Death is never easy. That’s especially true in television, where the demise of popular characters can alienate audiences and send a series into a tailspin. Sometimes actors want out to explore other opportunities. Other times, something happened off-camera that prompted writers and producers to expedite their fictional demise, often in a way that makes it clear that the parting wasn't amicable. Take a look at seven notable cases of characters who met an untimely end for reasons other than creative necessity.
1. EDDIE LEBEC // CHEERS
The character of pro hockey player Eddie LeBec was introduced as a love interest for waitress Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) during the NBC show’s fifth season in 1987. As played by the late Jay Thomas, LeBec made frequent appearances and even married Carla, setting him up to become a recurring presence. But his spots dwindled in season seven; during season eight, it was discovered that Eddie was run over by a Zamboni off-camera. What happened? According to Cheers writer Ken Levine, Thomas had made some rude comments about Perlman during a radio program he was hosting, alluding to needing “combat pay” to kiss Perlman on camera. Perlman denies she petitioned for his removal, but both Thomas and Levine maintain his comments—there was apparently more than one incident—left Eddie steamrolled.
2. MAUDE FLANDERS // THE SIMPSONS
From 1989 to 2000, voice actor Maggie Roswell portrayed the prim and proper wife of devout family man Ned Flanders on Fox’s The Simpsons. Then, in a highly publicized episode, Maude was killed when a T-shirt gun propelled her off a set of bleachers and to her death. According to the Los Angeles Times, Roswell claimed she was fired from the show for asking for a raise, from her typical $1500 to $2000 per episode to $6000; Fox argued she quit because she no longer wanted to commute from her home in Denver to the voiceover sessions in Los Angeles.
3. VALERIE HOGAN // VALERIE
It’s unusual for a network to kill off the titular character of a series, but NBC apparently felt it had justification when negotiations with Valerie star Valerie Harper broke down in 1987. Having completed two seasons of the sitcom about a put-upon mother with a pilot husband who’s constantly out of the picture, Harper tried to negotiate new terms to her contract. NBC and production company Lorimar claimed she wanted too much money; Harper said she was merely seeking profit participation that had been promised to her. The parties later ended up in court, and Valerie was renamed Valerie’s Family before settling on The Hogan Family. Sandy Duncan stepped in for Harper’s character, who was killed off in a car accident in the third-season premiere. “It was really weird that the network would kill off a mother in a prime-time comedy with a lot of kids watching,” Harper said in 1988. She would win her suit that same year, collecting $1.8 million in compensatory damages.
4. JAMES EVANS // GOOD TIMES
Like a lot of sitcoms, Good Times both benefited and suffered from the popularity of what was intended to be an incidental character. Jimmie “J.J.” Walker’s “dy-no-mite” catchphrase and physical comedy didn’t sit well with John Amos, who played the patriarch of the Evans family. He voiced his concerns repeatedly to producers and later recalled it wasn’t in the most diplomatic of ways; Amos claimed he was fired as a result. When the show returned for its fall premiere in 1976, his onscreen wife, Florida Evans, read a letter out loud informing her that James was killed in an auto accident.
Esther Rolle, who played Florida, also began to share criticisms over the show's direction, especially now that there was no male role model in the series. She quit. This time, producer Norman Lear dealt with the situation by having Florida move away to be with her new husband.
5. CHEF // SOUTH PARK
The school cook of South Park hung in for nearly 10 seasons before voice actor Isaac Hayes began to have a problem with the show’s trademark satirical bite. It had been leaning heavily into criticisms of Scientology, the religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952: Hayes, a Scientologist, asked to be released from his contract after one episode devoted to the subject proved too offensive to him. He was released; the show soon aired an episode where Chef fell from a bridge, was impaled by a tree, dismembered by animals, and implicated in child molestation. The series used snippets of Hayes’s prior recordings to complete the scenes.
6. STEVE CROSETTI // HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET
A critical hit when it premiered in 1993, NBC’s Homicide—a gritty depiction of life as a Baltimore detective—struggled to find an audience. After two seasons, the network agreed to renew the show for a third, but wanted to bring in actors they thought might be more appealing to a younger audience. Showrunner Tom Fontana told series regular Jon Polito, who portrayed middle-aged cop Steve Crosetti, that they’d be temporarily writing him out of the show—but that Fontana would bring him back when things settled down. By his own admission, the late Polito said he reacted in anger, lashing out at NBC and producers in the press. Instead of being brought back, Crosetti wound up floating in the bay, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
7. TED HOFFMAN // MURDER ONE
Trial attorney Ted Hoffman didn’t die, but the circumstances surrounding the character’s departure from ABC’s Murder One in 1996 are too bizarre to go unnoticed. According to series creator Steven Bochco in his autobiography, Truth is a Total Defense, star Daniel Benzali was dismissed from the show after one season because he was an hour late to work each day. The reason, Bochco told broadcaster Rich Eisen, was that Benzali only felt comfortable having his morning bowel movements at his home in Malibu and couldn’t leave until he had his a.m. coffee-fueled evacuation. Bochco offered to rent an apartment for Benzali during the week, but Benzali refused. He was replaced by Anthony LaPaglia in the second season.