Top 10 TV Stars Who Tragically Died During Production

Script written by Carly Comtois. Celebrity deaths catch us all off-guard – especially if the actors died in the middle of a TV show, for example. From young stars like Cory Monteith and Andy Whitfield to more established stars like John Ritter, Jim Henson or john Spencer, there are many actors who tragically died during production. WatchMojo counts down ten actors whose tragic deaths affected their TV shows. Special thanks to our user Andrew A. Dennison for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Actors%20That%20Died%20During%20TV%20Shows
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Script written by Carly Comtois.

Top 10 TV Stars Who Died Tragically During Production


Saying goodbye to beloved TV characters is hard enough; saying goodbye to beloved actors is even harder. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 actors who died during their TV shows.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the actors who tragically passed away while their TV shows were still running. Their coworkers not only mourned their loss, but also had to get back to shooting the show without them. That means making the character disappear, killing them off, replacing the actor, or in some unfortunate cases, cancelling the series altogether. Since this list will be talking about many TV deaths, a SPOILER ALERT is in order.

#10: Freddie Prinze
“Chico and the Man” (1974-78)

Freddie Prinze Jr. is a well-known film and television actor whose father, Freddie Prinze, was the star of the hit sitcom “Chico and the Man,” playing Chico. However, at the age of 22 – and only ten months after his son was born – he put a gun to his head and shot himself in front of his business manager. Prinze had been dealing with depression for some time, which was worsened by his drug use and by his wife filing for divorce. The show continued for another season after his death, with a 12-year-old character named Raul introduced to fill the void left by Prinze’s death. Eventually, Chico’s passing was addressed in an emotional two-part episode, and the show left the air after its fourth season.

#9: Cory Monteith
“Glee” (2009-15)

It still feels like yesterday that the world collectively mourned the loss of this young actor, who in 2013 was found dead from a drug overdose in a Vancouver hotel room. Fans not only cried over Cory’s death – they cried for his co-star Lea Michele, who was also his real life girlfriend. Production was delayed for several months until it was agreed that his character Finn Hudson would have to be killed off the show. Though his character’s cause of death was never revealed, an episode titled “The Quarterback” aired as a tribute to him. Finn was constantly remembered throughout the final two seasons, including its series finale, in which the school’s auditorium was renamed in his honor.

#8: John Spencer
“The West Wing” (1999-2006)

John Spencer had been a series regular on this political drama since its pilot episode. He played Leo McGarry, who starts out as the White House’s Chief of Staff and ends up eventually running for Vice President. However, after Spencer died of a heart attack in 2005, it was written that his character suffered the same fate before he could assume office. The Emmy Award-winning actor was loved and certainly missed by the actors he worked with. Fellow cast member Kristin Chenoweth even sang at his funeral, and series star Martin Sheen read a special tribute at the start of episode 10 in the show’s final season.

#7: Mary Kay Bergman
“South Park” (1997-)

Besides the obvious, what do the female characters on this controversial adult animated sitcom have in common? Well, many were originally voiced by Mary Kay Bergman. Initially she was credited as Shannen Cassidy, in order to avoid causing any problems with her other job, as the voice of Snow White for Disney. However, Bergman unfortunately suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. Things got so bad for her that in 1999, after attending an event celebrating the 45th anniversary of Disneyland, she returned home and shot herself. Other voice actresses were found to replace Bergman’s characters, but we’ll never forget who gave life to the original Sharon and Shelly Marsh, Mrs. McCormick, Wendy Testaburger, Mrs. Cartman and Sheila Broflovski.

#6: Jon-Erik Hexum
“Cover Up” (1984-85)

There’s a lot of downtime for actors on-set when they’re not filming. Free time is often spent rehearsing or taking much needed naps, but sometimes there’s nothing to do but sit and wait. Unfortunately, young model and actor Jon-Erik Hexum found a deadly way to relieve his boredom during a lull in filming. He decided to play around with a gun being used for a scene that contained a blank, assuming it was harmless – it wasn’t. He shot himself in the head with the blank, causing significant brain damage and resulting in his death. Hexum’s character was the male lead of the show, so a new character and actor were brought in to replace him – but the show was cancelled later in the season.

#5: Nicholas Colasanto
“Cheers” (1982-93)

On “Cheers,” Colasanto portrayed “Coach” Ernie Pantusso, a bartender and the former baseball coach of lead character Sam Malone. Coach was always around to lend Sam a sympathetic ear and offer some well-meaning, though often addled, advice. When Colasanto died of a heart attack at the age of 61, no one wanted to recast Coach, so they decided to send the character off to that great baseball diamond in the sky. That’s when Woody Harrelson joined the cast as the new bartender and Coach’s pen pal in the show’s fourth season, who arrives in town only to find out that his friend has passed away.

#4: Andy Whitfield
“Spartacus” (2010-13)

Whitfield portrayed the title character Spartacus, the badass gladiator, on this show’s first season. But when he discovered he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, production for season two came to a halt. Andy was eventually told he was cancer-free, so filming began anew; however, he later found out that his cancer had resurfaced. In order to be fair to the show, Andy graciously gave them permission to recast his role, and Liam McIntyre took over. Since Andy Whitfield died the following year in 2011, he was technically no longer involved with Spartacus, but his illness did impact the show and his absence was felt among his cast mates.

#3: Jim Henson
“Sesame Street” (1969-)

Mr. Hooper’s death in 1982 was a sad moment for “Sesame Street,” but an even bigger blow was saying goodbye to the voice of Kermit the Frog. Jim Henson, who was known for creating and bringing life to everyone’s favorite amphibian, worked on “Sesame Street” for 20 years. Henson also came up with and voiced an array of other characters, like Ernie. In the spring of 1990, he started experiencing flu-like symptoms, but delayed going to a hospital for several days. Ultimately, by the time he did go, it was too late: Henson died from toxic shock syndrome. Henson’s sudden death inspired many memorable tributes; and while other voice actors took over his characters, Henson’s Kermit was unique and has never been forgotten.

#2: John Ritter
“8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” (2002-05)

You may have known him from the hit ‘70s sitcom “Three’s Company,” but at the time of his death, he was starring in another funny show. In “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” Ritter played an overprotective father of three teenagers. Viewers were saddened to hear that Ritter had passed away during surgery for heart complications he suffered while on set. His character Paul in turn died suddenly, and two episodes were devoted to the aftermath of his death. The kids’ grandpa and cousin CJ were characters brought in to fill the void, but Paul’s absence was always felt and often brought up in future episodes.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

- Larry Hagman

“Dallas” (2012-14)


- Redd Foxx

“The Royal Family” (1991-92)


- Nancy Marchand

“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)


#1: Phil Hartman
“The Simpsons” (1989-) & “NewsRadio” (1995-99)

You may remember Phil from such shows as “The Simpsons” and “NewsRadio.” His Bill McNeal on the latter was a hilarious portrait of an egomaniac, while his work on “The Simpsons” is also treasured by fans, as he voiced characters like Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz. There were even discussions about a live-action film about Troy McClure, but those discussions were ended by the events the night of May 27, 1998. That’s when Hartman’s wife shot him in his sleep after an argument, later killing herself as well. His characters on the “The Simpsons” were retired in the wake of his death, Bill McNeal was killed off of “NewsRadio” with a heart attack, and Phil Hartman went down in history as one of the comedy greats.

Do you agree with our list? Which actor’s death hit you the hardest? For more sentimental top 10s published every day visit WatchMojo.com.
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