It is inevitable that death comes to a person. Our Hollywood stars are no exception to this part of the circle of life. We mourn their loss the way we mourn the loss of a loved one.
But what if the star passes away while in the middle of a TV series? How does the production team cope with this sudden loss?
Here are some stars we lost while they were in the middle of a show and how the staff and producers worked on the loss.
Cory Monteith (May 11, 1982 – July 13, 2013)
Fans of the hit TV show “Glee” easily recognize Finn Hudson, the football jock who found his way into the school’s show choir. Unlike Finn Hudson, Monteith has been struggling with drug abuse for years, including his time in the show. He died due to heroin and alcohol overdose.
Since the show was still airing when he died, the staff delayed production. In a special tribute episode, “The Quarterback,” the show acknowledged Monteith’s (and Finn’s) death by including it in the plot. They did not address his cause of death, though.
“Glee” continued to air for two more seasons after Monteith’s death before it was canceled.
John Ritter (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003)
Prior to the show “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter,” Ritter was famous as Jack Tripper in the TV classic “Three’s Company.”
In “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter”, he played the role of Paul Hennessy, the father of the family. However, during the beginning of the second season, he fell ill, was rushed to the hospital, allegedly misdiagnosed, and died. His initial diagnosis of cardiac arrest turned out to be an undiagnosed aortic dissection.
Writers created the story that while Ritter’s character Paul was outside buying milk, he collapsed in the grocery and died. Subsequent episodes showed how Paul’s family coped with his sudden demise. The show aired for one more season after Ritter’s death but was canceled afterwards.
Will Lee (August 6, 1908 – December 7, 1982)
Anyone who watched “Sesame Street” in its early days would recognize Mr. Hooper of the Hooper’s Store. Will Lee, the actor who portrayed the role of Mr. Hooper died from a heart attack in 1982 in the middle of the show’s 14th season.
Finding the actor’s death as a teaching moment for the show’s young audience, the episode “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” showed Big Bird, along with the other live-action actors of the show, go through the stages of grief as they try to cope with Mr. Hooper’s death. This episode was commended as an effective way of teaching children how to handle the concept of death. Later episodes showed David, portrayed by Norther Calloway, taking over Mr. Hooper’s Store.
Carol Ann Susi (February 2, 1952 – November 11, 2014)
Fans of the show “Big Bang Theory” know that the cast is not complete without Howard’s cantankerous, albeit invisible, mother, Mrs. Wolowitz. Her voice is provided by actress Carol Ann Susi.
So, when Susi died in her sleep in 2014, the show’s writers decided to include Mrs. Wolowitz’s death in the story. In an episode, Howard received a call from his aunt where he was told that his mother died in her sleep while on vacation in Florida. Viewers became witnesses to how the gang, especially Howard, dealt with the loss. Subsequent episodes acknowledged that Howard was officially an orphan, and life went on for all of them.
Luke Perry (October 11, 1966 – March 4, 2019)
Fans of Luke Perry rejoiced when he was included in the cast of “Riverdale” as Fred Andrews. He shot into stardom when he portrayed the role of Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills 90210” in the 1990s. As Fred Andrews in “Riverdale,” Perry gained a new generation of followers.
However, he suffered a massive stroke in 2019 and his life support was removed after a second stroke within a week of the first one. He was 52 when he passed away.
In the show’s season 4 premiere, Fred Andrews was killed off-screen via a hit-and-run accident. The other characters paid tribute to both the character and the actor. Riverdale continued to air until season seven, its final one.
Marcia Wallace (November 1, 1942 – October 25, 2013)
Although the name does not immediately ring a bell to many, to fans of “The Simpsons,” Marcia Wallace is Mrs. Edna Krabappel, the elementary school teacher constantly tormented by Bart Simpson’s antics.
In 1985, Wallace was diagnosed with breast cancer and she became a cancer advocate for almost three decades. However, a week before her birthday, she passed away due to pneumonia and sepsis, and breast cancer was listed as a significant condition.
To address Wallace’s death, the show retired the character of Edna Krabappel and killed her off-screen from unknown causes. Married to Ned at the time of her demise, Edna’s widower paid tribute to her by placing her picture next to his first wife, Maude.
Anton Yelchin (March 11, 1989 – June 19, 2016)
Prior to his death, Anton was a busy actor. Among science fiction fans, his name was associated with Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot. He was also working on other projects when he figured in a fatal car crash.
One of these unfinished projects was his work as Jim Lake Jr. in “Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia.” Yelchin lent his voice to the animated series and recorded two seasons of the show when he passed away.
The producers decided to continue with the show and hired another actor to replace Yelchin. To make the voice actor replacement seamless, they incorporated the change as part of the storyline.
We will all wonder what could have been had these actors completed their work before their untimely passing. Sadly, we could only wonder “what if” as their death is a mere part of life and we will never know what could have happened had they continued to live on.
Those that they left behind had their lives abruptly and irrevocably changed. All we can do now is look on with fondness at the body of work they created for our enjoyment.