When you truly love a television show, you fall in love with the characters because they form the world that has sucked you in, and without them it's just not the same. Though several actors have tragically passed away during production, here are the five that have meant the most to me.
1. Phil Hartman - The Simpsons
"Hi, I'm Troy McClure! You may remember me from such..." Such an iconic line from the longest-running animated television show of all time. Not only did he voice Troy McClure, but he also did the ambulance-chasing lawyer, Lionel Hutz, as well as multiple once over characters and guest appearances. In total, his voice could be heard over the course of 52 episodes of The Simpsons.
Hartman was killed at 3:00 a.m on May 28th, 1998 when his wife Brynn, after having a heated argument about her drug use, waited until the actor was asleep before entering the bedroom and shooting him three times, two of which struck him in the head. Sadly, Hartman's two children were in the house at the time of the murder. After police arrived, Brynn Hartman locked herself in the bathroom and committed suicide via shooting herself in the face.
2. John Spencer - The West Wing
John Spencer was the key piece that held The West Wing together. He played White House Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry. Heading into the seventh and final season, Spencer had been nominated for 13 awards related to the show, winning three of them.
Spencer suffered a fatal heart-attack in a Los Angeles hospital on 16th, 2005, he was 58 years old. The show was still in post-production when Spencer passed away, so the show kept Spencer's name in the opening credits as a tribute to him, and the writers wrote Spencer's death as Leo in the season seven episode "Election Night."
3. Nicholas Colasanto - Cheers
Cheers was a little bit before my generation, but I remember sitting with my father while he watched re-runs of the show. Nicholas Colasanto played the lovable character Coach Ernie Pantusso for the first three seasons of the show. "Coach" was a former major league baseball catcher turned bartender who was a little slow of mind due to "too many baseballs to the melon."
A chronic heart condition caused him to miss several days of filming during season three of Cheers, but he eventually made his way back to the set to tell his cast mates that he would be present more regularly. Four days later he passed away from heart-failure. The last episode he appeared in was dubbed "Cheerio, Cheers."
It wasn't until the very first episode of season four of Cheers that the actors / characters death was actually acknowledged on screen by the others.
4. Steve Irwin - The Crocodile Hunter
When Steve Irwin passed away doing what he loved to do, it struck a chord in the heart's of an entire generation. Irwin, or as he was more commonly referred to, The Crocodile Hunter, helped inspire the next wave of kids who chose to work with animals as adults. He helped dispel a lot of the fear that surrounded dangerous or poisonous animals. Even his own two children have followed in his footsteps.
Sadly, on September 4th, 2006, while swimming in the waters of the Batt Reed, Queensland, Australia, he was stuck in the heart by a sting ray's barb. A tragic loss of life to be sure, but if there is a silver lining to be had, it's the legacy that he left behind for future generations.
5. John Ritter - 8 Simple Rules
On September 11th, 2003, while rehearsing on the set of smash-hit, 8 Simple Rules, John Ritter began to feel quite ill. He began sweating profusely, vomiting and eventually collapsed on-set. He was rushed to the hospital across the street (strangely, the same hospital that he was born in) where he was originally diagnosed with having had a heart attack. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. He had to go into emergency surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. Ritter passed away that evening after appearing in 31 episodes of 8 Simple Rules.