In some cases, fictional characters were always planned to die. Ned Stark had to go in order to kick off Game of Thrones, Shane from The Walking Dead was always going to turn into zombie food to further the story of Rick Grimes, and Dexter needed to lose his wife in order to progress his personal journey as a serial killer with a strict moral code.
Sometimes, however, television series often need to kill off characters that were never planned to go, for a variety of reasons — whether it’s a contract dispute, a backstage feud, or a real-life death. Here are ten times that major television shows were forced to kill off one of their characters.
Derek Shepherd – Grey’s Anatomy
Oh, McDreamy. Why did you leave us? Dr. Derek Shepherd was a part of Grey’s Anatomy for 11 seasons, as the medical drama routinely did huge ratings and won multiple awards. Eventually, though, actor Patrick Dempsey simply had enough. There was no hard feelings or controversy here — Dempsey just wanted to pursue other projects and being the star of a hit TV show didn’t allow him to do that.
Dempsey and the show agreed to part ways, allowing the writers to create a suitable exit for the beloved character. In some of the most heart wrenching moments of the entire series, Dr. Shepherd suffers a massive head injury after being in a car accident, and Dr. Merideth Grey has to make the agonizing decision to take her brain dead husband off life support.
Chef – South Park
Good ol’ Chef. For many years on South Park, Issac Hayes acted as the voice of one of the most lovable charcters on the show. Chef wasn’t just the cook at the school cafeteria, he was also one of the only adult characters to gain the trust of Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman. The boys often sought out his advice.
However, after South Park aired a two-part episode that skewered Scientology, Hayes (who was a Scientologist) allegedly quit in a huff. In response, show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker made an episode called “The Return of Chef” that used spliced together voice clips from previous episodes to tell the final tale of Chef, as the character tragically falls off a bridge, is mutilated by wild animals, and shot several times.
Later, it was revealed that Hayes may not have quit the show himself, but someone from Scientology did it on his behalf instead. Sadly, Hayes died in 2008, so we may never know the whole truth.
Eddie LeBec – Cheers
We’re going back in time a bit on this one. Even though shows like Game of Thrones regularly discard main characters like yesterday’s newspaper, it was still mostly unheard of in 1989. So when Cheers killed off Guy “Eddie” LeBec, a French-Canadian hockey player who played for the Boston Bruins, in a bizarre Zamboni accident, many viewers were left puzzled.
It turns out that actor Jay Thomas might have signed his own death certificate. According to rumors, Thomas made some disparaging remarks about Cheers star Rhea Perlman on his radio show. Perlman was Eddie LeBec’s on-screen wife, and the chemistry was instantly dead. Cheers writers quickly fired up the Zamboni and that was the end of Eddie LeBec.
Mr. Eko Tunde – Lost
Ignoring the disappointing ending, Lost was one of the most captivating shows in recent memory. The concept of plane crash survivors ending up on a mysterious (and even magical) deserted island had viewers hooked from the very beginning. Not only was the show a huge ratings success for ABC, but the cast and crew got to work in Hawaii. Sounds like a good gig, right?
Well, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje didn’t think so. After joining the show in Season Two, he promptly told Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse that he didn’t like living in Hawaii and wanted to be written off the show. Lindelof and Cuse granted his wish, and cancelled their longterm plans for the character of Mr. Eko, making him a victim of the Smoke Monster in Season Three and ending his run on the show.
Susan Ross – Seinfeld
Heidi Swedberg played Susan Ross on the classic comedy Seinfeld, who was the on-again-off-again girlfriend of George Costanza before the two characters eventually got engaged in Season Seven. Audiences were shocked, then, that poor Susan was killed off at the end of the season, the result of licking contaminated envelopes as she was preparing her own wedding invitations.
According to Jason Alexander (Costanza), there was some on-set tension about Swedberg’s chemistry with the other stars. “Her instincts for doing a scene — where the comedy was, and mine — were always misfiring,” Alexander remarked. Rumor is that Julia Louis-Dreyfuss once joked “Don’t you wanna just kill her?” in front of writer Larry David, who obviously thought it was a great idea.
Will Gardner – The Good Wife
Some of the best scenes of The Good Wife featured Josh Charles playing attorney Will Gardner, adding some brilliance to multiple court room scenes in the first five seasons. Unfortunately for fans, five years playing the same character was more than enough for Charles. When his contract was set to expire at the end of Season Five, he informed the producers that he didn’t intend to renew it.
That gave the writers a bit of time to plan a dramatic exit for Gardner. In the end, he was shot to death in the middle a court room. By his own client, no less. Neither Charles nor creators Robert and Michelle King have any animosity over the death of his character though — they both have publicly acknowledged it was time to move on, and were happy to have the character go out with a bang.
Lawrence Kutner – House
Kal Penn’s role on the medical drama House was a pleasant surprise. At the time, he was more well-known for his roles in raunchy comedies like Van Wilder or the stoner classic Harold & Kumar Go to Whitecastle. So playing Dr. Lawrence Kutner alongside Hugh Laurie’s title character was an interesting change of pace, to be sure.
In 2009, Penn was offered the job of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. After spending the previous two years campaigning for Barack Obama in his spare time, Penn accepted the role. Unfortunately, that meant he wouldn’t have time to remain a regular cast member of House. The character of Dr. Kutner committed suicide at the end of Season Eight, to the shock of many viewers who had no idea of Penn’s other interests. The show never really offered a reason for Kutner’s actions, either.
James Darmody – Boardwalk Empire
Michael Pitt was an excellent addition to the cast of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which already included the likes of Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon. Pitt played James Darmody, the right-hand man of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Buscemi), in the first two seasons of the organized crime drama set in 1920s Atlantic City.
According to rumors, Pitt’s character was supposed to survive well into the series, but was instead shockingly gunned down by his own boss at the end of Season Two. Pitt’s agent would later fire him, claiming he was “really difficult on set and otherwise.” Thus began the rumors that maybe Buscemi and show creator Terrence Winter were simply tired of dealing with his crap. For what it’s worth, everyone has denied it publicly.
Prue Halliwell – Charmed
Shannon Doherty has always had a reputation for being tough to work with, dating all the way back to her breakout role in Beverly Hills, 90210. Unfortunately, she didn’t last on 90210, as an alleged fued with co-star Jennie Garth was reportedly the reason she was written off the show after the fourth seasons. When she returned to TV in 1998 as part of the trio of witchy stars in WB’s Charmed, many thought (or hoped) that she would be a little more mature as she progressed past her wilder days of youth.
It wasn’t to be, though. There were plenty of rumors that Doherty was still hard to work with. A behind-the-scenes feud with Alyssa Milano apparently forced the producers to make a tough decision. In the Season Three finale, the show teased the death of character, and then confirmed it when Season Four started. Charmed lasted for eight full seasons, but Doherty only made it through three of them.
Charlie Harper – Two and a Half Men
The departure of Charlie Sheen from the hugely successful sitcom Two and a Half Men is easily one of the most publicized TV break-ups in history. After making derogatory comments about the show’s creator Chuck Lorre, Sheen was fired and banned from the Warner Bros.production lot. What followed would go down in pop culture history.
Sheen publicly demanded a 50 percent raise (he was already the highest paid actor in television), claiming that Lorre was making the bulk of the money and he was “underpaid.” Then, the real meltdown started, with Sheen claiming to have “Tiger Blood” and “Adonis DNA.” He also proclaimed himself “a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.” And who can forget #Winning. Sheen’s character was killed off screen between Seasons Eight and Nine, with Ashton Kutcher joining the show to make up for Sheen’s absence.
Edna Krabappel – The Simpsons
Edna Krabappel had been Bart Simpson’s fourth grade teacher for as long as anyone can remember. The somewhat promiscuous educator with a heart of gold was voiced by Marcia Wallace, starting in 1989. Wallace even won an Emmy in 1992 for her work on the episode “Bart the Lover,” where Bart pranks his teacher by responded to her personal ad using a picture of Gordie Howe and the name of the 28th President of the United States.
When Wallace passed away in 2013, The Simpsons decided to retire the character of Edna Krabappel in her honor. In episodes that followed, the show alluded to the death of Mrs. Krabappel, including a chalkboard gag that said “We’ll really miss you, Mrs. K.” and a later appearance of her as a ghost.