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FeaturesJanuary 21, 2015

Burying Deirdre: How TV Shows Cope with Real Life Loss


After the passing of Coronation Street‘s beloved Deirdre yesterday, Alex Casey looks back at how TV shows have historically coped with unexpected cast deaths. //

We must admit that, here at The Spinoff HQ, our mourning for Deirdre was overshadowed only by our complete panic at the realisation that nobody we knew was remotely interested in Deirdre or Coronation Street in the slightestAfter losing a beloved character who has been on the show for 42 years, surely there’s got to be someone upset out there?

As to be expected, a treasure trove of tributes came in from trusty One News viewers:

“Coro wont be the same without you. One less at home one more in heaven.” – Irene

“You have been part of our family for 40 years.” – Tara

Pretty heavy stuff. It’s always an odd phenomena when an actor dies before their character is supposed to. To farewell Deirdre after nearly half a century is terribly sad but, let’s be honest, it’s nothing new for Coro.

Due to its longevity and (presumed) 100 year locked-in contract for all actors, Coronation Street has seen its fair share of loss over the years. Farewelling at least eight core cast members who lived and died on the Street – you’d think by now the show’s writers have ‘random death’ safety net plotline drafted for everyone pushing 60.

But what about the shows that don’t? What happens when pesky old death creeps up on the ill-prepared? Let us take a morbid walk down the creaky halls of famous offscreen TV star deaths and their messy onscreen aftermaths:

John Ritter (Paul Hennessy on 8 Simple Rules)
The death of lovable buffoon Paul Hennessy was a truly harrowing experience for die hard fans of 8 Simple Rules (me). They might as well have renamed it 8 Simple Steps For Mourning My TV Father. After actor John Ritter died from an aortic dissection in 2003, his crucial character quickly had to follow suit. Sitcoms aren’t afforded the luxury of digital recreation and endless Frankensteining-together of actors who could vaguely look like the deceased.

It’s a deeply sad tribute episode, and quite incredible to witness a show abandon the laugh track to plunge itself into a thousand extended silences. Presenting 8 Simple Rules for Making Everyone Cry All The Time:

The gap that Ritter left on the show was filled with David Spade and James Garner. Which, as you might expect, meant that the show lasted for approximately five minutes before getting cancelled.

Marcia Wallace (Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons)
Marcia Wallace, who died aged 70, was famous for the husky tones of smokin’ school teacher Edna Krabappel. Her passing saw the end of the nicotine-addicted educator in The Simpsons, who was killed off in season 25 of the show.

It is never addressed exactly how Ms Krabappel died, but her widower Ned Flanders suggests several episodes later that it was something Homer did. Of course. The first subtle send-off to the Krab-meister comes in the most perfect of ways – the iconic opening credits blackboard:

Christopher Allport (Andrew Campbell on Mad Men)
Christopher Allport starred in the first season of Mad Men as Andrew Campbell, the proud father of the very terrible Pete. He was scheduled to make a return for season two and beyond, but those plans were cut short after his unusual death.

Whilst skiing in the San Gabriel mountains of California, Allport lost his life to a series of avalanches. It was almost appropriate to kill off his onscreen character in a similar freak accident, with the Mad Men writers placing Andrew Campbell on the doomed American Airlines flight of 1962.

Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson on Glee)
Nothing shook the young adult world quite like the death of Canadian actor Cory Monteith – a spritely young hunk with a sick set of pipes who was riding the Glee wave right to the top of the Kid’s Choice Awards. After his fatal drug overdose in 2013, Glee had to deal with something that wasn’t gleeful in the slightest.

His character, the buffed-up quarterback Finn Hudson, was killed off in a tribute episode in season five of the show (aptly named ‘The Quarterback’). It was made particularly poignant by his offscreen romance with onscreen girlfriend Lea Michele, who was still dating him at the time of his death. Get ready to board the emotional rollercoaster to tears-ville:

Nicholas Colasanto (Coach Ernie Partusso in Cheers)
Most famous for his role as the lovable bartender/youth baseball coach ‘Coach’ in Cheers, Nicholas Colasanto died during season three of the show due to heart disease. Spookily, the last episode he ever filmed was entitled ‘Cheerio Cheers’. His death was addressed onscreen, with characters alluding to his sad passing but not dwelling. It is Cheers, after all.

Though we lost Coach, we gained a fresh-faced, enormous-eyed bartender in the form of Woody Boyd – played by none other than Woody Harrelson in his breakout role. In a horrible silver lining, without Nicholas Colasanto’s death there may not have been a True Detective as we know it.

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