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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.

To put it another way, 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, and is occasionally recast.

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.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples of The Character Died with Him include:

Film (Animated)

  • 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 him, as with the trophy Lightning McQueen won at the very beginning of the 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.

Film (Live-Action)

  • Sam Loomis is notable for being a case when this trope causes a Continuity Snarl: he survived the first Halloween movie, but then died in Halloween 2. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers brought him back...and then died again in Halloween 6: Curse of Michael Myers. Halloween H20, released after Donald Pleasance's death, ignores part 6 (and 4 and 5) and establishes that he was Killed Off for Real in part 2. BUT THEN Halloween 2018 came along, which ignores all movies except the first one, meaning neither of Loomis' deaths are canon and by all means he should be still alive, yet none of the characters so much as mention him and Michael himself doesn't seem to be interested in him, yet Loomis is never stated to be dead.
  • Diane Szalinski in the upcoming fourth Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie, Shrunk, after the death of Marcia Strassman.
  • Indiana Jones: Marcus Brody, played by Denholm Elliott, died off-screen in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull due to Elliott's passing in 1992.
  • Colonel Sam Trautman from the Rambo series died off-screen in the fourth movie because Sylvester Stallone 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.
  • 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.
  • The trailers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife reveal that Egon Spengler is no more following Harold Ramis' passing.
  • In Star Trek: Beyond, it's confirmed that Spock Prime (the character played by Leonard Nimoy) has passed away.
  • Leia in The Rise of Skywalker, thanks to Carrie Fisher's passing three years prior.

Live-Action TV

  • 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. Turns out he suffered an aortic dissection, and he died. The character was Killed Off for Real; no real reason given, he just "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, was killed off at the tail-end of season 3 after Thigpen died in 2003.
  • The West Wing: Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer, suffered a fatal heart attack on election night after Spencer died in 2005, also from a heart attack.
  • 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 season 3 was turned into a tribute to the character (and actor).
  • Cheers: "Coach" Ernie Pantusso, played by Nicholas Colasanto, died off-screen in the season 4 premiere after Colasanto suffered a fatal heart attack in 1985. He was replaced by Woody Boyd.
  • Widely (and erroneously) perceived to be the case for British sitcom Father Ted, and thus the reason for its cancellation. In actual fact, the death of Dermot Morgan (who played the titular character) just happened to coincide with the planned ending of the show.
  • Stanley Kamel played Dr. Kroeger on Monk. When he died in real life, his character also died 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Donna Noble's father, Geoffrey. As a dedication to the actor, the Tenth 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, a 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".
    • For the longest time, Character Outlives Actor was the case for Sarah Jane Smith, despite the cancellation of The Sarah Jane Adventures before, on the ninth anniversary of Elisabeth Sladen's passing, the Doctor Who YouTube channel released a prose video that finally laid Sarah Jane to rest.
  • 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 Pearce 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 Caribbean 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 brewer (MacDonald had put in his will that he didn't want Mike to die).
  • The titular character of Taggart was killed off after Mark McManus died in 1994.
  • While Law and Order was not affected by Jerry Orbach's death, 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.
  • 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, died as well. It occurred 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.
  • 80s 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 episode "Flo's Retirement" was their way of preparing 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 died in 2011 aged 91, so her character Betty Williams was 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 Sr.'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 in his place or having the character simply leave the show. 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.
  • A frequent occurrence in sitcoms co-written by David Croft (whether with Jimmy Perry or Jeremy Lloyd):
    • In Dad's 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 season (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

  • The heavy metal band GWAR retired the character of Flattus Maximus after his most recent portrayer, Cory Smoot, was found dead.
    • Oderus Urungus was killed off in 2014 after David Brockie died from a heroin overdose.

Radio

  • 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

  • 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-1 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

  • The Simpsons:
  • 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.
  • Family Guy:
    • Following the death of her actress, Phyllis Diller, Peter's mother Thelma died in Season 12.
    • After Carrie Fisher passed away in December 2016, her character Angela was killed off, with "Pawtucket Pete" showing Peter delivering the eulogy at her funeral.
    • After Adam West's death in 2017, his fictional counterpart was confirmed to have died off-screen. A later episode revolves around Quahog's high school being renamed in his honor, followed by Brian and Quagmire engaging in a heated race to become the new mayor.
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