20 TV Stars Who Tragically Died During Production

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20 TV Stars Who Tragically Died During Production

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These celebrity deaths sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry. For this list, we'll be looking at various television stars who passed away while their show was still in production. Our countdown includes Miguel Ferrer, Adam West, Luke Perry, Steve Irwin, Mary Kay Bergman, and more.
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20 TV Stars Who Tragically Died During Production


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the 20 TV stars who tragically died during production.

For this list, we’ll be looking at various television stars who passed away while their show was still in production.

Do you remember your reaction to these shocking bits of news? Let us know in the comments below.


Lynne Thigpen

“The District” (2000-04)

This actress is probably best remembered as The Chief from the PBS game show “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?”. From the year 2000, she starred as Ella Mae Farmer in the CBS drama “The District,” which follows the small team of the Washington’s police department. Thigpen had filmed nearly all of the third season of “The District” before suddenly dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in March of 2003. She was 54 years old. Ella Mae was killed off on the show in response, with her character suffering a sudden stroke. “The District” aired one more season without Thigpen before concluding in May 2004.

Christopher Evan Welch

“Silicon Valley” (2014-19)

Throughout the first season of “Silicon Valley,” Christopher Evan Welch portrayed billionaire investor Peter Gregory. Peter often clashes with rival billionaire Gavin Belson, and the two are both after an algorithm created by a man named Richard. Unfortunately, Welch was informed shortly after shooting the pilot that the stage IIIA lung cancer he had previously defeated was back and had metastasized to his brain. Shortly after shooting the fifth episode of the season, the cancer claimed Welch’s life and he died at age 48. His character, in turn passed away on a trip to the Serengeti.

Miguel Ferrer

“NCIS: Los Angeles” (2009-)

Not only was Miguel Ferrer’s death incorporated into “NCIS: Los Angeles,” but so was his illness. Ferrer started playing Owen Granger in 2012 and appeared in over 100 episodes of the show. Unfortunately, he was eventually diagnosed with throat cancer. To explain Ferrer’s increasing hoarseness, his character also developed terminal cancer. The actor’s final appearance is in the eighth season episode “Payback,” and, after his passing, he was permanently written out of the show in the following episode. Owen flees the hospital in which he is staying, and leaves behind a goodbye note for Hetty. Later on, in season nine, it is confirmed that Owen died of his cancer.


Nancy Marchand

“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

A brilliant actress, Nancy Marchand portrayed one of the worst mothers in television history - Livia Soprano. Livia was one of the primary antagonists of the first two seasons of “The Sopranos” and Marchand earned acclaim for her performance, including a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Livia’s role was greatly diminished in the second season, as Marchand was growing increasingly ill. On June 18, 2000, she passed away from both lung cancer and emphysema. Her death was written into the third season episode “Proshai, Livushka,” in which Livia is said to have died from a sudden stroke. Her character was physically gone, but she continued to haunt her son, Tony, through the remainder of the series. Literally.


Adam West

“Family Guy” (1999-)

While everyone knows Adam West as the campiest Batman, he also earned enormous popularity for playing comical versions of himself in various animated shows. Perhaps his greatest work was in “Family Guy,” in which he played the town’s aloof mayor. West clearly had a ton of fun with the role, and he stuck with it to the very end. West passed away from leukemia in June of 2017 at the age of 88. He had recorded five future episodes of “Family Guy” prior to his death, and his character was written off for good in the seventeenth season episode “Adam West High.”

Nicholas Colasanto

“Cheers” (1982-93)

Following “Raging Bull” in 1980, Nicholas Colasanto was prepared to hang up his acting hat. He had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and was having difficulty finding steady work due to his failing health. However, the role of Coach Ernie Pantusso fell into his lap, and Colasanto remained a regular on the show for three seasons. His health declined even further as the series progressed, and his co-stars noticed both his weight loss and the difficulty he was having remembering his lines. Still, no one knew just how bad it was. Colasanto died at the age of 61 on February 12 of 1985. Coach was written out of the show and replaced with Woody Harrelson’s character, Woody Boyd.


Larry Hagman

“Dallas” (2012-14)

J.R. Ewing is one of the best villains in television history, and he was played to perfection by Larry Hagman. Hagman appeared in every episode of “Dallas,” and he later starred in the 2012 TNT revival. Tragically, he was diagnosed with stage II throat cancer a year or so before the series premiered. He went into remission, but was later diagnosed with a type of blood cancer that developed into acute myeloid leukemia. He died from the disease on November 23, 2012 at the age of 81, and J.R. Ewing was subsequently killed off in the second season episode “The Furious and the Fast.”

Bill Paxton

“Training Day” (2017)

Back in 2017, CBS aired a follow-up to Antoine Fuqua’s acclaimed crime drama, with Bill Paxton playing a morally-corrupt cop comparative to Denzel Washington’s character in the movie. The series debuted on February 2, 2017 and made it just four episodes in before Paxton tragically passed away. He had undergone open heart surgery to repair a faulty valve. The surgery was not a success, and Paxton suffered from fatal complications, including severe artery damage. Almost two weeks later, he died from a stroke. The remaining nine episodes of “Training Day” were aired before it was ultimately canceled.


Redd Foxx

“The Royal Family” (1991-92)

Redd Foxx was a provocative comedian who gained fame throughout the 1960s owing to his raunchy style of humor. He later found success on television by starring in the likes of “Sanford and Son” and “The Royal Family.” The latter sitcom was created by Eddie Murphy and aired on CBS from 1991 to ‘92. On October 11 of 1991, Foxx suffered a heart attack during rehearsals and dropped to the ground. His character on “Sanford and Son” was known for faking heart attacks, so everyone on set thought that he was doing a bit. However, it quickly became obvious that something was seriously wrong. Foxx was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. Without him, the show rapidly dropped in ratings and was canceled.

Steve Irwin

“Ocean's Deadliest” (2007)

Few nature presenters have attained the enormous popularity of Steve Irwin. This man impressed a generation with “The Crocodile Hunter,” which aired to great acclaim from the late ‘90s to the 2000s. Unfortunately, Irwin’s dangerous line of work eventually got the best of him. He was filming a documentary called “Ocean’s Deadliest” when he was pierced in the chest by a stingray and died of exsanguination. The documentary was finished without Irwin and aired on both Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel in January of 2007. Over 300 million people tuned in to watch his memorial service online.


Freddie Prinze

“Chico and the Man” (1974-78)

Today, Freddie Prinze’s name is remembered through his famous son, Freddie Prinze, Jr. Before then, however, he was a popular actor from the NBC sitcom “Chico and the Man.” He played the titular character Chico Rodriguez, who works with Jack Albertson’s Ed Brown in an East Los Angeles garage. In late 1976, Prinze’s wife filed for divorce and left the actor despondent. Two months later, Prinze took his own life. The third season of “Chico and the Man” concluded without Prinze and would air one more season with a replacement character named Raul. However, the ratings plummeted without Chico, and the show was canceled after its fourth season.

Luke Perry

“Riverdale” (2017-)

Luke Perry is best remembered as Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” but he enjoyed a career resurgence in 2017 when he started playing Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad, in “Riverdale.” In February 2019, the show was in the midst of its third season when Perry suffered a massive debilitating stroke that put him on life support. About a month later, he had a second stroke, and his family decided to let him go peacefully. He was 52 years old at the time of his death. “Riverdale” mirrored his passing in the season four premiere, where Fred dies in a hit and run. The episode was dedicated to Perry’s memory, and his “Beverly Hills, 90210” co-star Shannen Doherty even made an appearance to pay her respects.


Cory Monteith

“Glee” (2009-15)

Finn Hudson was one of the breakout characters on “Glee,” but, unfortunately, Cory Monteith only stayed with the show for four seasons. The young actor had a long history of substance abuse and had battled drug addiction throughout most of his life. In fact, Monteith’s role was briefly diminished in the fourth season so that he could receive treatment. Just two months after the season four finale, however, Monteith died of a fatal drug overdose. Production on “Glee” was briefly delayed, and Finn was given a touching goodbye in “The Quarterback.” This episode was reportedly very difficult to film, and many supporting actors requested that they be included in the episode to honor Monteith’s legacy.


John Spencer

“The West Wing” (1999-2006)

In 2002, John Spencer won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for playing White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry in “The West Wing.” The actor’s six-year tenure on the show came to an end in 2005, when he passed away from a heart attack just four days shy of his 59th birthday. In response, the character of Leo McGarry was written out of the show and died off-screen - also from a heart attack. “The West Wing” carried on for just a few more episodes before officially coming to an end with the seventh season finale on May 14, 2006.


Mary Kay Bergman

“South Park” (1997-)

For the first three seasons of “South Park,” Mary Kay Bergman served as the show’s primary female voice actress. She voiced the likes of Sharon and Shelly Marsh, Wendy Testaburger, and Liane Cartman, among many others. However, you won’t find “Mary Kay Bergman” in the credits. Instead, she was going by the stage name Shannen Cassidy in an effort to remain anonymous due to her work as the official voice of Disney’s Snow White at the time. Bergman suffered from both bipolar disorder and anxiety, and she hid this from everyone. Sadly, her mental health only worsened after her mom was diagnosed with cancer and, on November 11, 1999, Bergman took her own life at the age of 38.


Jon-Erik Hexum

“Cover Up” (1984-85)

In 1984, model/actor Jon-Erik Hexum began playing Mac Harper on the CBS action series “Cover Up.” For one scene, Hexum was given what he believed to be a prop gun filled with blanks. To amuse himself during a lapse in filming, he played Russian roulette with it. The gun was actually a functional .44 Magnum and when he put the gun to his temple and fired the shot, the wadding from the blank when right off into his head. The damage was extensive, and Hexum experienced brain death. He was eventually taken off life support and his organs were donated to those in need, including a five-year-old child who required a kidney. “Cover Up” continued without him and was canceled after just one season.


Andy Whitfield

“Spartacus” (2010-13)

Throughout the first half of 2010, Andy Whitfield starred as the historical gladiator Spartacus in the first season of “Spartacus,” titled “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” This season concluded in April of 2010 - just one month after Whitfield was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The second season, “Spartacus: Vengeance,” was already in production but was subsequently delayed following the tragic news. Whitfield defeated the cancer in June of 2010, but it returned the following September. It was then that Whitfield stepped down from the role, and Liam McIntyre was recast as Spartacus. Whitfield passed at age 39 on September 11, 2011.


John Ritter

“8 Simple Rules” (2002-05)

One of TV’s most beloved actors, John Ritter, famously starred as Jack Tripper on “Three’s Company”. The last show he work on was titled “8 Simple Rules” where Ritter played an overprotective father named Paul Hennessy. On September 11, 2003, Ritter was rehearsing a scene when he started to experience severe chest pain and vomiting. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was treated for a heart attack, then found to have aortic dissection. Despite attempts at surgery, Ritter died that night in the hospital. As for “8 Simple Rules,” the character of Paul Hennessy was said to have collapsed in a grocery store.

Jim Henson

“Sesame Street” (1969-)

This legendary puppeteer is known for creating The Muppets and turning “Sesame Street” into a national phenomenon. While his work greatly expanded throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Henson remained tied to “Sesame Street” for the rest of his life. While Henson voiced a plethora of Muppets, his two biggest characters were Kermit and Ernie. Henson passed away in May of 1990 under very swift and surprising circumstances. He had complained of a sore throat and fatigue, and, in less than two weeks, he was coughing up blood. When he arrived at the hospital, it was only a few hours until he died from toxic shock syndrome, which resulted from a bacterial infection. Voice actor Steve Whitmire subsequently took over the roles of Kermit and Ernie and voiced them for decades.

Phil Hartman

“NewsRadio” (1995-99) & “The Simpsons” (1989-)

Phil Hartman’s voice can be recognized anywhere. This legendary comedian played both Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz on “The Simpsons,” and he appeared in over 50 episodes of the history-making program. During the mid ‘90s, Hartman also starred as the arrogant Bill McNeal on the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio.” Tragically, both roles were cut short as Hartman was killed by his wife in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998. He was 49 years old. Hartman’s character on “NewsRadio” was killed off, and his characters on “The Simpsons” were honorably retired.
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