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A sad form of Real Life Writes the Plot: a character is written out of the show or even (and usually) Killed Off for Real because the actor has left not the show, but the mortal coil itself.

In other words, the Grim Reaper himself arranges a (obviously long) bus trip. In these circumstances, don't expect the character to be Put on a Bus to Hell, but rather an episode directly (and often respectfully) dealing with the death and deceased.

This often causes major changes in the cast dynamic. If the character was a big enough part of the show, it could be derailed. It's usually seen in Anime, Western Animation, and Live Action TV, but this can happen in film as well if the movie is a series (see Indiana Jones below).

The inverse is Character Outlives Actor, when a character is taken out of a show, then the actor dies.

This is a trope, as the event affects the narrative. Contrast Author Existence Failure which stops the narrative cold. However, outside of the narrative, it may prompt an episode or credits nod In Memoriam.

Examples of The Character Died with Him include:


Film (Animated) Edit

  • Doc Hudson is the only character from the film Cars that did not appear in the film's sequel out of respect for the late Paul Newman. According to the writers of the film, Doc is the first character in the series to be killed off permanently as implied by the fact that his former medical clinic has been converted into a memorial museum dedicated to this character, as with the trophy Lightning McQueen won at the very beginning of this film. Fillmore however, was given a new voice actor for this film due to the death of George Carlin, and Red actually lost his voice altogether due to the death of Joe Ranft.
  • Due to the death of actress Madge Sinclair, Sarabi is the only character that survived the events of The Lion King who did not appear in the sequel.


Film (Live-Action) Edit

  • Indiana Jones: Marcus Brody, played by Denholm Elliott.
  • Sam Loomis dies offscreen at the end of the sixth Halloween movie due to Donald Pleasence's death. Due to this trope being in effect, this plot point from part 6 is still canon to the later sequels even though everything else about part 6 isn't.
  • Colonel Sam Trautman from the Rambo series died off screen in the fourth movie because the director felt it wouldn't feel right replacing the late Richard Crenna.
  • Cab Calloway and John Belushi both died (in 1994 and 1982, respectively), and their characters of Curtis and Jake Blues are said to have died offscreen in Blues Brothers 2000.
  • Heath Ledger died during the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Because Ledger had already filmed all scenes set in the real world, the script was rewritten such that Ledger's character changed appearance inside the titular "imaginarium" and was played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.
  • Ledger's death also put the kibosh on plans to include the Joker in the last installment(s) of The Dark Knight Saga (it wasn't clear at the time that there would be just three), as he played the character so iconically that neither Christopher Nolan nor the suits could justify bringing someone else in to replace him.
  • Oliver Reed's character, Proximo, was meant to survive the entire Gladiator movie, but due to the actor's death during filming the character was killed off. Even so it cost the studio $3 million to recreate his face for the remaining scenes he "appeared" in.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • 8 Simple Rules' Paul Hennessy, played by John Ritter. Ritter suffered an apparent heart attack while on the set of the show rehearsing, and was rushed across the street to the hospital. Turned out he suffered an aortic dissection, and he died. The character was Killed Off for Real; no official reason given, he "collapsed while buying milk."
    • Also, Ritter's character on Scrubs, Sam Dorian, main character J.D.'s father. The reason given for his death was a massive heart attack.
  • The District: Ella Farmer, played by Lynne Thigpen
  • The West Wing: Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer.
  • The Waltons: the characters mourned the death of Grandpa Zeb during the first episode of the 1978-79 season, after actor Will Geer died shortly after filming had completed for the previous season.
  • Suddenly Susan: Todd Styles, played by David Strickland (the final episode of series 3 was turned into a tribute to the character (and actor)).
  • Cheers: Ernie "Coach" Pantusso, played by Nicholas Colasanto. He was replaced by Woody.
  • Widely (and erroneously) perceived to be the case for British Sitcom Father Ted, and thus the reason for its cancellation. In actual fact, the actor's death happened to coincide with the planned ending of the show.
  • Stanley Kamel played Dr. Kroeger on Monk. When he died in real life, he was killed off in the show.
  • Livia Soprano on The Sopranos, who was Killed Off for Real after actress Nancy Marchand's death.
  • News Radio: After Phil Hartman's death shortly after production wrapped on season 4, his character Bill McNeil suffered a fatal heart attack in the first episode of season 5.
  • 1970s British kids' show Inigo Pipkin changed its name to Pipkins when the actor playing the title character died, and the character was killed off with him.
  • Donna Noble's father on Doctor Who.
    • As a dedication to the actor, the 10th Doctor in his final episode gives Donna's mother a lottery ticket bought with a quid the Doctor obtained by going back in time offscreen to borrow from "a really lovely man. Geoffrey Noble, his name was."
    • Also Harry Sullivan, brief companion with the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, when Sarah Jane mentions some of the Doctor's old companions' present exploits in Death of the Doctor. It isn't spelled out, but he is mentioned in the past tense while the rest of them are mentioned in the present. Averted with Barbara in the same speech, who is apparently alive and well in Cambridge even though Jacqueline Hill died in 1993.
    • Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, as stated in "The Wedding of River Song".
    • Oddly enough, inverted by The Master. Before Roger Delgado's untimely death in a car accident, there were plans to have his character Killed Off for Real in a final showdown with the Doctor. He later reappeared as a withered husk (later acknowledged as the same incarnation) played by Peter Pratt and then Geoffrey Beevors, before taking over the body of the Keeper of Traken, played by Anthony Ainley, who would portray him for the remainder of the original series' run.
  • In Last of the Summer Wine, when Bill Owen died the character of Compo also passed away, allowing for a funeral arc (and more than a little grieving for the country as a whole).
    • Happened with most of the other characters as well. It would never be stated that they had died, but everyone else would start referring to them in the past tense.
  • Gimme a Break: After Dolph Sweet (Chief Kanisky) died of cancer, the season five opener had the family dealing with the Chief's sudden death.
  • Redd Foxx died after only seven episodes of The Royal Family, resulting in Al Royal's death and the introduction of their eldest daughter Coco (Jackée Harry) to help cope with the loss.
  • Only Fools and Horses: When Lennard Pierce died, they decided to kill off his character, Grandad (off-screen, of course). Thus the first episode made after Pierce's death begins with Grandad's funeral.
    • The same happened with Uncle Albert after the death of Buster Merryfield. Although Albert died during the episode, with the first scene explaining that he hadn't joined them in the Carribean because it had turned out the great sailor didn't have a passport.
    • Kenneth MacDonald, who played the Nag's Head landlord, Mike, had also died prior to "If They Could See Us Now". Rather than killing Mike, he was said to be in prison, having lost all his money in one of Del's schemes, and been forced to embezzle from the brewery. (MacDonald had put in his will that he didn't want Mike to die.)
  • The title character of Taggart.
  • While Law and Order prime was not affected by Jerry Orbach's death, Law and Order Trial By Jury, the show to which Lennie Briscoe was transplanted, was hit early by Briscoe's death (the main show did have a tribute episode).
  • From The Wire, Detective Ray Cole was played by beloved producer Robert F. Colesbury, who passed away during the show's run. The character gets a meaningful funeral, which takes on a whole new level of depth when you know the Reality Subtext.
    • The same thing was done after the death of Richard DeAngelis, who played Major Foerster.
  • Hill Street Blues: When Michael Conrad died, his character of Sgt. Esterhaus was written as having died of a heart attack during sex.
  • An example in which the character is not Killed Off for Real: By the time BBC Ulster got around to reviving Ballykissangel for its final series, actor Tony Doyle had died. Rather than kill off a main character offscreen (because theirs was a milieu where Death Is Always Big Onscreen Drama) they concocted a bizarre storyline in which his character, Brian Quigley, had become a fugitive from a federal tax evasion charge and had fled to Brazil. If he ever returned to Ireland, he'd spend his retirement in the pokey. When the plug was finally pulled on the programme, Brian was (apparently) still alive and living in Rio, but Tony was still beyond waiting for his cue.
  • This was not the only time this would happen on a BBC series; Holby City cast member Laura Sadler passed away after a fall (her character on Grange Hill met her end in a similar fashion), and rather than have her character Sandy be killed off as well, she emigrated to Australia after winning the lottery (her mother was involved with this particular story twist).
    • It's tempting to wonder if her mother was a fan of Eastenders, which used an almost identical revelation following the death of actor Ron Tarr to explain the disappearance of his Spear Carrier character Big Ron. The only difference was he went to Spain and it was established in a throwaway line of dialogue rather than being the main focus of the episode.
  • Don S. Davis, General Hammond on Stargate SG-1 for 7 seasons, died a few years after he officially retired from the show. In the series finale of Stargate Atlantis, which is dedicated to Davis' memory, Carter mentions that Hammond had died of a heart attack off-screen, directly referencing Davis' actual cause of death. She also mentions that Earth's newest interstellar warship, then under construction, would be renamed in his honor. The completed ship later appears in the premiere episode of Stargate Universe.
  • Due to Colleen Dewhurst's death, Marilla Cuthbert dies near the end of the Road to Avonlea series.
    • After her death, Dewhurst's character on Murphy Brown, Avery Brown, mother of Murphy, dies. It occured early in the season where Murphy becomes pregnant. Murphy's son was named Avery in her memory.
  • A rare double case occurred on the series 15/Love, where two main characters were killed off in one heartbreaking episode because of the (very) young actors' deaths in the same car accident.
  • 80's sitcom Night Court also had it twice: original cast member Selma Diamond, who played bailiff Selma, died after the first two seasons so her character was also written off as deceased. The succeeding bailiff was Florence, played by Florence Halop; but Halop passed away after one season and thus her character shared the same fate. Not surprising considering the ages of both actresses. In fact, there were whispers and jokes that both actresses had fallen prey to some sort of "Night Court curse" and this is said to be one of the reasons that series creator and executive producer Reinhold Weege decided not to bring in a third elderly actress and instead replaced Halop with Marsha Warfield, who was only 32 when she began playing Roz Russell.
    • The producers knew Florence Halop would not be around for Season 4; the ep "Flo's Retirement" was their way of prepping viewers for this.
  • In a soap opera this is one of the only occasions when you know a character is NOT coming back from the dead, regardless of whether they ever found the body.
  • Speaking of soap operas, Coronation Street actress Betty Driver has died aged 91, so her character Betty Williams will now be killed off as well.
    • This has happened several times in Coronation Street: Jack Walker, Jerry Booth, Albert Tatlock, Stan Ogden, Bert Tilsley, Blanche Hunt. Elsie Tanner and Christine Hardman were both mentioned as having died several years after they left the show and Annie Walker is talked about in the past tense.
  • Chico and The Man: Following Freddie Prinze's suicide, Chico Rodriguez's absence was initially explained by his moving to Mexico to go into business with his father. However, the next season, it's mentioned that he died (without giving specifics).
  • When actor Will Lee (who played Mr. Hooper) passed away, Sesame Street was faced with either casting a new actor or having the character simply leave the show without explanation. Instead, Sesame Street ran an episode where Big Bird learned it was okay to miss the recently-deceased Mr. Hooper. In tribute to him, the portrait Big Bird was going to give him still hangs in his nest to this day.
    • One documentary said that the cast said that the "Mr. Hooper's not coming back" scene was the only scene in Sesame Street history done in a single take because the cast just couldn't do it again.
  • Love and War: John Hancock, who played bartender Ike Johnson, died halfway through the first season. The other characters are shown attending Ike's funeral. Ike was replaced by his brother Abe, played by Charlie Robinson, who inherited Ike's share of the bar.
  • Joan, the first wife/biological mom of the kids in Eight Is Enough. Her actress was only in four episodes before she fell ill. Joan was written out of the rest of the season and the actress died twelve days after the first episode aired. When season two aired, it was revealed that Joan had died.
  • Highlander the Series: Werner Stocker, the German actor who played the monk Darius, died of cancer. This resulted in Darius being murdered. The episode dealing with Darius' murder was filmed after his death, but used some of the footage of the character that the studio had available spliced in.
  • Unlike All in The Family, on the original British show Till Death Do Us Part the demise of the protagonist's wife Elsie - when it transformed into In Sickness And In Health - was due to the genuine demise of actress Dandy Nicholls.
  • When long-running soap As the World Turns was canceled in 2010, writers had planned to have the show's matriarch, Nancy Hughes -- who had spoken the show's first line when it debuted in 1956 -- also speak the final lines. However when 91-year old actress Helen Wagner, who'd played Nancy from the beginning, died a few weeks before the final episode was scheduled to be filmed, the plan was scrapped, and Nancy was said to have died, with other characters memorializing her onscreen.
  • Rentaghost: Michael Darbyshire, who played Hubert Davenport, died between seasons. Davenport (and Mumford, whose actor did not want to continue in the show with Darbyshire) were written out by having them score permanent jobs haunting a stately home.
  • When Norman Beaton died, the show Desmonds was replaced by a Spin-Off about secondary character Porkpie. The first episode begins with him consoling Desmond's widow.
  • Angel - The series ended a bit before Andy Hallet's death, but his character of Lorne was retired in the comics.
  • A frequent occurrence in sitcoms co-written by David Croft (whether with Jimmy Perry or Jeremy Lloyd):
    • In Dads Army, James Beck, who played Private Walker, died quite suddenly of pancreatitis in 1973 during the filming of the sixth series. Location shooting for the series had been completed when he was taken ill, so his absence in some of the studio scenes was explained by having Walker away conducting black market deals; the character was quietly dropped starting with Series 7.
      • Averted in the Radio adaptations, where Walker was played by more than one replacement actor after Beck died.
    • In Are You Being Served, Arthur Brough, who played senior salesman Mr. Grainger, died in 1978 while preparations were being made for the sixth series (though he had announced his retirement from acting following his wife's death two months before, Lloyd and Croft were hoping to persuade him to return). He was replaced without explanation in-series by the character of Mr. Tebbs.
      • Contrary to popular perception, Brough was the only actor who died before his character was written out of the series. Harold Bennett (Young Mr. Grace) retired due to ill health and died in 1981 after filming a few scenes for Series 8, but the character remained alive until just before the first episode of Grace and Favour nearly ten years later. Meanwhile, James Hayter (Mr. Tebbs), Alfie Bass (Mr. Goldberg), Milo Sperber (Mr. Grossman), and Benny Lee (Mr. Klein) all lived for at least five more years following their various departures from the series.
    • In It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Michael Bates, who played bearer Rangi Ram, died of cancer in 1978 between Series 5 and 6. The character was written out of the remaining three series.
    • In Hi-de-Hi!, Leslie Dwyer, who played Punch and Judy man Mr. Partridge, died in 1986 between Series 6 and 7. His character was written out as having staged his own death and gone to live with a pub landlady in Cornwall, and was replaced by the similar Sammy Morris, played by Kenneth Connor.
    • In 'Allo 'Allo!, Jack Haig, who played forger Roger Leclerc, died of cancer in 1989 toward the end of Series 5. He was written out as having voluntarily returned to prison (finding the food better than that at Cafe Rene) and being replaced by his brother Ernest. (The first actor to play Ernest, Derek Royle, also died after one season, but the role was then recast with the much younger Robin Parkinson.)
  • Aunt Ginny in The Middle died along with Frances Bay, the actress ("The Map", an episode that began with the Hecks coming home from Ginny's funeral, ended with an In Memoriam to her).
  • Too Close for Comfort (at the time, titled The Ted Knight Show) did not continue production after the death of Knight from colon cancer in August 1986. The ten episodes of the series that had yet to be broadcast prior to Knight's passing aired in the six months after his death.


Music Edit

  • The heavy metal band GWAR retired the character Flattus Maximus after his most recent portrayer, Cory Smoot, was found dead.


Radio Edit

  • This has happened numerous times on The Archers, as it is such a Long Runner that actors are often in it for long enough to become elderly. Usually the death is offstage, but relatively soon after the actor's own death; a notable exception was Nelson Gabriel's death, which occurred after the character had been a tax exile for some time, still talked about by the other characters but not appearing. (Similar to the Ballykissangel example under TV; the BBC clearly likes this trope.)


Video Games Edit

  • The actor who voiced Zato-1 in Guilty Gear died after the second game. As a result, Milia canonically killed Zato-1. While the character technically stayed in the series, it was now Zato-1's corpse possessed by the parasite that gave him his powers, Eddie (under which name the character has appeared since), voiced by Takehito Koyasu. Years later, however, Zato was Back From the Dead and was still voiced by Koyasu.
    • This also happened with Hyo of Rival Schools, who was also voiced by Shiozawa.
  • Following the death of voice actor Takeshi Aono, Hideo Kojima said that Col. Roy Campbell wouldn't appear in any future Metal Gear Solid games out of respect for Aono.


Western Animation Edit

  • On The Simpsons, Phil Hartman's characters were effectively retired after his death, only appearing as background characters. After Doris Grau's death in 1995, Lunchlady Doris also became a mute background character, until 2006 when she returned, voiced by Tress MacNeille.
    • Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz both continue to appear regularly in the comics, since a voice actor is not necessary.
  • Although he actually survived the events of Transformers: The Movie, the character of Jazz was dropped from the third season of The Transformers due to the death of actor Scatman Crothers.
  • The As Told by Ginger episode No Hope for Courtney was rewritten mid-production after the death of Kathleen Freeman so that her character Ms. Gordon would be dead, out of respect for her.
  • Angela in Family Guy, who was retired following the death of Carrie Fisher and revealed to be dead in Season 17.
    • Ditto Mayor West, the mayor of Quahog, following the death of Adam West.