This list deals specifically with a TV series in which an actor dies in real life, and whose character also dies and is written out of the show, with the expectation that the show continues on without them. Some shows managed a little while, others came to a screeching halt, others have continued on, mostly depending on the role played. Obviously the shows listed here are U.S.-based TV shows.
Strong Medicine (Lifetime, 2000-2006)
Biggs was a regular supporting actor on the show. He died from complications following an aortic dissection on May 22, 2004, (the same condition as #1 only 6 months prior). In the show, his character was killed in an unseen traffic accident. The show continued until 2006.
Cover Up (CBS 1984-1985)
Hexum played Mac Harper, a former Marine hired by Dani Reynolds (Jennifer O’Neill) to locate her husband. Hexum appeared in only seven episodes. On October 12, 1984, while joking between scenes, Hexum took a blank-loaded .44 Magnum and pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. Despite being a prop gun with blanks, the wadding was fired with enough force to send skull fragments into Hexum’s brain, causing massive hemorrhaging. He was taken off life-support six days later. The show was cancelled after the one season.
Eight Is Enough (ABC, 1977-1981)
Hyland played Joan Bradford, wife to Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) and mother to eight children. Diana played in only four episodes of the first season before falling ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and died March 27, 1977, 12 days after the first episode aired. She was written out of the remainder of the first season, and at the beginning of Season 2, Tom was a widower who later remarried.
Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present)
Allport played a brief supporting role as Andrew Campbell, father of ad man Pete Campbell in Season 1 of this series surrounding a New York ad agency in the early 1960s. Allport, an avid hiker, was one of three people killed January 28, 2008, by avalanches near Mountain High, a ski resort near Wrightwood, in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles.
Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991)
Davis played Jock Ewing, patriarch of the Ewing oil family, and father to J.R. (Larry Hagman), Gary (Ted Shackelford) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy). Davis appeared in 75 episodes from Seasons 1-3, working as much as he could despite his diagnosis with multiple myeloma and the subsequent chemotherapy. Davis died April 26, 1981, while Season 3 was still on the air. Rather that write him out of the show immediately, Jock Ewing was kept in the story for another 13 episodes, away in South America exploring for oil.
Cheers (NBC, 1982-1983)
Nicholas played Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, a regular congenial character on “Cheers” for the first three seasons. Colasanto died of a heart ailment February 12, 1985; his last episode was “Cheerio, Cheers.” Coach’s character was continually referred to over the course of the show. His absence was attributed to some excuse, either he was away visiting or otherwise doing something away from the bar. Colasanto appeared in the credits all the way to the end of Season 3.At the end of the final episode, Sam (Ted Danson) silently pauses to straighten the picture on his way out of the bar.
The Royal Family (CBS, 1991)
Most notable for his role in “Sanford and Son,” Redd was looking for a comeback with this new series. During rehearsals on set, Foxx collapsed. It was first thought it was part of the character’s act, but Foxx’s heart attack was real, and fatal. By then, seven episodes had been completed with favorable ratings. After 15 episodes and declining ratings, The Royal Family was cancelled.
8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter (ABC, 2002-2005)
Ritter played the main character, Paul Hennessy, a sports writer prompted to play a more active role as dad to his two teenage daughters and son. During rehearsal for the fourth episode of the second season, Ritter complained of discomfort, and he was taken to the hospital. He died September 11, 2003, as a result of an aortic dissection (a tear in the aorta causing blood to flow and force the layers of the heart apart), thought at first to be a heart attack. The show continued, with the plot working around the death of Paul. Despite moving to different timeslots and the introduction of new actors , the ratings continued to slide, and eventually the show was cancelled after the third season in May, 2005.