When death becomes TV
Larry Hagman, John Ritter, Freddie Prinze and John Spencer -TV shows face their worst fears adjusting to the unexpected loss of an actor.
Still reeling from the death of Cory Monteith, Glee producers are yet to determine how they will deal with the loss of the actor who played Finn. It hardly seems fitting to replace him with another actor. Audiences just wouldn’t buy it, especially given Lea Michele had been partnered with him off-screen.
US website TV Line has reminded us of other shows that have faced similar situations when actors such as Larry Hagman, John Ritter, Freddie Prinze and John Spencer all died suddenly while shows were still in production. In 8 Simple Rules the family man played by John Ritter (pictured) went out to buy some milk, and simply never came home.
Here are just a few of the ones they have referenced:
After being felled by complications from heart disease in February 1985, Nicholas Colasanto made his final appearance as “Coach” in the Season 3 finale. The following season’s premiere established Coach’s death, while introducing his pen pal Woody/new cast member Woody Harrelson.
Chico and the Man
Freddie Prinze committed suicide in January 1977, at age 22 and midway through Season 3 of this urban sitcom. At first, the show sent the titular Chico off-screen to visit his father in Mexico, then filled his place on the canvas with a young orphan named Raul. Toward the end of the series’ fourth and final season, when Jack Albertson’s Ed (“The Man”) had a breakdown, it was revealed that Chico had at some point died.
Jim Davis played family patriarch Jock Ewing through much of Season 4, until he died of multiple myeloma in April 1981. Miss Ellie’s husband was kept off screen for the next 13 episodes, and ultimately killed in a helicopter crash during Season 5.
Larry Hagman reprised his iconic role as J.R. Ewing right up until he succumbed to myeloid leukemia in November 2012, early into production of Season 2 of the TNT drama. J.R. appeared in several episodes of Season 2, then became the target of a murder mystery, in part thanks to some computer trickery using existing Hagman scenes.
Lynne Thigpen’s run as Washington D.C. police chief aide Ella Farmer ended in spring 2003, when the actress suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Ella, in turn, died suddenly in a late Season 3 episode.
8 Simple Rules
After John Ritter died as the result of an undiagnosed aortic dissection in September 2003, Season 2 of the ABC sitcom took a two-month hiatus, ultimately returning with a special “goodbye” episode tributing the comedy great. James Garner (as Katey Sagal’s TV dad) and David Spade (as cousin C.J.) filled the cast void, though the show would last only one more season.
Gimme a Break!
When Dolph Sweet died of cancer in May 1985, so did widower “Chief” Kanisky, leaving Nell Carter’s Nell to run the household for two more seasons.
Hill Street Blues
Sergeant Esterhaus urged the boys in blue to “be careful out there” until midway through Season 4, when Michael Conrad died of urethral cancer in November 1993. Esterhaus himself was killed off in that season’s Episode 14, replaced by Robert Prosky’s Sergeant Stan Jablonski.
When Stanley Kamel died of a heart attack in April 2008, Monk’s shrink, Dr. Charles Kroger, himself suffered the same fate during Season 7, in an episode dedicated to the late actor.
Phil Hartman was tragically shot to death by his wife in May 1998, after production on Season 4 of the NBC workplace sitcom had wrapped. In the Season 5 opener, it was revealed that his Bill McNeal had died of a heart attack.
After David Strickland, who played music reporter Todd, killed himself in March 1999, the sitcom paid special tribute to the actor in an episode that deftly established that Todd had died, too.
The West Wing
During the acclaimed drama’s seventh and final season, White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry died of a heart attack – the same sad fate met by portrayer John Spencer in December 2005.