9 more actors who died during the production of their television shows

These actors unfortunately passed away before their time.

Image: Everett Collection

"The show must go on" is a popular phrase in the entertainment industry, commonly used for when something doesn't go according to plan and the only way to get through the situation is to power through. 

The saying couldn't be more fitting for when an actor dies on a popular television series. Only rarely does an actor carry a show so that their death results in its cancelation. Most of the time, the show has to figure out a way to replace the character or change the plot to fit their absence. Producers deal with cast changes all the time, but rarely do they deal with a change due to the loss of a cast member. 

Last year, we gave you a list of nine actors who died while their shows were still on the air. Now, we're adding to that list by paying tribute to nine more actors who died before their time was up on camera, and examining how the shows changed after the fact. Take a look. 

1. Alice Pearce - 'Bewitched'


Pearce was diagnosed with terminal cancer before Bewitched started in 1964, a fact which the actress hid from producers. Towards the end of the show's second season, Pearce passed away from ovarian cancer. The role of neighbor Gladys Kravitz was recast, with Sandra Gould taking her place. For the show's second season, Pearce posthumously won an Emmy Award for her guest-starring role. 

Image: Sony Pictures Television

2. Marion Lorne - 'Bewitched'


Bewitched was hit with not one but two unfortunate deaths during its production. After the show's fourth season in 1968, Marion Lorne, who played Aunt Clara, died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 84. Curiously enough, Lorne was also posthumously honored with the same Emmy Award Pearce won two years earlier. Lorne's character was not recast. 

Image: Sony Pictures Television

3. Barton MacLane - 'I Dream of Jeannie'


MacLane appeared on 35 episodes of I Dream of Jeannie as General Martin Peterson before suffering from double pneumonia in the winter of 1968. The actor passed away on New Year's Day 1969, and his character was written off the show without explanation and replaced by General Winfield Schaeffer during the fifth season. 

Image: Sony Pictures Television

4. Barbara Colby - 'Phyllis'


After a series of guest starring roles on television in the 1970s, Colby finally got her big break as Julie on the sitcom Phyllis. Unfortunately, after only completing three episodes of the series, Colby was shot and killed in a parking lot by a drive-by shooter. Police concluded the shooting was random, and the killers were never found. On Phyllis, the show had to go on, and Colby was replaced Liz Torres. 

Image: Colby (center) on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

5. Freddie Prinze - 'Chico and the Man'


Prinze's death in 1977 was one of most devastating in show business. Hours after the comedian completed an episode of the highly rated sitcom Chico and the Man, he committed suicide after years of dealing with depression. For the rest of the third season, the show's producers explained the character's absence by saying he was "away." A year later, it was explained Chico had died. The series was canceled shortly thereafter in 1978. 

Image: Warner Bros. Television

6. Zara Cully - 'The Jeffersons'


After a half century of acting, Cully was cast as Mother Jefferson on All in the Family, and eventually joined the spinoff The Jeffersons. She appeared frequently during the show's first two seasons, but missed more episodes during the third and fourth seasons due to illness. Cully passed away during the show's fourth season, while her character's death was addressed briefly during the fifth season. 

Image: Sony Pictures Television

7. Will Geer - 'The Waltons'


Geer had appeared on 143 episodes of the long-running series The Waltons as the family patriarch, Zeb Walton. Right after the sixth season wrapped in 1978, Geer passed away from respiratory failure. His character was killed off, with the sixth season premiere dealing with his death. 

Image: Warner Bros. Television

8. Jim Davis - 'Dallas'


Davis finally got his big break in 1978 as patriarch Jock Ewing on the primetime soap opera Dallas. During the series' fourth season, Davis was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, but continued to film for as long as he could. The actor's death wasn't addressed immediately on the series, and eventually the character was killed off in a helicopter crash after visiting South America. 

Image: Warner Bros. Television

9. Will Lee - 'Sesame Street'


The death of Will Lee raised a tough question in the television industry: What happens when an actor dies on a children's show? Sesame Street decided to deal with the subject head-on when Lee passed away in 1982. In a tear-jerking scene, the neighborhood explains the concept of death to Big Bird, who learns he will no longer be able to see his friend.

Image: Sesame Workshop

9 actors who died during the production of their television shows


The actors on this list weren't the only ones who passed away too soon. READ MORE

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Wiseguy 39 months ago
I would refer to Alice Pearce's role on Bewitched as recurring not guest-starring.

Barton MacLane was also missing from most of I Dream of Jeannie's third season before returning for the finale and seven episodes of the fourth season (some of which were broadcast after Gen. Schaeffer first appeared). Vinton Hayworth first appeared as a Gen. Watson three episodes before his first appearance as Gen. Schaeffer.

Although the Aunt Clara role on Bewitched was not recast Alice Ghostley's Esmeralda served the same purpose. In the fifth season the writers even used Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur to accidentally conjure up Napoleon, a part that probably would have been written for Aunt Clara.
DerekBird 41 months ago
I was too young to know who Alice and Marion were when they died and didn't watch bewitched until it was in syndication. The same thing regarding Barton MacLean. I never watched Phyllis, The Jeffersons(still don't) or Dallas but I do remember hearing that the actor who placed Jock Ewing on the show had died. I was past the age of watching Sesame Street when Mr. Hooper died (in fact I was 18 days away from turning 18), so I remember hearing about his death on the news and in the newspaper. I think that the way they dealt with his death on the show was truly brilliant. They could have just as easily never mentioned him again, but just like the show set out to be educational they handled it perfectly and more importantly with tact. The very same thing towards The Waltons and how they handled the death of Grandpa Zeb ("The old fool" as Esther called him). Will Geer's death still makes me cry because He and Ellen Corby reminded me very much of my own Grandparents every time I saw them. Maybe it's because today is December 20, 2020 as I write this or just me reminiscing about the 70s and how great TV was or it's because this year marks the 40th. Anniversary of the deaths of my Grandparents and of my dad (December 29, 1980) but I have to pause every once in a while to wipe away the tears from my eyes because I was 15 when they died and just turned 16 when my dad died and in spite of their faults I miss them terribly. I remember hearing about when Freddie killed himself even then I was in Disbelief that such a seemingly great guy would do such a thing just as his career was taking off. Here's hoping that they are all at peace now.
ndebrabant 68 months ago
They didn't list Pete Duel of Alias Smith and Jones who committed suicide while the show was still on and was replaced by Roger Davis.
Patricia 68 months ago
I was devastated when Freddie Prinze died. He was such a talent and is still missed.
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