The success of almost every television show depends on its characters. While other factors, such as the special effects and plot, can be important parts of ensuring that a show becomes a hit, it is the characters themselves that play the biggest roles. They allow viewers to have some empathy with what is occurring on screen and provide the platform through which the story can be told. Yet, even hugely popular characters may not last forever, with many of them eventually being killed off and left to the wayside.
While modern hits like Game of Thrones have made a habit of killing important characters on a regular basis, most shows will only do so in very special circumstances. Sometimes it may be necessary to kill off a character to create drama or as a storytelling device to advance the plot. In other cases, a particular role may have just run its course and is no longer an important part of the show. It’s even common to have expensive parts written off in order to reduce the cost of filming. However, these are not the only reasons that famous characters have departed hit television programs. In fact, there are some very strange and unbelievable reasons that executives have decided to get rid of a personality by having them die on screen. From actor meltdowns to writer’s strikes, it can occasionally be the easiest solution to kill off a troublesome character as these examples show.
15 Prue Halliwell – Charmed
Shannen Doherty has always been something of a controversial actress. She caused plenty of conflict on the set of Beverly Hills, 90210 and was eventually let go from that show when it emerged that her colleagues were no longer prepared to work with her. History repeated itself in 2001 when her character, Prue Halliwell, was written out of the series Charmed, for causing too much drama on set, with Doherty having a particular feud with Alyssa Milano.
14 Larry Paul – Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal had been an incredibly successful show for several seasons when Robert Downey Jr. signed on to become a main cast member for season 4. This was seen as something of a win-win situation for both the actor and the executives behind the show, as Ally McBeal had become stale and Downey was in need of a new job after running into trouble thanks to his drug problems. The move was a definitive success and the character became so popular that Larry Paul was actually set to marry the principle character of Ally, at the end of the season.
13 Brian Griffin – Family Guy
When Brian Griffin was killed in 2014, fans of Family Guy went into uproar. Many immediately took to social media to protest the move while others signed petitions and demanded that he be returned to the show, despite the fact that he had been replaced by another dog called Vinnie. Luckily for fans of the cartoon dog, the death was only meant to shock viewers.
“It surprised all of us,” Seth MacFarlane told reporters at a press conference. “We were all very surprised, in a good way, that people still cared enough about that character to be that angry. We thought it would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage wasn’t something we counted on.”
12 George O’Malley – Grey’s Anatomy
George O’Malley became one of the most popular characters on Grey’s Anatomy during its entire run. Portrayed by T.R. Knight, the actor had never had a breakout role until he got the chance to play the doctor, but his tenure lasted just five seasons. O’Malley was killed off when the character was involved in a bus crash and was left brain dead due to his injuries.
11 Steve Burns – Blues Clues
Although he wasn’t technically killed off, Steve Burns left his hosting duties on Blue’s Clues after spending 6 years on the show. The children’s television series was incredibly popular and had become one of the most watched shows on Nickelodeon throughout its run, but the sudden departure of Burns led to many fans speculating on exactly why he had left. These rumors were never fully confirmed until 2014, when the host revealed the real reason he quit the job.
10 Susan Ross – Seinfeld
Rumors have circulated for years since Heidi Swedberg’s character of Susan Ross, was killed off in Seinfeld about exactly what were the circumstances behind the departure. It took until 2015 before fans finally got the answer that they wanted, and it turns out that it was simply because of the fact that she didn’t have the same comedic timing as the other characters.
9 Lawrence Kutner – House
The sudden death of Lawrence Kutner from House left many fans befuddled. The character had never shown any suicidal tendencies and didn’t seem to be suffering from depression, leaving viewers confused as to why the writers had the popular character kill himself midway through a season.
8 Tuco Salamanca – Breaking Bad
Tuco Salamanca is one of the most memorable characters in the television show Breaking Bad – a notable achievement considering how many great actors and roles that were involved in it. While it certainly put actor Raymond Cruz, in the spotlight it was also much harder work than any other job he had done in television, leaving him exhausted so that he actually requested he be killed off.
7 Charlie Pace – Lost
Although most people will know actor Dominic Monaghan for his portrayal of Merry in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, he also went on to become a hit on television through his work on the cult hit Lost. He was a major character for three seasons of the series until he was eventually killed off.
6 Chef – South Park
Popular character Chef, was killed just nine days after actor Isaac Hayes reported that he had quit the show. The controversial episode saw Chef brainwashed by a “fruity little club” before he was eventually killed in a rather gruesome way.
5 Santiago Herrera – Friday Night Lights
Santiago Herrera was never explicitly killed off from Friday Night Lights, yet the character disappeared completely after season 3 and was never seen again. The reason wasn’t some sordid behavior on the part of the actor or because the story had always intended to kill him off, in fact, the answer was far more mundane.
4 Maude Flanders – The Simpsons
Cartoons very rarely kill off major characters simply because it is easier to replace voice actors than it is live-action. So when an established character does die, it is all the more shocking to fans. Maude Flanders, the wife of Ned Flanders, died during the episode “Along Again, Natura-Diddily”, following a pay dispute with the Fox Broadcasting Company.
3 Eddie LeBec – Cheers
After having a successful stint on Mork and Mindy, Jay Thomas got his biggest role in the hit sitcom Cheers. Unfortunately, this role didn’t last long. According to writer Ken Levine, he went on a radio show and while discussing working on the show, made disparaging comments about it and his on-screen lover interest, Carla Tortelli. Levine stated that he said something to the effect of “It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman”, and that he needed “combat pay” for doing so.
2 Charlie Harper – Two And A Half Men
Charlie Sheen has always had something of a controversial career, but his most troubled time in acting probably came when he was on Two And A Half Men. In 2011, Sheen had to enter rehab several times as his substance abuse got out of control. This culminated in him having to spend an extended period of time secluded in his own home, causing the show to go on a mid-season hiatus.
1 William Hartnell – Doctor Who
William Hartnell is perhaps the least well known of all the incarnations of the title character from Doctor Who, yet he was the first person to ever take on the role of the Doctor. He played the time traveler for three years and helped it to grow to become one of BBC’s most important and popular series.
Unfortunately, he began to suffer from ill-health in 1966, and it started to become clear to producers that he would no longer be up to the arduous filming schedule that lasted 46 weeks of the year. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that he was in the early stages of the disease arteriosclerosis, which prevented him from being able to move freely. This led to the writers and producers coming up with the idea of killing off Hartnell’s character but having the Doctor return in a regenerated form – allowing future actors to portray the character in their own individual way.
Sources: HuffingtonPost.com, BBC.co.uk, CNN.com, HollywoodReporter.com, BusinessInsider.com, TheGuardian.com
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