Whenever an actor or actress passes away, it makes national (sometimes international) headlines and people rush to social media to express their sorrow. However, if the actor was starring on a TV Show that was actively airing or in the middle of production for the upcoming season at the time of his or her death, things get more complicated.
With that being said, here are 5 actors who died while their TV shows were still airing:
1. Luke Perry (Riverdale):
Of all the actors who died while their TV Shows were on the air to make this list, Luke Perry’s death is the most recent. Perry, who first gained fame for playing Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 91210, passed away after suffering a massive stroke on March 4th, 2019. He was 52 years old.
At the time of his death, Perry was starring in The CW teen drama series, Riverdale, which is based on the characters in the Archie comics. On the show, he played Fred Andrews, the father of the main character Archie (KJ Apa). When Perry died, the show was in the middle of airing its third season. The fourteenth episode of Season 3 (which aired only two days after Perry’s death) ended with an ‘in memoriam’ slide for Perry. In addition, Riverdale will homage to Luke Perry with a tribute episode: “Chapter 58: In Memoriam”, which is also the first episode of the show’s fourth season.
Although Riverdale‘s fourth season won’t premiere until October 9th, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa announced at Comic-Con that Perry’s close friend and fellow Beverly Hills, 91210 co-star Shannen Doherty will be a guest star in the tribute episode. Aguirre-Sacasa also stated that having Doherty on the show was something that Perry wanted to happen since Season 1.
2. Cory Monteith (Glee):
One of the most tragic cases of actors who died while their TV Shows were still airing is that of Cory Monteith. On July 13th, 2013, the actor was found dead in his hotel room in Vancouver. He was 31 years old and the cause of death was later revealed as a toxic combination of alcohol and heroin.
At the time of his death, Monteith was on the hit TV Show Glee where he played quarterback Finn Hudson. The actor had struggled with substance abuse since he was a teenager and was in rehab a couple of months before his tragic death after an intervention from his fellow cast and crew members.
Due to his untimely death, production for Season 5 of Glee had to be postponed and reworked. The show paid tribute to Monteith during the third episode of that season where past and current characters mourn Finn (who died off-screen). A couple months after Monteith’s death, Glee creator Ryan Murphy revealed that in Glee’s original ending (the series ended after its’ sixth season in 2015), Finn and Rachel (Lea Michele, with whom Monteith was in a relationship with prior to his passing), the show’s most beloved on-and-off-again couple, were going to get back together.
3. Nancy Marchand (The Sopranos):
The actress was playing Livia Soprano on the Emmy-winning Crime Drama The Sopranos on HBO at the time of her death, which happened two months after Season 2 finished airing. Like in some cases with actors who died while their TV Shows were still airing, Marchand’s character Livia died on The Sopranos in the second episode of Season 3.
However, in a rare move in Hollywood, producers used CGI and existing footage to create one final scene (which cost a lot of money) for Livia before she died of a stroke in her sleep in the same episode. In addition, Marchand received a posthumous Primetime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her performance on Season 2 (she ultimately lost to Allison Janney from The West Wing).
4. Nicholas Colasanto (Cheers):
Colasanto was best known for his role as Coach on the Emmy-Winning NBC Sitcom Cheers and died in the middle of filming for the show’s third season. The actor suffered from heart disease as a result of his alcoholism during the 1970s. Although he was sober for many years, his heart disease worsened during production for the third season of Cheers and his castmates noticed his dramatic weight loss. His doctor recommended that he take time off of work and Colasanto’s last filmed episode was “Cheerio Cheers” (although he would appear in the cold open for the season finale).
When Colasanto died, NBC famously didn’t allow all of the cast to fly to Colasanto’s native Rhode Island (where he was going to be buried) for the funeral. NBC only let one cast member, John Ratzenberger (who is also a New England native) go to their deceased co-star’s funeral as a representative of the Cheers cast.
Cheers creators decided not to recast Colasanto’s role and had Coach die offscreen without an explanation. A new character, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) was introduced in Season 4 and replaced Coach as a bar-tender. In addition, Colasanto received a posthumous Primetime Emmy Nomination (his third overall nomination) for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance on Season 3 (he ultimately lost to John Laroquette from Night Court).
5. Phil Hartman (NewsRadio):
Of all the actors who died while their TV Shows were still airing, Phil Hartman’s death is one of the most often discussed ones due to how tragic and heartbreaking his passing was. On May 28th, 1998, the Saturday Night Live alum was shot to death while he was sleeping by his own wife Brynn. She was his third wife and she shot her husband three times: one between the eyes, once in the throat, and once in the upper chest. When the police arrived (after she confessed to a friend), Brynn, who locked herself in the couple’s bedroom, committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth.
At the time of Hartman’s murder, the actor was one of the main characters on the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, which had just finished production for its fourth season. As a result, Hartman’s character was said to have died of a heart attack on the first episode of the fifth season, which was ultimately NewsRadio‘s final season as the show was ultimately canceled due to poor ratings and reviews.