How 11 TV shows dealt with the death of a main cast member

Luke Perry played Fred Andrews on

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Luke Perry played Fred Andrews on “Riverdale.”
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Cate Cameron/The CW

  • Following the death of Luke Perry earlier this week, “Riverdale” has shut down production, and it’s unknown how the show will proceed without him from here.
  • This isn’t the first time that an actor has died while starring in a TV show. Most characters also die on the show after the actor dies.
  • Bill Paxton’s death led to the cancellation of “Training Day.”
  • Will Lee’s “Sesame Street” character, Mr. Hooper, died, too.
  • Anton Yelchin’s role in the animated “Trollhunters” series was recast.

When filming a TV show, sometimes the unthinkable happens: an actor who stars on the show dies, leaving the cast and crew mourning and the writers and producers to figure out how to handle the show – and the fate of the character that actor has left behind. Sometimes that means the character will be recast or written off, and sometimes, it means saying farewell to the character with an offscreen death of their own.

On March 4, Luke Perry died after having a massive stroke just days earlier, leaving fans wondering what would happen to his character, Fred Andrews, on “Riverdale,” which is still in production on the show’s third season. Although the show temporarily shut down in light of Perry’s death, Warner Bros. and The CW have yet to announce what “Riverdale” plans to do with his character going forward.

Read on for ways that different TV shows have handled an actor’s death during production.


Bill Paxton’s death led to the cancellation of “Training Day.”

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Bill Paxton in “Training Day.”
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CBS

When Bill Paxton unexpectedly died in 2017 at age 61 after complications from surgery, he had already completed the full first season order of the “Training Day.” That meant that the season continued to air as planned, according to Deadline, and the show was then canceled.

Deadline noted that the show only had a modest performance and Paxton’s death was not necessarily the only factor in its cancellation.


Anton Yelchin’s role in “Trollhunters” was recast.

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Yelchin voiced Jim.
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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images/ Netflix

In 2016, Anton Yelchin died after an auto accident, according to The Wrap. At the time, Yelchin was voicing Jim in Netflix’s animated series, “Trollhunters.” After his death, Netflix recast Emile Hirsch in Yelchin’s former role in the third and final season.


Cory Monteith’s character Finn died on “Glee.”

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The tribute to Cory Monteith and Finn Hudson on an episode of “Glee.”
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FOX

After Cory Monteith was found dead of an overdose in 2013, “Glee” decided that his character, Finn Hudson, would die on the next season. Although Finn’s cause of death was never revealed, an episode of the show called “The Quarterback” centered around his death and how each character coped with it, especially Rachel, who was played by Lea Michele, the actress who was dating Monteith in real life at the time.


Lee Thompson Young’s character also died on “Rizzoli & Isles.”

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Young as Barry Frost on “Rizzoli & Isles.”
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TNT

In 2013, Lee Thompson Young was found dead at 29 years old, with his manager later confirming that he took his own life. At the time, he was starring on “Rizzoli & Isles” as Detective Barry Frost. On the show, his character died as well, but in a car accident, and the show featured Frost’s funeral service.


John Ritter’s “8 Simple Rules” character was killed off.

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Ritter played Paul Hennessy.
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ABC

After John Ritter died of an aortic dissection at 54 in 2003, the show he was currently starring in, “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” was left to decide how to proceed without him. In a one-hour episode, Ritter’s character, Paul Hennessy, left to get milk and died of a heart attack, and in the episodes that followed, his family coped with their loss.


Freddie Prinze’s absence from “Chico And The Man” was explained away.

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Prinze played Chico.
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NBC

When Freddie Prinze died by suicide at 22 in 1977, he was starring in “Chico And The Man.” At the time, Prinze’s absence was explained as Chico being “away,” according to the Baltimore Sun, but Chico was confirmed to be dead later in the series.


Stanley Kamel’s character in “Monk” also died.

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Kamel played Dr. Kroger.
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USA Network

In 2008, Stanley Kamel was found dead of a heart attack in his home in Hollywood Hills at 65. Since he was starring in “Monk” at the time, his character Dr. Kroger, who was Monk’s therapist, died in the show’s season seven premiere.


Phil Hartman’s “NewsRadio” character died of a heart attack.

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Hartman played Bill McNeal.
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NBC

In May 1998, Phil Hartman died in a murder-suicide that authorities believe was committed by his wife Brynn Hartman. Hartman’s “Newsradio” character, Bill McNeal, died of a heart attack on the show, with a special episode allowing the characters to grieve his death.


Jim Davis’s character on “Dallas” was killed off.

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Davis played Jock Ewing.
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CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Jim Davis died in his home at 65 years old in 1981 and was starring in “Dallas” at the time. The show decided that his character, Jock Ewing, would be killed off in a helicopter crash.


Will Lee’s “Sesame Street” character, Mr. Hooper, died, too.

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Will Lee played Mr. Hopper.
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Bill Pierce/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

When Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper on “Sesame Street,” died in 1982 at 74 years old, it gave the show the unique opportunity to help explain death to its audience of young children. In the episode “Farewell Mr. Hooper,” Big Bird coped with Mr. Hooper’s death as the show aimed to help the kids watching at home do the same with deaths they might confront in their own lives.


Nancy Marchand was brought back to “The Sopranos” through CGI.

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CGI version of Livia.
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HBO

In 2000, Nancy Marchand, who played Livia in “The Sopranos,” died at 71 from lung cancer. Although the show did bring her character back through the use of CGI, eventually, Livia did die on the show.