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.
"I can tell you that we were on the air with her for three years and there were definitely some rough days,” said co-star Alyssa Milano. “Holly and Shannen were best friends for like 10 years before the show started so it was very much sort of like high school. I would hope that in our thirties it wouldn't feel like that anymore."
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.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as the actor was arrested by police for further drug offences. This led to Fox firing him as he was sentenced to three years on parole and ordered to go through a rehabilitation program that meant he would be absent from filming.
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.”
“It did what it was designed to do — it reminded people this is still a show where anything that can happen despite the fact it’s been on for a while.”
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.
Many rumors surfaced at the time about the departure of Knight’s character. Some speculated that it might have been down to the fact that he had come out as gay, but the actor felt he had simply lost the trust of those in charge of the show and that there had been a "breakdown of communication" that meant he couldn’t discuss issues with them. "My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George]," he explained. "And with respect, I'm going to leave it at that."
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.
Speaking on a Nickelodeon special about the show, he explained that the main reason was that he was going bald. "I knew I wasn't going to be doing children's television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid's TV show," Burns, now 40, said in the interview. "And it was happening ... fast.”
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.
Speaking on The Howard Stern Show, Jason Alexander revealed that he got on perfectly well with Swedberg but doing scenes with her was incredibly difficult as she would often throw off his timing. The problem grew even worse when she began to have scenes with other characters. “I was the only actor doing scenes with her… Finally, they do an episode where Elaine and Jerry have a lot of material with her. They do the week, and then we get to the restaurant afterwards and they go, ‘You know what? Its f*cking impossible. It’s impossible.’ And Julia actually said, ‘I know. It’s just…Don’t you want to just kill her?’ And Larry went, 'Ba-bang!’ Now we gotta kill her!'”
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.
The real reason he was written out of the medical drama though, came about because Kal Penn, who portrayed Kutner, received a new job offer that he felt he couldn’t turn down. It wasn’t another acting role but rather a position at the White House, working with President Obama in the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he was an associate director. He has worked with the Democratic Party for many years since then and even co-chaired Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
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.
Cruz felt that there was little enjoyment gained from playing the character in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, simply because of how draining it was to portray the energetic and erratic drug dealer. Speaking to Hollywood Reporter, he said: “There's nothing fun about it. It's a great character, but to try to pull it off is really difficult. It's really high-energy. It's relentless. It's very physical and it wears you out. You get very drained.”
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.
The reason for his departure from the show was allegedly the result of his relationship with co-star Evangeline Lilly. The pair had dated for several years but had broken up while filming Lost, making it incredibly difficult for the pair to work together. Monaghan felt it would be best to leave the show for the good of everyone and asked the writers to kill off his character so that he wouldn’t have to continue to work with Lilly.
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.
It was clear to the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, that Isaac Hayes had quit because of Scientology-focused episodes like “Trapped in the Closet”, despite the fact that he had never questioned their treatment or ridicule of other religions during their history. They felt this was hypocritical and killed off Chef to ensure that Hayes couldn’t come back to the show in the future. "[We] never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we [lampooned] Scientology,” said Matt Stone. “He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”
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.
The 2007 Writer’s Guild of America Strike led to many shows suffering delays and the threat of cancellation. One of those that was most affected was Friday Night Lights. Fortunately though, the showrunners were able to keep the show on the air by making cutbacks to certain story elements that could no longer be developed effectively. This meant that Santiago Herrera was simply cut entirely from the series, never to be seen or heard of again.
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.
Voice actress Maggie Roswell was only being paid $2,000 per episode for her work as Maude and several other characters, but had to pay expensive flight costs to fly out to Los Angeles to record her lines. When she asked for a modest raise to cover the increasing airline costs, Fox simply decided to replace her with another actress and kill off Maude. The two parties eventually settled the dispute so that Roswell could record her lines from her Denver home, but Ned’s wife wasn’t brought back.
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.
This didn’t go down well with the cast and crew of Cheers, and Rhea Perlman was particularly annoyed about the statement. Rather than have Thomas be a disruptive presence they simply decided to kill off his character so that the problem was resolved in the easiest way possible.
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.
The rest of the season was eventually cancelled when Sheen made bizarre and derogatory comments about its creators and cast. Warner Bros. then took the serious action of banning him from the production lot and eventually firing him when Sheen demanded a huge pay rise to continue on the show. He was later killed off completely, with his character replaced by a new one played by Ashton Kutcher.
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.