12 Actors Who Passed Away While Their Shows Were Still Running


Tragedy touches all of us, and the famous aren’t immune just because of their prominent place in our society. If anything, tragedy seems to find them even more often.

It’s certainly the case if you look across TV history. Sadly, many actors have passed away while their shows were still airing, and their friends and castmates had to figure out how to pick up the pieces and move on without them.

Here are twelve actors who had this unfortunate fate, and here’s to hoping we see less like them in the future.

Paul Tassi In addition to writing for TVOvermind, Paul has contributed to major publications such as Forbes. He's a video game expert as well as TV and Movie guy.
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  • Meredith Mc

    Jon-Erik Hexum…He was filming the show “Cover Up” with Jennifer O’Neill when he accidentally killed himself on-set with a gun containing blanks.

    • Marv Chomer

      Sorry–didn’t see your post when I posted the same thing.

      • jerseydave

        Ditto. R.I.P.

    • AerynSun2011

      I was going to mention Jon, too. Glad to see I’m not the only one to remember him.

      • Joe R

        When Brandon Lee died on the set from a weapon being used, nobody ever bothered to bring up the same thing happening to Jon-Erik Hexum. Jon was on his way to being a really big star. He would have been as popular as Mel Gibson was at the time.

  • Mac

    Cory Monteith didn’t pass away, He was reckless and OD’ed. Why isn’t Nick Colasantos on the list? He played the Coach on Cheers for the first 4 seasons before having passed away near the last few eps and then replaced by Woody for the remaining run of the series.

    Cory Monteith shouldn’t be up there with the rest of these guys.

    • Calli O

      Pretty sure it still means he passed away. He’s up there because he was a beloved character and it’s a fresh memory.

    • Charms434

      Ummmmm he still passed away, unless you’re REALLY into conspiracy theories.

    • AerynSun2011

      Can’t believe Nick wasn’t on the list.

  • Melody Clark

    I must be old — the first actors to come to mind weren’t even on the list. Pete Duel died while “Alias Smith and Jones” was in production, as did “Freddie Prinze” of Chico and the Man.

    • Rickster Rickster

      2 suicides. and yes, you’re old. I remember them too

      • jerseydave

        First one I thought of was Jon Eirk Hexum (Gun accident on set, with “blanks.” At contact range to the temple they’ll kill you.)

        • Mary Ellen Rudsit

          Loved my Jon!

          • Name

            he was nice to look at :)

    • C. Mack

      I’m there with you. I thought of the same two actors. I’m 57 yrs old.

    • kafkaesk

      I’m old too. Pete Duel was my first thought.

      • Mary Ellen Rudsit

        Loved Pete and only watch him and Ben!

  • Brian Matson

    Many notable examples from recent years, and it’s good you went far enough to include Jack Woo from Barney Miller, but you missed an even more important one from the 80’s: Nicholas Cosanto on Cheers. This is one of the most notable, because “Coach” was the gentle “heart” of the show, yet Cosanto died only a few years into cheers’ 11 year run. Coach was a true innocent surrounded by ego cases and nut jobs, yet every character loved and got along with him, even both Carla and Diane. Though he was easily confused and forgetful, he would always come through with wisdom when another character needed it most.

    Coach was the regular cast’s only living piece of Sam (or anyone’s) past history, as his former coach, and their relationship had real heart: Sam watches out for Coach who is daft from getting beaned in the head with fastball, and Coach keeps alchoholic Sam from falling off the wagon again.

    Cosonto’s parting also left a space for one of the most successful TV replacements, making a star of Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd, who shared Coach’s innocence and absent mindedness, if not his warm sense of lived in charm. Cheers had a fantastic run with many great highlights, and would add more classic regulars like Frasier and Lilith Crane, but for those who loved the show from the start, there was always a little something missing with Cosanto/Coach’s absence.

    • Dave Lanson

      I wish Coach had survived and the Diane character disappeared instead.

      • Harold

        Diane did disappear and was replaced by a weather balloon.

        • fan_boy

          Oh no you di-int!

        • shay peleg

          Love that

    • Lokeli7

      Dick York, (Darrin) Elizabeth Montgomery’s (Samantha) husband. Also Agnes Moorehead- her Mother. Dan Blocker, Hoss on Bananza, Lorne Greene, on Battlestar Galactica. among a few others.

      • Timkr

        Dick York didn’t die during the run of “Bewitched”. He had debilitating back problems that made it impossible for him to continue on in the role, so he was replaced by Dick Sargent. And Agnes Moorehead didn’t die until after “Bewitched” had completed its network run. However, the original Gladys Kravits, Alice Pearce, died during the series run and was replaced by Sandra Gould. Marion Lorne, who played Aunt Clara, died during the production of the show, but she wasn’t replaced. They just never referred to her again.

      • Wayne Padgette

        Lorne Green, Commander Adama in the Original Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980, did not die during the run of the show.

        Galactica ran from 1978 to 1980. Green died in 1987.
        Thank you for playing.

    • Chaz

      Nicholas Colasanto

    • Lacerz

      My thoughts when I first started this article went to “Coach”. Woody did a decent job of replacing him, and it gave Harrleson a springboard, but he was no Coach.

    • Chris Ferrarelli

      It’s also interesting to note that they mentioned Larry Hagman’s passing on the new DALLAS series, but failed to mention the passing of Jim Davis, who played Jock Ewing, in the original DALLAS series. During Season 4, he was diagnosed with cancer and died weeks after that season had ended. The producers decided to delay his characters passing until sometime in mid-season.

      At the start of the new season, Jock had been called by the U.S. Government to do some exploratory drilling in South America. Mid-way through the season, he was going to be coming home; but his chopper had crashed somewhere in the jungle. As his sons went to go and join in the search to find him, most of the cast had a flashback moment to various scenes that showed how great of an actor he was. They never found him; only recovering a piece of jewelry that he wore during the series. At the end of the episode, they showed the now-famous portrait of him that would be used during the remainder of the series with the caption: “Jim Davis 1909-1981”

  • luvpenguine

    John Spencer (Leo McGarry on West Wing) was an amazing actor who was just starting to get the recognition he deserved.

  • Dave Fried

    what about john spencer while the west wing was still on?

  • Ben Phillips

    John Spencer (“West Wing”); Madeline Kahn (“Cosby”).

  • pufnstuf62

    Interesting that they included Larry Hagman on the new Dallas but failed to mention his TV dad Jim Davis (Jock Ewing) who died 4 years or so into the original Dallas.

    • denroy3

      Barbara Bel Geddes, the mother, almost died and had to quit because of a major heart attack.

  • Marv Chomer

    No Jon Erik Hexum? Shot himself in the head playing russian roulette during the TV show Cover Up.

    • blueiis0112

      although your description of his action is off according to the witness, I was wondering the same;

    • Eric827

      It wasn’t Russian roulette, it was an accident. He jokingly pulled the trigger of a prop gun with blanks in it, while holding it against his head – not realizing that blanks can be deadly at very close range.

  • HankLand

    I was going to post here and say that this list is missing many high-profile names but some other posters have already pointed some of them out.

  • Lawrence Monaco

    Ah, Jon Erik Hexum?

  • dragons3

    Selma Diamond and Florence Halop, both of “Night Court” passed away within a year of each other, early in that show’s run. The opening episodes of season 3 and season 4 were tributes to their characters.

  • Robert Haynes

    Perhaps the greatest such tragedy was the death of Samantha Smith, the 13-year-old Maine actress and goodwill ambassador (to Russia) who died in a plane crash on her way home from taping Lime Street with Robert Wagner.

  • OKGirl

    Also, David Strickland from Suddenly Susan.

  • http://www.youtube.com/sammieannfontaine Sammie Ann Fontaine

    What about Lee Thompson Young? He was known as ‘The Famous Jett Jackson’ but he was still filming Rizzoli & Isles when he died.

    • Luv Harper

      Yeah, he should have been on the list. He died this year.

    • Lynne Pearson Caldwell

      He is definitely the most recent–I too was shocked he wasn’t on the list (although why was he on the show Tues?

      • Aimee M Parent

        they were filming this current season when he died.. i thought he should have been on this list too. very sad…

  • jip

    Anyone else here know the BBC cult favorite of the nineties, “Father Ted?” The title actor, Dermot Morgan, died of a massive heart attack the day after wrapping season 3. Terrible tragedy…he was a comic genius.

    • Rickster Rickster

      again, british television. Americans don’t care. I didn’t know he had died. loved father ted.

  • msquared3

    I see others have pointed out some I thought of right away, Nick Cosanto (Cheers), Freddie Prinze (Chico and the Man), John Spencer (West Wing), the two elderly ladies from Night Court. I also came up with David Strickland (Suddenly Susan) who committed suicide, was given a tribute in the season 3 finale, and they went on to do a 4th season. A couple of supporting characters from Betwitched died and their characters lived on with other actresses playing their roles. All the major ones i could think of either made the list, or the comments section.

    • AerynSun2011

      David Strickland committed suicide after the opening of Forces of Nature which opened at #1 at the box office. Depression is a strange and tragic thing. Everything can be coming up roses, but that can’t quell the feelings of depression.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjamin.foster.39 Benjamin Foster

    I was surprised that this list didn’t include Elisabeth Sladen, who starred in the BBC’s popular Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. She died of cancer at age 65 while the show was in the midst of filming its fifth season. The BBC aired the completed episodes of the fifth season, after which the show ended.

    • Rickster Rickster

      because we only care about American television

  • Mike Jorgensen

    Michael Conrad from Hill Street Blues and John Spencer of the West Wing come to my mind first

    • Bananarama

      Absolutely. Michael Conrad was my top-of-mind as well (“Let’s be careful out there…’)

  • Rickster Rickster

    i remember jack soo dying and that special episode. the show was never the same without him.

    • jonathan comer

      That’s so true. His dry humor and expression always put a smile on my face.

    • pearl

      ditto…..great actor and one of my all time favorite shows….

  • Splice

    Surprised no one has mentioned Marcia Wallace, Mrs. Krabapple on The Simpson, who passed away just weeks ago. Of course, Phil Hartman also had a few prominent roles on the series before his death.

  • Nancy Strada

    You failed to mention Lee Thompson Young a/k/a Detective Frost on Rizzoli & Isles.

  • Stephan Wilke

    There’s also Diana Hyland who played the Mother, Joan Bradford, on “Eight Is Enough.” She passed away shortly before the show went into production for its second season on ABC. They incorporated her death into her character’s as well and did a great job of how a family has to deal with the death of a Mother and Wife.

  • Chris A

    Marcia Wallace (Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons)

    • Lee Walden

      You missed Trevor Goddard from JAG. (Pirates of the Caribbean Black Pearl too)

  • C. David

    Anyone remember Bea Benaderet who played Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction. The show was never the same after she passed.

  • avnrulz

    I care more about those who died of natural causes or at the hands of another, not suicides.

    • thrice

      Or drug overdoses.

      • scot sims

        Anyone’s death is a tragedy. Mental health issues and drug addiction are illnesses.
        Thanks For your compassion.

  • Andre Lewis

    Anyone remember Rebecca Schaeffer from My Sister Sam? She was murdered by a stalker

    • chuckabunch

      One of the most tragic ……..

  • Bob R

    nicholas colasanto on “Cheers”! that was a very long running show, and he was plenty of people favorite character. woody harrelson did okay in a similar role, but nobody will ever replace coach in our hearts.

  • Tiredoldman

    How about Brandon Lee? Actually killed on the set while filming the movie The Crow.

    • Ron

      Not a TV show. There are quite a few actors who died on movie sets, but that is a topic for a different thread.

  • clearasquartz


    • kafkaesk

      this was about actors who died while their TV shows were still running, not actors who were filming movies.

  • jerseydave

    Jon Erik Hexum was the first one I thought of.

  • demoncat_4

    my age must really be showing for i remember both how Barny miller and sesame street dealt with the deaths of their cast members. plus also surprised to not see John spencer or John eric hexom on the list. though in johns hexoms case the one show he is known for was out of production.

  • FK Banks

    I know I must be showing my age but didn’t the character William Frawley played on “My Three Sons” had to be written out and he was replace by William Demarest. In addition, the character whose name I can’t think of at the moment but he played “Good ol’ Mr. Wilson on ‘Dennis the Menace’ and he was replaced by Gale Gordon.

    • Chaz

      Willam Frawley didn’t die. He was replaced because he was too ill and the studio couldn’t insure him.

      • Rickster Rickster

        he used to go back to the set and mess with William Demarest until they finally banned him. William Frawley died coming home from watching the movie Inside Daisy Clover

        • Chaz

          But William Frawley didn’t die while he was on My Three Sons. He was written out of the show in 1965. He died in 1966. The show continued until 1972, but it had already gone a full season without him when he died.

    • Fuming Riley

      I also thought about Joseph Kearns, the original Mr. Wilson, died of the heart attack and was replaced by Gale Gordon but the show was never the same.

  • Jason Kauffman

    George Reeves?

  • Errica Hutty

    It doesn’t matter how a person died; the fact is that they’re dead. Just because some of you may not EVER think about taking your own life or allow yourself to become addicted to drugs/alcohol; there are many that do. Just because you cannot comprehend why a person would commit suicide or overdose on drugs does not mean that their life was not meaningful. Stop judging. Rest in Peace for all those who have passed away.

  • stinkerbell65

    OK, who did Madeline Kahn play in “Cosby”? All these are bringing back such fond memories of a better time and place in the entertainment industry. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

  • El_Fez

    Tecnhilally William Hartnell would count,but he had left Doctor Who a couple of years before his death. However, what about Elizibeth SLaden, who died while the Sara Jane Adventures were still running?

  • Wayne Padgette

    What about Elisabeth Sladen, who passed away during her run on the Sarah Jane Adventures, a spin-off of Doctor Who, where she first came to America’s attention as the companion of the third and fourth Doctors?

  • Beatel Iliff

    what was the name of the actor killed while filming The Twilight Zone Movie?

    • Allan Richard

      Vic Morrow

  • mallah

    Jim Davis, John Ross ‘Jock’ Ewing, Senior from Dallas…

  • jjaj

    The guy who did roll call at the beginning of every roll call on Hill Street Blues.

    • w_rupp

      Michael Conrad “be careful out there”

  • MaryAnne Bolick

    John Spencer will always be at the top of the list for me. He was amazing on The West Wing..

  • nickc66

    I remember that episode of Barney Miller. Loved Jack Soo. Mushy Mushy.

  • Bob Gassel

    You make it sound like Larry Hagman didn’t make it to the “Dallas’ reboot (which was a continuation and not a “remake”)…but he was on for almost a season-and-a-half before passing away…

  • Stallion76

    I cant believe they forgot Jeanne Cooper from “The Young and the Restless”. She passed away just this year in May 2013, but began her career on the show, and stayed on the show 40 years ago, in 1973. She died young at 84. RIP Mrs. C.

    • Mark C

      Daytime TV? Pfft.

  • Kenton Forshee

    Also as Doctor Who fans know, the lovely Elisabeth Sladen, a favorite Doctor Who companion, died while her show “The Sarah Jane Adventures” were still being filmed. She was loved by all who knew her, and was said to be one of the kindest people you would ever meet.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Dick York, the original Darrin Stephens of Bewitched.
    It’s understandable that some of these stars would be missing, since article is titled “12 actors who…” not “THE 12 actors who….” Still, some of the missing ones are notable.

    • LochGates44

      Dick York didn’t die when Bewitched was still on the air.

    • TantohadGPS

      He just got fired.

  • theoacme

    Barton Yarborough – Dragnet (both television and radio, as Sergeant Ben Romero) – had just completed the second episode filming when he died of a heart attack. He received a memorial episode of the radio version the next week.

  • Eric Maietta

    No mention of John Spencer, aka Leo McGerry on West Wing, whopassed away during the filming of the final season?

  • Jan Smith

    Patrick Swayze passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2009 while filming his television show “The Beast”

    • Scott Schlee

      Glad you pointed that one out. I was going to post it myself if someone else didn’t. It’s important for me to note him as I have pancreatic cancer myself and want to get attention to such a terrible disease. Luckily, I have the slower version, like Steve Jobs has. Two very big losses.

    • Mary Ellen Rudsit

      That’s right I forgot he was doing that show too. I’m so sick of my guys dying young!

  • Dennis Sullivan

    Wrong about Larry Hagman.
    He was not set to appear.
    We did see him in the new show.
    It was not a remake. It was a sequel, an update.

  • Liz Wyma

    Dan Blocker Bonaza

  • lowaithe

    Brandon Lee while filming the Crow

  • Ron Garrett

    Also: Michael Conrad (“Hill Street Blues”), William Frawley (“My Three Sons”), George Cleveland (“Lassie”), Bea Benaderet and Smiley Burnette (“Petticoat Junction”), Marcia Wallace (“The Simpsons”), Heather O’Rourke (“Happy Days”, only 12 at the time of her death).

  • Denetra Anderson

    Freddie Prinze was my first thought because I actually talking about him just the other night to my 27 year old son who didn’t have a clue whom I was talking about.

  • rory

    I might have overlooked if anyone posted the name John Ritter. He was great!

    • Katie F Fitch

      Yes and I corrected his costars credits by the author. Ritter’s death still makes me sad especially since his son, Jason has been coming into his own as an actor since his dad passed away.

  • Donald Graham

    So how did monteth make this list? All the others were accomplished actors who died unexpectedly or of natural causes. Monteth was a marginal actor who commited suicide by drugs.

  • leevining

    Does Suzanne Sommers and Rhodas careers dieing count the same?

  • Randi Rand

    Will Geer, Grandpa Walton

  • Joan Esposito

    Will Geer and I believe also Ellen Corby both died while “The Waltons” was still on the air. The guy that said “Let’s be careful out there on “Hill St. Blues”, John, I forget his last name, the guy who played the chief of staff on “The West Wing” The young detective only recently that was on “Rizzoli and Isles” The actress that Travolta was madly in love with who did the first season of “Eight is Enough” and played the mother is another one who died while the series was still on.

  • Joan Esposito

    Nick Castellano that was the bartender on Cheers is another one.

  • TheBlanton

    Jon Spencer: The West Wing

  • DarkLordCthulhu

    Phil Hartman will always be Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure to me.

    • Rob_Grant

      Blasto too.



  • gma1951

    Wasn’t Patrick Swayzie still filming when he died?

  • Lynn Madden

    Forgot John Erik Hexum from Cover Up (also in The Voyagers and The Making of a Male Model).

  • Katie F Fitch

    Katy Segal was on a little know, very short run show called “Married With Children” before she did “8 Simple Rules”, you might have missed it. Kaley Cuoco moved on to “Charmed” before “The Big Bang Theory” and Larry Hagman managed to do 1 1/2 seasons of the new “Dallas” before he died.

    • greree

      “Little known, very short run”? Married With Children ran for 11 years and won over a dozen Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

    • I Know

      It is Katy Sagal . They misspelled her name.

  • LegendInMyOwnMind

    I know it is a movie but Gloria Foster died during the filming of The Matrix and had to be replaced

  • Patricia Lee Keller-Fraker

    Paul, add Ward Bond of Wagon Train to the slide show. A whole country mourned the loss of this wagonmaster.

  • Mike Mahoney

    How are you NOT going to have John Spencer on this list?

  • Mark S

    How about John Ritter on 8 Simples Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? He died of a heart dissection for rehearsing for one of the episodes about 10 years ago. He used to be on THREE COMPANY’S with Suzanne Somers and Joyce Dewitt when I was a teenager about 40 years ago.

    • sydetrak

      go back and look at the list…he’s on there

  • sydetrak

    how can u leave lee Thompson young off this list??? I mean really! he died while season 4 of “Rizzoli and isles” was still airing. u recognize cory monteith here but not lee t young who died a month later..smh pitiful

  • TantohadGPS

    Hey, what about Col. Henry Blake on MASH?

    • April D. Korbel

      Blake died, but McLean Stevenson did not.

  • Charles Hodge

    Marcia Wallace, actress from ‘The Simpsons’

  • sdcazares1980

    Marcia Wallace as Mrs. Krabappel.

  • Laurie Teresa

    My fav Dack Rambo Sword of Justice, could not understand why the show went off air. Found out why maybe 8 months later, loved that show

  • Eric827

    Sorry, but it’s not at all accurate to say that Cory Monteith was “absolutely the closest thing (Glee) had to a singular star.”

    Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison have both been more front-and-center than he was.

  • AdAbsurdum

    Lest we forget, the legendary Rock Hudson became ill during his role in Dynasty and passed shortly after.

  • Shane Rogers

    I didn’t know some of these people were even dead, much less been dead for so long. In particular, the guy from Law and Order and the lady from Carmen Sandiego. :/

  • pdquick

    Nancy Marchand played in the original run of Angels in America at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco. If I recall correctly, she played Roy Cohn in Part I, and I know for sure she played a member of the Soviet Politburo in Part II, bringing down the house with the monologue on theory.

  • pdquick

    Oops. Sorry. Scratch that. It was Kathleen Chalfont.

  • jesustonight .

    you of course mean the 80s version of dallas

  • martin paul

    I thought Brandon Lee would be up on this list, but realized it were T.V. shows…

  • I Know

    How can you leave out Coach[Nick Colasanto] from “Cheers” or Freddy Prinz from “Chico and the Man”

    • avlisk

      And the sergeant from Hill Street Blues, Michael Conrad. was a big loss, too. Let’s be careful out there.

  • wapkep

    Will Geer (Grandpa Walton on the Waltons) died during the 6th or 7th season of the Waltons and his death was written into the show (as was the stroke of Ellen Corby, who played Grandma Walton).

  • Edwin Gomez

    I thought their was a actor, I can’t remember his name though who shot himself with a blank in the temple with his prop gun. I think it happened in the 1980’s, I also believe it was a cop show or some such. Would realy like to know!

    • Obsidiandog

      Jon-Erik Hexum of “Cover Up”

  • Rob–retired American Airman

    William Frawley (sp) my 3 sons

  • Archie Montgomery

    They forgot Jon-Erik Hexum of “Cover Up”.

  • Jenn Nicole Hunt

    I believe Glenn Quinn(Mark from Roseanne) died while the show was still on the air

  • Rick Higgins

    Dolph Sweet died while Gimme A Break! was still airing.

  • WeaselClubber

    Joseph Kearns of Dennis The Menace Fame (The original Mr. Wilson)
    Alice Pearce of Bewitched (The original Gladys Kravitz)
    Marion Lorne of Bewitched (Aunt Clara)
    Ted Knight. The Ted Knight Show

  • Obsidiandog

    Peter Duel of “Alias Smith and Jones”

  • Tracy Tammaro

    They missed a few…..Lee Thompson Young being one that died while Rizzoli & Isles was taping. I wonder how they are going to write that in to the start of next season…..maybe died in an accident while on his vacation? I do believe he was “on vacation” on the last episode in January/February this year.

  • Jeff Patton

    Glad that Larry Hagman was included. In J.R. Ewing, he created one of the most iconic villains in television history. His death was smartly written into the new Dallas and the character got a fitting send-off. TNT is doing a good job with the new version of this great TV franchise.

  • Jeff Bosco

    Epic fail for the omission of Jon-Erik Hexum