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 is the Managing Editor of TVovermind and also manages the website Unrealitymag.com. He's contributed to major publications such as Forbes as well as BC Media Group properties.
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156 thoughts on “12 Actors Who Passed Away While Their Shows Were Still Running

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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″

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

      • 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

        • 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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?

  19. 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…

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

    • 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.

  24. 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).

  25. 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.

    • 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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

  31. 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.

  32. 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. :/

  33. 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.

  34. 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).

  35. 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!

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

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