Sometimes an actor’s relationship with a character just runs its course. Here are more than two dozen actors who asked for their characters to be killed off, both on TV and in movies (though not all of them got their wish). Warning: Spoilers abound.
1. Samuel L. Jackson // Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Samuel L. Jackson’s death in Deep Blue Sea is one of the greatest character exits in movie history, an incredibly abrupt mid-monologue devouring. He was always set to die, but in the original script the character managed to get to the end of his speech before it happened. Jackson struggled with the speech, which the visual effects supervisor described as “seven pages of the worst dialogue you’ve ever heard in your life.” Jackson implored the director Renny Harlin, “Renny, have you read this dialogue? I don’t want to say it.” The effects team proposed solutions that involved killing the character earlier, with Jackson deciding, “Yeah, I’m not happy. Just kill me. The sooner you kill me, the happier I’ll be.” Different cuts were put together, with the abrupt death version by far being the best received. Jackson was thrilled with the result, calling it “the best death ever.”
2. Jamie Lee Curtis // Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The continuity of the Halloween franchise is something of a nightmare, with 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later somehow being both the seventh and fourth entries in the series. Jamie Lee Curtis believed H20 would end with her decapitating her nemesis Michael Myers. However, contractual issues meant the movie couldn’t end with Myers’s death, leading to the last-minute revelation—unknown to Curtis when shooting—that he had survived and everything was ambiguous.
Curtis subsequently agreed to appear in Halloween: Resurrection on the condition that Laurie die in order to bring her and Michael’s story to an end, telling producers: “If this is in fact how we are going to conclude [H20], without the audience knowing, then I have to come back for one more movie, for a very short moment to conclude Laurie’s story."
Curtis in fact ended up reprising the role again, in David Gordon Green's Halloween (2018), a sequel only to the first movie—a testament to how committed everyone involved in this franchise is to make the timeline utterly baffling (especially considering there are two more films coming, with the next one—Halloween Kills, also featuring Curtis—scheduled to be released on October 15, 2021).
3. Dean Norris // Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
While his character was a fan favorite, Dean Norris wanted Hank Schrader to be killed off in the middle of Breaking Bad’s final season. However, since the final season was split into two parts, Norris had to stay on until the end. As a result, Norris had to turn down the opportunity to star in a sitcom pilot in order to finish filming Breaking Bad’s fifth season.
“I said, ‘Would it be interesting if Hank died in the first eight?'" Norris explained on CBS This Morning. “[AMC] said, ‘No, we kind of need you for the last eight. We’ve been building that up for the last five years’ ... Obviously, I’m glad that they did.”
4. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje // Lost (2004-2010)
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who played Mr. Eko, grew more and more unhappy living in Hawaii and working on Lost, and after the death of both of his parents, Akinnuoye-Agbaje wanted to return home to London as soon as possible. Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse weren’t happy to see him leave, but respected the actor's wishes and killed off his character at the beginning of season three.
"Our Mr. Eko plans very quickly derailed,” Lindelof explained. “Adewale’s unhappiness was almost instantaneous. On his second episode, he was expressing extreme dissatisfaction. Originally he was going to be someone who challenged Locke for the spiritual leadership of the castaways."
5. Sophie Turner // Game Of Thrones (2011-2019)
Sophie Turner wanted her Game of Thrones character Sansa Stark to be killed off before the series ended—because she wanted her character to die in a memorable and shocking way. “I don’t want to survive,” Turner told The Wall Street Journal in 2016. “If you’re on Game of Thrones and you don’t have a cool death scene, then what’s the point?”
6. Isaac Hayes // South Park (1997-Present)
In 2006, Isaac Hayes wanted to leave South Park after nine years of voicing Chef, as he was deeply offended with its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for criticizing Scientology. Hayes, who has been a Scientologist since 1993, asked to be let out of his contract with South Park. Chef was killed off in the season 10 premiere.
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," Hayes said in a statement. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."
7. Harrison Ford // Return of the Jedi (1983)
Before making Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford expressed his desire to see Han Solo die during the final installment in the original Star Wars trilogy. But George Lucas disagreed with Ford, because the filmmaker "didn't think there was any future in dead Han toys." However, more than 30 years later, Ford finally got to see Han Solo’s end in The Force Awakens. In a fan Q&A for Entertainment Weekly, Ford admitted that the character’s death made for a better movie.
“I think it’s a fitting use of the character. I’ve been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years, not because I was tired of him or because he’s boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight.”
8. Chyler Leigh // Grey’s Anatomy (2005-Present)
Chyler Leigh spent five years playing Lexie Grey on Grey’s Anatomy before her character was unexpectedly killed in the penultimate episode of season 8 of the hit medical drama. The exit was something Leigh and showrunner Shonda Rhimes came up with together after Leigh decided she wanted to leave the show; she had taken an extended hiatus to spend more time with her family, and wanted to move on. “This was not an easy decision,” Rhimes said. “But it was a decision that Chyler and I came to together. We had a lot of thoughtful discussion about it and ultimately we both decided this was the right time for her character’s journey to end.” Lexie then died in a plane crash on the way to separate a pair on conjoined twins. Leigh later told Entertainment Weekly: “If you’re going to die, die under a fuselage of a plane! Why not, right?”
9. Bill Murray // Zombieland (2009)
Bill Murray wasn’t originally going to die in Zombieland—he was already going to be dead. After Patrick Swayze pulled out of a zombie cameo due to illness, a dozen or so big names said no for various reasons and the filmmakers were panicking; the scene they had planned required a zombie version of a famous person to make sense. They asked Woody Harrelson if he had any famous pals and he suggested Murray, a figure the filmmakers had assumed wasn’t even worth trying to get.
“He called Woody back and he said, ‘I love the script and it’s really imaginative, but I don’t really have enough to do. Is there any way I can have more to do?,’” co-writer Rhett Reese told MTV. So they rewrote the scene, extending it to give Murray more to do, then killed him off in a hilarious way.
10. Michelle Trachtenberg // Black Christmas (2006)
After spending several years on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Michelle Trachtenberg had reservations about appearing in a horror movie, and decided she would only sign on for the 2006 remake of Black Christmas on one condition: That she got to die.
Her character Melissa survived in the original script, so this required a bit of swapping around on the part of the filmmakers, but she got her Christmas wish. Melissa met her end by being partially decapitated by an ice skate. God bless us, everyone.
11. Milo Ventimiglia // Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
Jess Mariano did not die at any point during Gilmore Girls, but if actor Milo Ventimiglia had his way, things might have been different. When he was leaving the show, Ventimiglia pushed for as violent and bloody an exit as possible, telling E!: “I'd love to be invited [back], but at the same time, I don't see it happening. I was the one who actually tried to get Jess killed, and they didn't go for it. Get him hit by a bus, a knife in the side of the neck, something bad. I guess I thought it would be kind of cool.” The showrunners were not up for that, and Jess merely moved to Philadelphia, showing up for an appearance in the 2016 revival series without a knife sticking out of his neck or anything.
12. David Koepp // The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Screenwriter David Koepp wrote himself into the first sequel to Jurassic Park, making a cameo as a character credited as “Unlucky Bastard.” Technically, it isn’t just bad luck that causes said Bastard to meet his maker; in an unsuccessful bid to escape a T. rex, he tries to run into a store … by pushing a pull door. The gurgling as the dinosaur bites into him is genuinely impressive.
Koepp is far from the only filmmaker to insist on dying in a cameo. X-Men screenwriter David Hayter is killed in that film by Sabretooth and Toad; Peter Jackson gets shot with an arrow by Legolas in The Return Of The King; in Highlander, director Russell Mulcahy gets run over by a motorcycle; and Oliver Stone gets blown up in Platoon.
13. Sigourney Weaver // Alien 3 (1992)
Alien 3 was supposed to mark the end of a trilogy with the death of Ellen Ripley. At the end of the film, Ripley sacrificed her life to save the planet from a Xenomorph. Apparently, Sigourney Weaver wanted to kill off Ripley because she didn’t want to keep playing the character in movies that sounded awful.
When asked if it was her idea to kill off Ripley during a Q&A at the 2015 London Film and Comic Con, Weaver responded, “Well, yes—because I heard that Fox was gonna do Alien vs. Predator. Which really depressed me because I was very proud of the movies.”
14. Johnny Depp // 21 Jump Street (2012)
When Jonah Hill approached Johnny Depp about making a cameo in the movie version of 21 Jump Street, reprising his role of Officer Tom Hansen from the 1980s TV series, Depp said yes on two conditions. Firstly, he wanted Hansen’s partner from the original show, Officer Doug Penhall—played by Peter DeLuise—to return. Secondly, he wanted both characters to die. As screenwriter Michael Bacall revealed, "He wanted closure. I had so much respect for that. It’s a brilliant idea that was absolutely not mine. It works fantastically.”
15. Kal Penn // House (2004-2012)
In 2009, during his stint on the medical drama House, Kal Penn took a job at the White House working with the Obama administration. In order to dedicate more time to this new political career, Penn requested that his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, be eliminated. The series’ producers and writers obliged and Dr. Kutner died by suicide at the end of season 5.
"I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House,” Penn told Entertainment Weekly at the time. “I got to know the president and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison.”
16. Charlton Heston // Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970)
Charlton Heston had minimal interest in reprising his role for the sequel to Planet Of The Apes, but producer Richard D. Zanuck eventually convinced him to return. This was on two conditions: That he would die at the beginning of the film, and that his hefty fee would be donated to charity.
However, as production neared, Zanuck and Heston came up with a new idea: The film would be spent looking for Heston, who would die at the very end. Not only would Heston still get the death he wanted for not having to commit a lot of time to the project, he’d go out with as much of a bang as anyone ever has, detonating a nuclear bomb and destroying the world. Neither of them wanted to make any more Planet of the Apes films, and this seemed like a surefire way of guaranteeing that. It’s the bleakest, most nihilistic ending ever, as Taylor decided that both apes and humans are beyond saving. His final line as he presses the button: “It’s Doomsday, the end of the world … you bloody bastard.”
Even so, there were three more sequels, two TV series, a remake, and a three-movie reboot series, so as a franchise-ending plan, it didn’t really work. But at least Heston got what he wanted.
17. Mischa Barton // The O.C. (2003-2007)
Marissa Cooper’s (Mischa Barton) death in the third season of The O.C. was a shocking moment—she was one of the “Core Four,” and her on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) was one of the key elements of the show. However, ratings weren’t where the network wanted them to be, and while Marissa was a fan favorite, critics weren’t as enamored of her. There were also issues behind the scenes, and what Barton later described as "general bullying from some of the men on set." When producers decided the character should leave the show, they gave Barton an option: sail off into the sunset with the potential to return, or kill Marissa? Contractually, the latter seemed preferable. “I was getting offers from big films at the time and having to turn them down,” Barton told E!.
Marissa’s ensuing death was heartbreaking, iconic, and immediately parodied a lot, namely by the SNL “Dear Sister” sketch. “I love that she had this epic death and that it ended like that because it's memorable and it's not just another flash in the pan,” Barton said. “I wanted it to be as gory and as bloody as possible.”
18. Denise Crosby // Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
While filming the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Denise Crosby became worried that her character, security chief Tasha Yar, would never be fully fleshed out and that she'd be trapped in a limited role for season after season. In a bid to avoid this fate, she asked the producers to release her from her contract.
"I was miserable,” Crosby later said. “I couldn’t wait to get off that show. I was dying. This was not an overnight decision. I was grateful to have made that many episodes, but I didn’t want to spend the next six years going 'Aye, aye, captain,' and standing there, in the same uniform, in the same position on the bridge. It just scared the hell out of me that this was what I was going to be doing for the next x amount of years." Tasha Yar was killed by an alien in "Skin of Evil," toward the end of the first season.
When Crosby returned for an episode in season 3 dealing with an alternate timeline in which Yar survived, she felt she was given better writing, and subsequently made more appearances both as Yar and her half-Romulan daughter.
19. Dan Stevens // Downton Abbey (2010-2015)
For three years, Dan Stevens played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. But at the end of season three, Stevens wanted to pursue a career on the stage and in movies—so Crawley was killed off in a car accident.
“We were always optioned for three years,” Stevens explained to The Telegraph. “And when that came up, it was a very difficult decision. But it felt like a good time to take stock, to take a moment. From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do other things. It is a very monopolizing job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be.”
20. John Francis Daley // Bones (2005-2017)
Although he was a series regular, John Francis Daley’s Dr. Lance Sweets was killed off on Bones at the actor’s request. Daley got a job directing the Vacation reboot, so instead of just leaving the story halfway through season 10, Dr. Sweets was fatally assaulted.
“The directing job was not something that I could walk away from,” Daley told TVLine.com. “It was such a huge opportunity. It feels like a good next step in my career and my life; I always dreamed of being a director. So to be able to do something like this on such a huge scale—it’s a huge studio movie—it’s definitely not something I could turn my back on. It was a sacrifice for sure.”
21. Jeffrey DeMunn // The Walking Dead (2010-Present)
When Frank Darabont, best known for directing The Shawshank Redemption, adapted the comic book The Walking Dead for TV, he brought along some actors he had worked with several times before, including Jeffrey DeMunn, with whom he had worked on Shawshank, The Green Mile, The Majestic, and The Mist. However, Darabont was fired from the show after a year, a decision memorably described by former AMC programming chief Joel Stillerman as a result of Darabont being “quite bad at his job.”
DeMunn was incensed with how he felt Darabont had been treated, and decided he could no longer be a part of the show. "Dale's death was my decision," DeMunn later told Cleveland.com. "I was furious about how Frank was pushed out of the show. I spent a week not being able to take a full breath. And then I realized, 'Oh, I can quit.' So I called them and said, 'It's a zombie show. Kill me. I don't want to do this anymore.' It was an immense relief to me."
DeMunn reunited with Darabont on his next TV show, Mob City, while many of Dale’s storylines were given to another character, Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.).
22. Julian Glover //Game Of Thrones (2011-2019)
Veteran actor Julian Glover—who has Star Wars and Indiana Jones on his resume—got bored of Game Of Thrones. As the cast of the show got bigger and bigger, he found himself without a lot to do, and frustrated by the secrecy that the show had to be produced under. “I was being completely dismissed as a character,” Glover told IGN. “So that wasn't any fun to play. So I went to them and said ‘Look, I don't want to do this anymore, it's not interesting to go on doing this.'" The death he was then presented with, in which Pycelle is stabbed to death by a bunch of children, was “exactly the sort of way I wanted to go out," Glover said.
23. T.R. Knight // Grey’s Anatomy (2005-Present)
Although his character, Dr. George O'Malley, was a fan favorite, the actor who played him, T.R. Knight, found it increasingly difficult to work with Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes. He stated that there was a gradual "breakdown in communication" over the years and that he became frustrated with seeing his screen time dwindle at the beginning of season 5. As a result, Knight asked to be written off the TV show, and Dr. O’Malley was subsequently hit by a bus.
"My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about the character George]," Knight explained to Entertainment Weekly. "And with respect, I'm going to leave it at that."
24. Nicola Duffett // EastEnders (1985-Present)
A regular role on a prime-time soap opera is seen as the end of the rainbow for some actors, and a tiresome burden for others. Actor Nicola Duffett determined it to be the latter when she became stuck in a thankless role in the long-running British soap EastEnders, playing the love interest of Nigel Bates (Paul Bradley), the show’s “plucky loser” figure. Duffett found herself either standing around not doing much or walking into scenes to ask, “Where’s Nigel?” “I begged to be killed,” Duffett later recalled. “I ran to the script editor's office crying, 'Kill me NOW! I can't stand it.' The part was so boring."
25. Josh Charles // The Good Wife (2009-2016)
In the middle of The Good Wife’s fifth season, Josh Charles’s character, Will Gardner, was fatally shot in the courtroom by his client. While the decision to kill off Gardner was made a year earlier, fans were shocked—and upset. In truth, it was Charles’s decision; he simply decided not to return for season 6 after his contract was up, as he wanted to pursue other creative projects.
“I had a very short-term deal,” Charles told Deadline. “It was renewed a couple of times over, and at the end of the fourth year my contract was up, and I chose not to renew. It was just a creative decision for me wanting to go and explore new stuff—in my life, in my career.”
In addition, The Good Wife’s creators had to issue an open letter to fans to justify his death: “And when faced with the gut punch of Josh’s decision, made over a year ago, to move on to other creative endeavors, we had a major choice to make,” Robert and Michelle King wrote.
26. John Diehl // Larry Zito on Miami Vice
John Diehl was a part of Miami Vice from the first episode, but soon grew tired of it. He wanted to pursue a stage career and work on more creatively fulfilling projects, and began to find the show stifling. He asked the creative team to kill his character off in order to move to New York and perform in plays. "If I'm going to be an artist, this is what I have to do," Diehl told The New York Times in 1987. "To make this decision, I had to honestly say to myself that if I never got another acting job again in my life and had to go back to driving a truck, it would still be the right decision. I feel a little sentimental about leaving Vice, but I'm anxious to move on. I'm raring to go.'' Zito’s swansong involved boxing and a fatal overdose, freeing Diehl to follow his dreams beyond South Beach. He has been working constantly across movies, TV, and the stage ever since.
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A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.