How 22 TV Shows Handled an Actor's Death

A television showrunner can anticipate or plan for any number of things — say, a cast member walking away from the negotiation table and a role he/she long inhabited. But the sudden, tragic death of a key player is something one never can, or wants to, expect.

As Fox’s Glee in the coming weeks mourns series star Cory Monteith, who was found dead on July 13 at the age of 31, TVLine recounts how 22 other TV series responded to, and sometimes incorporated, a cast member’s death.

RELATED | Cory Monteith’s 10 Best Glee Moments

The path that Glee ultimately chooses won’t be determined for several weeks — if not longer, should Fox and the showrunners elect to push back the season premiere and allow the devastating news more time to sink in. One thing is certain, however: The musical comedy faces special circumstances, appealing as it does to a youthful demographic, swaths of which idolized or even “carried a torch” for Monteith. Viewers also will know the pain his on-/off-screen love, Lea Michele, herself must feel, every time they see Rachel.

Review this gallery of how other shows worked through similar tragedies (or in some cases didn’t), then share your latest thoughts on how the show might go on for Glee.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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179 Comments
  1. DAG says:

    The one that sticks in my mind (that you didn’t mention) is Eight is Enough.. Dianna Hyland who played the mom only filmed 4 eps before she died. They made Mr. Bradford a widower who eventually remarried.

  2. Judie says:

    I think Glee should wrap up with this season.

  3. Ricky Muse says:

    Finn has to be killed off, and knowing Glee and how they are all about teaching. I think they should kill him off by overdose. ADDICITON is real and this is there chance to show that.It sucks that the show is gonna be different and ruin.We all know Rachel and Finn were gonna get back together.Gonna be weird…

  4. jm says:

    i miss here the actor from Cover-up. “John-Erik Hessun”. He died as a result of an accidental self-inflicted blank cartridge gunshot wound to the head on the set of the CBS television series Cover Up in which he played the male lead.
    They changed him with another actor, saying he went to a mission and dying there

    I also miss here Jerry Orbach, he was playing in Law & Order: Trial by Jury.

  5. Jess says:

    some ppl are saying that they shouldn’t delay but i disagree. I mean they need a time to grief. If they won’t cancel the show (which i think they won’t cancel. i believe FOX would never do that) they should probably delay the season to May or sth? I mean it might be a long time but we should’nt forget Lea Michele. I mean yes, she is professional but we’re talking about he’s boyfriend who died at 31. It’ll be too difficult for her.

  6. legalchef says:

    I agree that they have to have him die on the show… it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Maybe have it that Rachel is eagerly awaiting “the call” to see if she got the part, but when her phone rings it is news of his death? And then she does ultimately get the part, which makes it so bittersweet because as one part of her life is in ruins, the other is going so well? Just not sure how to have him die… maybe a drunk driver or something like that – a completely random, but not outlandish, scenario.

    • Hurding Katz says:

      Traffic accident? If SMASH hadn’t done it, it would make sense. It would be an “immediately after” scene from last season, explaining why Finn wasn’t at the wedding at the same time. (I like how the elephant in that room wasn’t addressed at the time.)

      As to the season’s arc, I’m wondering if the “creative twist”/time jump at midseason wasn’t to be either moving on to the next school year or a “summer” season, but a jump ahead to Finn becoming a teacher (guess where) and taking over/revving up the Glee Club (once again). That could have been a good platform to moving out most of the original cast (we see whatever happened too) and allowing for either an end-of-series scenario or a jump back to “real time” with a fully refreshed cast, all in Lima, the following season.

      Well, if ever, not now. But i won’t stop believing.

  7. GS says:

    I haven’t watched but an episode here and there the past couple of seasons but if Finn is in the Army, why not have him die on a deployment somewhere? He dies a hero and the show can then pay tribute to the character. I am firmly in the camp that the character should die. He was the good guy and no way would the character disappear and never show up for the events that mean a lot to his friends and he and Rachel were going to end up together in the end. Recasting would never work. It would really be an opportunity to bring some credibility back to the show b/c it had gotten impossible to watch with the new kids on there. They do need time to grieve. It’s one thing if someone has an illness and you know it’s coming. This is a 31 yr old man who had the world in front of him that was gone in a flash and no one saw it coming even if he did have an addiction problem. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone associated with the show and especially Lea.

  8. UKStevieB says:

    For accuracies sake I would just like to point out that Michael Conrad from Hill Street Blues died in 1983 not 1993 as stated in your article.

  9. dude says:

    If they want to honour his memory, they should kill off Finn from the show and make the entire season arc about coping with the sudden loss of a loved one and how it affects the people you touched in even the smallest way. That said, this is Glee so I’m expecting a passing mention that Finn went off to teaching college in California and dumped Rachel via text message and he’ll never be mentioned again.

  10. O'Brien says:

    I think one thing that no one’s discussing is the possibility that Lea Michele may not want to do this show anymore. It’s realistic to consider that someone’s going to give her that option, and who on earth could blame her for taking it? Yes, Rachel has some distance from Finn based on the past season, but on a personal level, Cory and Lea have been the leads of the show since the start, and one of the central relationships on the show is Finn and Rachel. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for her to step back into that world, where she’d be forced to deal with everything twice, no matter the explanation they give for Finn’s absence. Personally, I kind of hope it’s like, “Rachel got the lead in Funny Girl, she and Finn got together, and all is well,” and we never see them again on the show. If the show sinks after that, so be it. I just really cannot consider that they’d make her stay with this after going through something so truly horrible. If she does want to come back, then that’s up to her, and I’ll be rooting for her along with everyone else.

    And they absolutely must push production back. I don’t know how they would figure this all out in a week, and it would be cruel to make everyone else come back right now, when this is all so fresh.

    • Alia says:

      Or “Rachel didn’t get the part, but attracted the attention of a Hollywood agent. She and Finn moved to Los Angeles.” Then Mercedes can bring updates on them if/when she stops by for a visit. And someday, when Lea is feeling up to it, Rachel can come back from LA without Finn, either because they broke up or because he died somehow in LA.

  11. Lucie says:

    There was also a show called 15/love which lost not one but two of it’s main actors in a car accident after only 10 episodes had aired. They dealt with it by “killing” the characters in a plane crash.

  12. Leo Keil says:

    The first actor on a TV series that I remember dying was Joseph Kearns on “Dennis The Menace.” I think he should have been mentioned in this article. Also missing is Larry Keating, who died during the third season of Mr. Ed.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      Sorry, this was never intended (or touted) as an all-encompassing definitive round-up, just 22 (now 23) instances to serve as examples.

  13. iakovos says:

    Considering GLEE’s ginormous cast and the fact the show seems to be in flux going into Season 5, the series should be able to navigate well a plotline to note Cory Monteith’s passing. (and perhaps but not necessarily his character Finn’s death). GLEE seems to do emotional episodes well and music/song is a means to do that. Finn’s death could provide new paths storywise or bring closure to some. Since Monteith and Lea Michele were a couple in real life, the actor’s death is even more poignant. People die every day and life goes on for us and around us who are still here. And so it shall for those at McKinley high and the talents who knew and shared time with Monteith.

  14. What about the actress who died that was on *My Sister Sam*? I thought for sure that would be here.

  15. Anthony Newhall says:

    They could start the premiere with various characters in therapy, talking about it. They have the chance to really show how people become depressed and mourn after major deaths. This needs a time jump. Healing in process. Having to put Lea through reenacting her reaction to Cory’s death as Rachel would be insanely cruel. You can’t forget we are talking about people that aren’t very far off from their characters, regarding their relationships with each other. Keeping Finn alive would ruin the single shred of decency left in the show. I still think a departure from Lima is needed entirely. As well as a real look into what college kids deal with. Lea’s character should get the role that was in her grasp and the time jump should begin on her closing night. You can say that Finn did show up to her opening night. You can say that they gave it a chance. You can say it didn’t work anymore. You can say he struggled with it. You can say he experimented with drugs and you can address this realistically. The fact that it’s even being discussed that it should be pushed back is not helping fans and the cast move on. I’m sorry if this seems insensitive but this comes from a reluctant fan of the series from day one. This is what needs to happen. Glee has shown that it can go darker and still show the light of it, I hope they do that again.

    • Katie says:

      But the simple fact is it has to be pushed back,at least for a short while. There’s no way they’re going to try to aim for it to come back when it’s scheduled to premiere as not only do the cast and crew need time to grieve and start to come to terms with what has happened,but the producers and writers need time to come up with new scripts and how to deal with a story arc that will no doubt last the whole season, given the only thing they can really do to make sense in the whole story of Glee is for Finn to die. You can’t expect everyone to get back to work and sort everything out in time for it to not affect when the show comes back

  16. r0ckmypants says:

    The Suddenly Susan tribute to David is one of the most moving episodes of TV I’ve ever seen.

  17. Lauren says:

    The only good option here is to kill Finn, unfortunately. He cannot be recast, because the character/actor was beloved. They can’t send him off to college in another state never to be heard from again, because that’s stupid. He has to die. At the very least, fans who cannot attend the funeral of Cory Montieth can attend the one for Finn Hudson.

  18. stella says:

    the 8 simple rules goodbye episode is heartbreaking. But the difference is, even though Ritter’s death was unexpected, he wasn’t as young as Cory. Killing Cory off in Glee could be seen mean seeing as he was so young. I don’t know.

    • bamabunny says:

      But young people die all the time, and not just of things like overdoses. Aaliyah died in a plane crash. Andy Whitfield (mentioned above) had cancer. Just a couple of weeks ago a college football player was killed in a car accident, just 20 years old. It happens. Glee is about those milestones in a young person’s life, and one of those is the first time someone your age dies, and the first time you have to deal with mortality and grief.

  19. Cheri says:

    I can see at the end of the season after an advanced timeline like a year or two we see Rachel on stage at the end of her starring role in Funny Girl looking out into the audience seeing the love of her life, Finn, watching her receiving a standing ovation. but, we only see her looking into the audience. At the end of othe finale season 5 there is a long role of credits that pay tribute to Cory and his life with Glee and all the relationships he made with all associated with show. That way there is no re enactment. Finn is not dead where the cast including Lea has to endure ithis tragedy all over again. For me would be over without Lea and Cory. I wouldn’t blame Lea if she never returned. I love this show, knowing the show must go on but with respect and grace.

  20. djed says:

    I hope the Glee writers devote an entire episode to Finn, showing a memorial and his best clips and songs. Maybe at the end the actors can give a PSA about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, if indeed that is what Cory died from. RIP Cory. We’ll miss you.

  21. Reagan says:

    Will for me I wasn’t planning on tuning in to Glee anymore anyway after the horrible last season. Like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Desperate Housewives shows I use to love but lost me after a beloved character was killed off or it just got simply to bad to watch anymore. This was what Glee was to me.
    Anyway Cory and Lea were the central characters of the shows. It likes Rachel having lost Ross on Friends. It just wouldn’t work. They will find some stupid reason to kill off him from the show which would leave a void for the remaining 2 season Fox had renewed Glee for. I expect it to fulfill its contract and end after the 2 seasons are done. Eventually they will be banish to Friday or Saturday because the ratings will be even more bad as they are now. Then again I didn’t expect Fox to renew this show for 2 more seasons.

  22. Niki says:

    I really think that they should have Fin pass away on the show. I think that the show should start off with Kurt and Rachel at school or something and Kirt getting the call from Kurt that there was a crash accident or something. The entire original cast should come back… And at some point Rachel should sing 1000 years. The whole episode should be dedicated by him.

  23. Caro says:

    Many people watched Glee for Finchel; they were the endgame and the most popular couple on the show. Then when Lea and Cory started dating in real life and were so happy it made the pairing even more popular. I cannot imagine how hard it will be for Lea to go to work everyday and not see Cory there so I hope the producers will let her leave the show if that is what she wants to do. We could see Rachel getting the part of Fanny and going to pick Finn up at the airport so they could celebrate and then having Kurt get a call telling him they died together in a car accident on their way into town. Or the other plotline would be to give Finn a hero’s death and have him die saving a co-ed from an attack or an old lady from being hit by a car. I know it will be tempting to use this as a “say no to drugs” statement but I think that would be a mistake; Finn’s death should reflect the kindness and chivalry of Finn and the history of the show not the addiction in Cory’s life. Rachel could be shown only as far Kurt saying there is something he has to tell her and then they could flash to Rachel lying in bed asleep and Kurt wondering how Rachel will go on with Santana. After that Rachel would have a new leading man or understudy to the leading man that she VERY slowly connects with or they could partially reform Puck. Finn’s death could give Puck a wake up call. Puck could move to NYC to go to school and pursue a music career but also to watch over Rachel for his brother from another Mother, Finn. Puck and Rachel would bond over their shared grief and gradually get closer. Puck could send her two bouquets on the Opening Night of Funny Girl; one from him and one from Finn. Or again, they could let Lea leave and kill Finn and Rachel together. It should be up to Lea…

  24. Natalie says:

    I don’t understand some people. Yes, Lea is professional and yes Lea signed for 2 year but some things are not about professionalism. If lost my boyfriend in collage and he was 22. It took me months to get back to normal life. She might be professional but we’re talking about her boyfriend who died so early. They should let her quit. (if that’s what she wants of course.) If they won’t cancel the show(and i think they won’t cancel.) i believe they should delay the season to Spring ’14.

  25. Alia says:

    Matt, you might also want to mention Angel’s handling of Glenn Quinn’s death (although I think he actually left the show immediately before he died).

  26. Tracy says:

    Glenn Quinn’s death was handled well but then again Joss Whedon has always done a good job of supporting his cast and keeping problems within the family.

  27. Garry says:

    I agreed, at the time, with the handling of Phil Hartman’s death on NewsRadio. However, he was heart and soul of that TV show. Although Jon Lovitz did a respectable job in Season Five, it, probably should have ended with Phil’s passing.

  28. JoyAnne says:

    The District did a wonderful memorial show for Lynn Thigpen. I think the best I have ever seen.

  29. Ralph Barlow says:

    Will Geer’s character of Grandpa Walton did NOT die in the final episode of Season 6 — He was very much alive through it. Season 7 began with the acknowledgement that Geer had passed away, with the Walton family mourning Grandpa’s death.

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