For an actor, getting cast on a hit television series is something that dreams are made out of. Yet, there is a fragility to being on television series, since it can either make or break you as an actor. While some might think that a memorable television character results in instant fame, others can see it as a death sentence for creating versatility in a professional career.
There have been a number of actors that learned this lesson the hard way, since so many have become typecast in their role and character personification. From Urkel in Family Matters to Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, there is a definite downside to taking a role that can overwhelm an actor.
To stop this from occurring, many actors choose to leave a series before they become typecast for future job opportunities. While there are some television characters that are killed off because the storyline demands it, sometimes it’s the actors that choose to request their dismissal during a television series. This can result in a unique way for showrunners to create intrigue in a storyline, and it can also help the actors to continue their careers without only being instantly recognizable for their previously portrayed characters.
While some actors have left a television series over their own accord, others have been killed off because of their offscreen or onset behavior. Whatever the case, check out our list of the 15 worst ways actors were killed off in a TV series, and see which death scenario created the most buzz-worthy moments on television.
15. Josh Charles Killed Off Of The Good Wife
Josh Charles played the character, Will Gardner, in the CBS hit series, The Good Wife. While his character grew a large fan base, Charles didn’t seem to want to partake in the love triangle story involving the lead character, Alicia Florrick. Approaching the creators of the show, Charles expressed that he was anxious to move on to other projects, and asked to be let off the series. In 2014, TV Line had an interview with creators, Robert and Michelle King, and discussed the ramifications of Charles leaving the show. When asked about her reaction to hearing about Charles wanting to leave the show, Michelle said, “It was a combination of sadness at not having Will Gardner in the law firm anymore, and then some excitement at the opportunity of telling a really exciting story for our characters.” The show ultimately killed off Will Gardner in a courtroom shooting that left fans shocked in a heart-wrenching death scene.
14. Michelle Rodriguez Killed Off Of Lost
Michelle Rodriguez played the character, Ana Lucia Cortez, in the hit television series, Lost. As a former police officer, she was one of the stronger characters on the show. Yet, offscreen she was far from a law abiding person while filming. Arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, she actually went through some legal ramifications. Her co-star, Cynthia Watros, also was arrested on the same charge, and the pair were both killed off of the show. Producers denied that her character was killed off because of the issues surrounding her offscreen behavior, but it is a little interesting that both her and Watros were killed off. Making it even more intriguing, they were both killed off on the same episode. As if getting killed off a hit show wasn’t bad enough, it makes it worse that she had to share her death episode with another cast member. Handing over her gun to fellow survivor, Michael Dawson, Cortez was shot and killed and left bloodied on the couch.
13. Theo James Killed Off Of Downton Abbey
As an actor, getting the call that you’ve just landed a role on a hit television series is the exciting moment that big breaks are made out of. While it’s known that not all characters in a television series will make it all the way to the end, actors hope that they will at least make it a few seasons. This wasn’t the case with Theo James, since his character only lasted a single episode. Playing the character, Kemal Pamuk, James was able to pull off the charismatic appeal that made fans believe he could take the virginity of Lady Mary. Pamuk died of a heart attack in the arms of Lady Mary, and died naked in her bed. He spent the rest of the scene in a lifeless state, being carried wearing nothing but a bed sheet. Although he may have been killed off unceremoniously in the Downton Abbey series, he was able to make the most out of his time on the show and showed how charismatic he can be on screen. His portrayal led to huge opportunities, including getting the lead role in the Divergent film series.
12. Mandy Patinkin Killed Off Of Criminal Minds
Mandy Patinkin is no stranger to getting written off a show, since he has a history of asking to leave a series. As a series regular in Chicago Hope, fans were surprised when he asked to be written off the show in the second season, citing he wanted to spend more time with his family. He again asked to be written off of a show, when he chose to leave Criminal Minds. This time around, the network chose to kill off his character. His character, Jason Gideon, was killed by a gunshot wound in his own cabin. His death actually led to an interesting flashback storyline that opened the door to even more mystery and intrigue for the show. Yet, it also led to a lot of soul searching dialogue for the actor. Patinkin gave an interview to New York magazine where he described his decision to join the Criminal Minds cast as, “The biggest public mistake” he ever made. He felt conflicted over the storyline and the message it was sending to viewers, and stood by his decision to ask to be killed off the show.
11. Dean Norris Killed Off Of Breaking Bad
The unpredictable storyline and the unique characters in Breaking Bad helped to make the series an instant success, but it wasn’t just the lead actors that became favorites on the show. Dean Norris played the character, Hank Schrader, which became an unlikely hero on the series. While many started the show rooting for Walter White, Hank’s fight for the side of good was more than just a testament to his skills as a DEA agent. Norris was offered an opportunity to star in a sitcom pilot, and approached the AMC network in trying to speed up his death in order to partake in this next step of his professional career. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Norris said he tried to hint towards a speedier death saying, “Would it be interesting if Hank died in the first eight?” Yet, the network wanted to prolong his death, since it was part of a major buildup throughout the series. While his shooting death was a great way to go out on a bang, it was rough that it couldn’t have been a few episodes earlier so that Norris could take the other sitcom job.
10. Michael Pitt Killed Off Of Boardwalk Empire
When audiences were first introduced to the Martin Scorsese-backed HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, Michael Pitt’s character quickly became a favorite on the show. Playing Jimmy Darmody, his underdog story made him ultra endearing to fans, and they rooted for his character to succeed and find love. Yet, reports started emerging around his behavior onset, with rumors about how difficult he was to work with and his inability to memorize lines. While producers insisted Jimmy Darmody’s death was planned prior to filming Season 2 of the show, people wondered whether or not his behavior might have led to his early demise. Pitt’s character was killed by the hands of lead actor, Steve Buscemi, and was shot multiple times with the deathblow in the forehead. Further speculation regarding his death was fueled by the fact that showrunners didn’t even bother to call back Pitt for the scene where they found his dead body, and instead the shallow grave contained nothing but bones.
9. Kal Penn Killed Off Of House
Kal Penn was first introduced to audiences through his comedic role in the Harold & Kumar film series, but later moved on to a more serious role as Lawrence Kutner in House. Although he didn’t become a cast member until Season 4 of the show, House fans thought he would quickly become a regular member of the team. Instead, he was found dead in his apartment by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Season 5. While the suicide created a dynamic storyline for conspiracy theorists of the show, the reality was that Penn asked to be let go so he could pursue a job opportunity at the White House. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Penn discussed how he came about this opportunity saying, “I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House. I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there.” Penn was hired as the associate director in the White House office of public liaison, and therefore needed to be killed off of House to take the job.
8. Jessica Brown Findlay Killed Off Of Downton Abbey
Jessica Brown Findlay played the character of Lady Sybil Crawley on the hit ITV series, Downton Abbey. Playing the rebellious and gorgeous younger sister, fans instantly fell in love with the fact that she was such a strong female character in a period drama. While she was virtually an unknown actor at the time, the show catapulted her into fame with an instantly recognizable character. Rather than embracing the longevity of the series, Findlay was the first to jump ship early on in the series. In an interview with The Daily Mail, Findlay spoke about her decision to leave the series by saying, “It’s great to be in something that people enjoy, but I didn’t want to play Sybil for years and then discover it was the only thing I could do. That was a much more terrifying prospect than unemployment, so I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and leapt into the abyss.” Lady Sybil died immediately after giving birth, in a fit of seizures from eclampsia. While it was horrible for the series to lose the favorite sister character, it gave the showrunners the opportunity to implement one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the storyline.
7. Dan Stevens Killed Off Of Downton Abbey
Dan Stevens played Matthew Crawley on the hit show, Downton Abbey, and was with the show since the very first season. Playing the romantic lead in the series, fans were rooting for Matthew and Lady Mary ever since their first meeting. Immediately after the birth of their first child, the Christmas Special episode showed Matthew dying in a tragic car accident. While fans were shocked, showrunners knew that he wasn’t going to be around to finish the entire series. In an interview with The Telegraph, Stevens talked about how he had made the decision even before filming Season 3, saying, “We were always optioned for three years. And when that came up it was a very difficult decision. But it felt like a good time to take stock, to take a moment. From a personal point of view. I wanted a chance to do other things.” It might seem strange for an actor to get himself killed off of a hit television series, but Stevens is a Cambridge-educated actor that had literary aspirations that he wanted to pursue outside of the Downton Abbey series.
6. Shannen Doherty Killed Off Of Charmed
Shannen Doherty was known for her diva ways when she was onset as a cast member in the hit television series, 90210. Typically, being an actor labeled as difficult to work with results in quite a short career, since it hinders new opportunities to come their way. Yet, Shannen Doherty was extremely lucky to get cast in another hit series, Charmed. Since 90210 was filmed early on in her career, audiences hoped she had learned her lesson in being able to get along with costars onset. Playing the character, Prue Halliwell, she was one of the most powerful witches of all time and a beloved character of the show. However, offscreen she was involved in some feuds with Alyssa Milano and others from the show. In Season 3, her character was killed by a demon assassin, and the series replaced her spot with a separate character played by Rose McGowan.
5. T.R. Knight Killed Off Of Grey’s Anatomy
George O’Malley was a beloved character on Grey’s Anatomy, played by T. R. Knight. Audiences didn’t know much of T. R. Knight’s work outside of this hit show, but he had been in the headlines a time or two. The infamous argument between Patrick Dempsey and Isaiah Washington, reportedly included Washington using a homophobic slur towards Knight while filming an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Washington was fired after the incident, but some felt that Washington was treated too harshly. Perhaps Knight felt the show truly was on Washington’s side from the get-go or perhaps he was being sincere about his character concerns, but he reached out to Shonda Rhimes and asked to be killed off the show. Supposedly he wasn’t in agreement on the path his character was taking, which was a huge criticism to the writer of the show. His character met his demise by getting hit by a bus of all things!
4. Charlie Sheen Killed Off Of Two And A Half Men
Charlie Sheen played the character of Charlie Harper on the hit CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men. At the time of his “death,” he was the highest paid actor on a television series. Yet, Sheen was making waves offscreen with the network and show creator, Chuck Lorre, over his demands with increasing his salary. The erratic behavior was just starting to emerge offscreen, with many of his rants ending up online. His character was ultimately killed off when he slipped on a Metro platform and fell. He was hit by an oncoming train, and that was it for his character. Sheen returned to the show for the funeral scene and a haunting depiction, but the new star of the show was Ashton Kutcher. His new wife, Rose, gave a speech at the funeral saying, “I just want you to know that Charlie didn’t suffer. His body just exploded like a balloon full of meat.”
3. Nicollette Sheridan Killed off Desperate Housewives
Once thought of as one of the sexiest women in the world, Nicollette Sheridan played an aging housewife in ABC’s hit series, Desperate Housewives. Although she wasn’t portrayed as one of the favorite characters on the show, she definitely made a lasting impression on viewers with her desperate attempts at flirtation and her villain-like personality. Her character, Edie Britt, was killed off the show in the fifth season. After almost being strangled to death, she gets into a car accident and dies from electrocution. She sued ABC, Touchstone, and show creator Marc Cherry for claims that she was wrongfully terminated. Sheridan had complained to the network that Cherry had knocked her in the head during an argument in 2008, and felt she was terminated based on this complaint. The case went to trial and the LA court ruled that she was not wrongfully fired from the Desperate Housewives show in 2012.
2. Columbus Short Killed Off Scandal
Columbus Short played one of the original gladiators for Olivia Pope in the hit series, Scandal. His character, Harrison Wright, was a ride-or-die character that was one of Pope’s most trusted allies. The Season 3 finale was the last episode fans were able to see of Harrison, since his character had figured out Rowan’s plot and was last seen with Tom’s gun pointed at his head. Presumably, Shonda Rhimes had a much more in-depth storyline for the character, but the actor was fired from the series and so the character had to be killed off. Columbus Short was charged with battery for attacking his then-wife and threatening to kill her and himself. In 2014, Short gave an interview with Access Hollywood Live where he claimed that it was his drug and alcohol abuse that was the main factor in his leaving the show. Instead of divulging the details of what really happened during the incident with his then-wife, he made it seem like it was a decision the showrunners made to help him get well. Guess that’s better than admitting you’re a wife beater and you got fired from a hit show!
1. Patrick Dempsey Killed Off Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy has enjoyed high ratings and a hugely faithful fan base since it first aired in 2005. Yet, along with all the fame for the show and its characters, there was also a steady stream of reports about drama behind the scenes. Patrick Dempsey quickly became known as the breakout star of the show as “McDreamy,” but that doesn’t mean he was able to stay out of the drama that occurred onset. The incident involving Isaiah Washington became a media storm over his use of a homophobic slur, but it was actually an altercation between him and Patrick Dempsey. Dempsey became another focal point of a media story when he referred to his role on Grey’s Anatomy as just “a paycheck,” rather than a project he was continuously enthusiastic about. Very quickly after making that statement, Dempsey was in a car accident and became another fatality in the Grey’s Anatomy cast.