparently, Alyssa Milano and Doherty would constantly bicker on set and tensions were always high, so the show heads decided it was time to kill off Doherty’s character, Prue Halliwell. After ending a season with both Prue and Piper (Holly Marie Combs) injured, the next season started without Prue, explaining that she had actually died in that scene. Fans of the show were not happy because of how it all went down and because Prue was the leader of the sisters and a fan favorite. Though it was never confirmed that Doherty was fired, it seems rather obvious that she was.
13. Professor Maximillian Arturo – Sliders
For fans of the show Sliders, John Rhys-Davies, who played Professor Maximillian Arturo, was known to be very critical of the showrunners and the writers. He would rail on the lack of creativity and many of the borrowed plotlines. He was quite open about how the show would blatantly steal from various shows and films in order to get through a season. Over time, though, this criticism became too much for the crew to bear. It was decided that Rhys-Davies had to go, so they wrote in his character’s death. The death scene was left somewhat ambiguous in case Rhys-Davies ever returned to the show but that would not happen. There was some debate as to whether the real Arturo was killed or if it was Arturo’s double, but, in the end, it made no difference as all traces of Rhys-Davies’ characters were eliminated soon after.
12. Lawrence Kutner – House
When Kal Penn took a job with the Obama administration in the White House as a liaison for arts and entertainment groups, something needed to be done with his character on the show House. Even though the showrunners say that everything was amicable when he left, Kutner’s suicide by shooting himself in the head makes it seem a little different. The guy was a doctor. It’s not like he couldn’t get a job somewhere else. Over time though, the relationship must have been repaired (or it was actually fine to begin with) because Kutner would return as a hallucination of Dr. House’s in the show’s final episode.
11. Will Gardner – The Good Wife
Will Gardner (Josh Charles) was a mainstay on The Good Wife and no one thought he was going anywhere. Behind-the scenes, it seems that things weren’t going as swimmingly as they appeared on the surface. When it came time to re-up his contract for season 5, Charles showed that he wasn’t happy because he didn’t renew his contract for the next season. This set a bee in the bonnet of the show creators, and they decided to kill him. Not in real life, you sickos, in the show. In the midst of a dramatic shootout in a courtroom, Will is shot in the throat and killed, a move that was completely unexpected for fans of the show and shocked them to their very cores, probably.
10. Dr. Lance Sweets – Bones
When actor John Francis Daley, Dr. Lance Sweets on Bones, asked to be excused from the show for four months to direct the National Lampoon’s Vacation remake, the showrunners said sure, take all the time you need because you’re now dead to us. Maybe they didn’t use those exact words, but they basically said that. If it were up to Daley, he would have been able to direct the movie and come back to his role on Bones, but if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all probably have nut allergies and diabetes. Also, the showrunners had different plans. They felt, probably rightly, that it would leave too much of a hole in the show if he were just to leave for four months. Instead, they had Sweets get beaten and shot in a parking garage. This death in the 10th season was the first main character death in the Bones run up to that point, so it doesn’t need to be said that fans were not expecting it.
9. Charlie Sheen – Two and a Half Men
The craziness that is Charlie Sheen is well documented. His battle with producer Chuck Lorre and the show Two and a Half Men, was all over the airwaves, but maybe you didn’t watch the show. Maybe you never saw how he died on the show. The result in the very public dispute was Sheen being fired for his antics, his addiction and his failing mental and physical health. To kill off his character, Charlie Harper, in the show, the writers decided to drop a piano on his head. Afterwards, the camera pans out to show producer, Chuck Lorre, sitting on set, looking into the camera and saying, “winning” (Sheen’s famously stupid line), before having a piano dropped on his head, too. It was pretty funny.
8. James Evans Sr. – Good Times
After he voiced his displeasure about the direction of the show, Good Times, John Amos, who played James Evans Sr., was killed off swiftly. Amos had spoken out about how the character of J.J. (Jimmie Walker) evolved into the main character based on his buffoonish attitude, saying “dy-no-mite” every chance he could get while never adding anything of substance. Amos, and some of the other actors, wanted there to be more attention paid to the other children in the show, characters who had real dreams and positive messages. However, the show creators weren’t interested in positive messages and, apparently, neither was the audience. The character Evans, was killed in a car crash and his wife, Florida, read the news of his death on the air. That was the end of James Evans Sr.
7. Mr. Eko – Lost
When Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) was first brought into the fold on Lost in season 2, it was expected that he would become a very prominent figure over the course of the show. Even though the character quickly became a fan favorite, Akinnuoye-Agbaje never felt comfortable on the show. He claims that he didn’t feel at home in Hawaii where the shooting took place and, because of this, wanted to be excused from it. This caused the writers quite a bit of stress because Eko was meant to be one of the leaders on the island. That’s what they were building up to. Instead, they needed to come up with an acceptable way to kill him off. What they decided on was a shocking death at the hands (the smoke?) of the smoke monster. The smoke monster picked him up and banged him against a couple of trees and that was it.
6. Susan Ross – Seinfeld
Heidi Swedberg, the actress who played George Costanza’s (Jason Alexander) fiancé, Susan Ross, in Seinfeld is alive and well, living in Hawaii or something, playing the ukulele in a band, seriously. The character of Susan Ross in the show, however, was killed off by licking too many envelopes for wedding invitations and overdosing on low-quality glue. This death seems random, as does everything in Seinfeld, and it was. It came out of the blue because the writers didn’t actually want George to get married, but they also didn’t know how to get the character out of the way. To make matters worse, Alexander and Swedberg were said to have terrible on-screen comedic chemistry. The idea to kill her goes to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who said one day, “don’t you want to just kill her?” To which Larry David, the show creator, thought, “yes!” So he did.
5. Charlie Pace – Lost
Depending on where you get your news, you might be in the boat that believes Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) left Lost because it was too awkward to work with his ex-girlfriend Evangeline Lilly, after she left him for one of the show’s production assistants. It does make sense because the two dated for about three years while on the show. After she broke it off with him, she soon got with another crew member on the show. It’s been said that Monaghan even said some aggressive things in front of everyone on set and it was uncomfortable for everyone involved. He’s even called her a cheater on Twitter, which was quite a stirring comment. After all this went down, Monaghan’s character, fan favorite Charlie Pace, drowned and died. Now you know why the death seemed so completely avoidable. It was. Monaghan just wanted to get away from that beautiful forbidden fruit named Evangeline Lilly.
4. Maude Flanders – Simpsons
When the actress who played Maude Flanders (Maggie Roswell) in The Simpsons, asked for a pay raise from Fox in 1999, the studio said no. Well, kind of. Roswell asked for a 300-600% raise from her $1,000 to $2,000 per episode salary. Fox, instead, offered her about $150 extra, so she told them to stick it. To deal with her departure, The Simpsons writers got a replacement voice actor to take over Roswell’s minor characters and killed off Maude Flanders. The kill came at the hands of a T-shirt cannon. The shirts were meant for Homer, but he ducked to pick up a bobby pin, so it knocked Maude off the bleachers. Roswell would return to voice Maude as a ghost later on, but would never come back full time.
3. Chef – South Park
When Trey Parker and Matt Stone decide to kill off a cast member in South Park, they do it with pizazz. After Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, voiced his concern with how the show treated the church of Scientology, of which he is a member, he would take a full departure from the show. Hayes suggested that the show had become fully intolerant and not satirical at all. The South Park creators were obviously not happy with this decision claiming that Hayes had no problem making fun of other religions, but when it came to his own, he wanted there to be a double standard. To kill him off after his departure, the South Park writers had him turn into a brainwashed child molester, fall off a bridge that was struck by lightning and land on the ground below. While on the ground, he was mauled and dismembered by a bear and a mountain lion. After this, the character soiled himself to signify that he had finally died.
2. Eddie LeBec – Cheers
In season five of Cheers, Eddie LeBec, played by Jay Thomas, joined the show as Rhea Perlman‘s new boyfriend. In season 6, the two were married and the future looked good for the character, but then the next season his role was diminished and, the season after that—season 8—Eddie LeBec was dead. So what happened? Well, apparently, Thomas, who was also a radio DJ, was pretty verbal about his lack of attraction to Rhea Perlman. A number of times on air, he said that he received “combat pay” to kiss Perlman, something that she must not have loved hearing. Rumor has it that she went to the show heads and said she wanted him gone. She got her way.
1. The Doctor – Doctor Who
When William Hartnell first took on the role as the Doctor in Doctor Who, no one could have guessed it would become the sensation it did. For three seasons, Hartnell played the lead role until, in season 4, his illness, arteriosclerosis, became a massive hindrance on his ability to memorize and speak his lines. He needed to be written off the show and replaced, but how could that possibly happen? This is when one of the most innovative and convenient plot devices on any TV show was created. The show decided that the Doctor could regenerate his body, turning him into an entirely new person, both in looks and attitude. This plotline allowed for the show to continue with a new actor in the role, something that has allowed it to run in stints for almost 40 years now.