Unlike movies, TV shows have a lot of fluidity in terms of their casts. Beyond shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead where no character is safe no matter how important they are, any show can have a character die off for any number of reasons.
Sometimes those reasons are entirely creative, but perhaps most often, they are the result of an actor leaving or being fired due to some sort of dust-up. When things get sour between an actor and members of the production team, it's not completely surprising that the character they portray is seldom sent off into the sunset alive and well. If a character meets a sudden, tragic end during the course of a TV series, chances are pretty high that revenge was spurred on by behind-the-scenes drama was the culprit.
20 Frank Underwood (House of Cards)
Political drama House of Cards was one of the first "prestige" shows on Netflix, announcing that the streaming service was capable of original programming on par with network and cable television. It also brought the clout of two Hollywood heavyweights— Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright— to Netflix, demanding people taking the service seriously.
Unfortunately, Kevin Spacey's presence eventually became a detriment when misconduct allegations were brought against the actor. Netflix wasted no time in cutting ties with Spacey, and his character on the show was killed off for its final season as a result.
19 Roseanne Connors (Roseanne)
One of the most successful television revivals of all time was Roseanne, which came back in 2018 after a 20-year absence to widespread acclaim from critics and viewers alike. But that honeymoon would prove short-lived thanks to star Roseanne Barr and some racially insensitive jokes she made on Twitter.
ABC swiftly fired Barr, leaving the future of the show in question. It was eventually announced that the rest of the show's characters would continue on in a spin-off called The Conners, the first episode of which confirmed the death of the fictional Roseanne.
18 Martin Riggs (Lethal Weapon)
It's always tough to trust TV shows that are based on movies, as for every success like Fargo or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are a dozen absolute failures like Dangerous Minds and Ferris Bueller. Somewhat surprisingly, Fox's Lethal Weapon proved popular with audiences and turned out to be a hit.
After two seasons, however, Clayne Crawford— who had taken over the role of Martin Riggs as made famous by Mel Gibson— was let go amidst accusations of being a disruptive presence on the set. The writers then killed Riggs off, and he was replaced by a new character named Wesley Cole (Sean William Scott) for the show's third and final season.
17 George O'Malley (Grey's Anatomy)
Grey's Anatomy has seen almost as much drama behind the scenes as on the show itself, which is a statement not to be taken lightly considering some of the show's plot lines. But by far the most infamous incident involved actors Isaiah Washington and T.R. Knight, which culminated in Washington being fired for allegedly using a slur against Knight.
Although Knight and his character got to stay on board, the actor complained that his character— George O'Malley— was no longer given much of substance to do on the show and clashed with the writers and producers over the direction of the character. He soon decided to leave, and the writers responded by having George get hit by a bus.
16 Chef (South Park)
If there is one thing you have to give South Park credit for, it's that the show makes fun of everyone and everything. Nothing is off limits. This is something that musician Isaac Hayes obviously didn't have a problem with given his involvement with the show as the voice of Chef... until he did.
Well, to be more specific, it seemed like he didn't have any issues with the show's content until Scientology and Tom Cruise became targets. Shortly after, Hayes suddenly decided the show was too offensive, criticized it, and quit. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone weren't going to let Chef go peacefully, of course, completely disgracing him and then killing him in the most brutal way possible.
15 Edie Britt (Desperate Housewives)
The cast of Desperate Housewives consisted of a lot of... strong personalities, shall we say. It wasn't a huge surprise when those personalities started to clash, and reports became rampant that the stars of the show were frequently butting heads on set.
It's tough to know whose behavior was any "worse" than anyone else's without actually having been there to witness it, but there's a generally feeling that Nicollette Sheridan was a contender for that title. Her being the first main female cast member to leave and her character being the first to be killed off certainly seems to reinforce that assumption.
14 Lt. Col. Henry Blake (M*A*S*H)
Speaking of movies being adapted to TV shows, perhaps none have been as successful as M*A*S*H, one of the most beloved TV series of all time with a finale that still remains one of the most watched TV programs in history.
Given how popular and acclaimed the show was, you'd think most of the cast would've just been grateful to be a part of it. Not so for McLean Stevenson, who played Henry Blake. He wanted an even more prominent role on the show, and quit when producers didn't grant him that wish. To account for his departure, his character was killed in a helicopter accident.
13 Charlie Pace (Lost)
For one reason or another, the production of Lost seemed especially prone to actors getting into mischief behind the scenes, usually involving alcohol. Multiple arrests occurred among Lost's cast due to such misadventures, resulting in more than one actor being asked to leave.
However, in the case of Dominic Monaghan, who played Charlie Pace, his behind the scenes issues were more due to his not taking his split with co-star Evangeline Lily too well— and her moving on to another member of the production— not only badmouthing her but the show as well. Needless to say, his time on the show was cut short soon after, and Charlie met a tragic demise as a result.
12 Prue Halliwell (Charmed)
Shannen Doherty was widely known to be a less-than-positive presence on the set of Beverly Hills 90210, clashing with everyone and becoming the first of the main cast to leave the series. But for whatever reason, 90210 creator Aaron Spelling saw fit to give Doherty another shot, making her the star of his supernatural drama Charmed.
Doherty obviously wasn't interested in showing Spelling that he was justified in giving that second chance, as reports of similar behavior soon came from the Charmed set as well. Doherty then became the first main cast member to leave yet another show, only this time, her character was killed off instead of just "moving away."
11 Jimmy Darmody (Boardwalk Empire)
On a show like Boardwalk Empire, full of gangsters, fragile alliances, and double crosses, it's hard to know which characters are going to survive from week to week.
Michael Pitt, who played Jimmy Darmody, was said by some sources to be tough to work with and often late to set, forcing production delays and re-shoots. To be fair, show runner Terrence Winter has denied those claims, only saying that Pitt is "intense." But you can come to your own conclusions given his early exit, and the brutal manner with which his character was finished off.
10 Pierce Hawthorne (Community)
There's no denying Chevy Chase's place as a comedy legend, from being a cast member in the first season of Saturday Night Live to starring in some of the most beloved movies of the 1980s. But he is also notorious for being a pain to work with, and has never been shy about publicly criticizing his co-stars, collaborators, and/or projects he stars in.
After a highly publicized blow-up on the set of the cult hit NBC sitcom Community that only confirmed rumors of his being difficult to work with, Chase left the show, and his character— Pierce Hawthorne— was later revealed to have died from a heart attack.
9 Maude Flanders (The Simpsons)
Now in its 275th season (give or take), The Simpsons has seen its fair share of outlandish story lines and crazy twists, some of which haven't sat well with fans— and the death of Maude Flanders in season eleven definitely ranks among the most disliked plot decisions in the show's history.
After spending five years flying back and forth between her home in Colorado to the Simpsons recording studio in Los Angeles on her own dime, Maude's voice actor, Maggie Roswell, asked for a raise to help cover her expenses. When Fox declined, she quit the show, and it was decided to kill off her primary character (even though another actress had already subbed in for Maude on several occasions, including her final appearance).
8 Harrison Wright (Scandal)
Just because a TV show is called Scandal and deals with people doing questionable things, doesn't mean that the actors on the show are allowed to behave that way in real life.
After building a pretty impressive movie resume, actor and musician Columbus Short earned a role on Scandal and looked poised to become a major played in the "Shondaverse," but only three seasons into his role as litigator Harrison Wright, Short was arrested for domestic violence and was fired from the show as a result. He would later serve jail time for the incident.
7 Valerie Hogan (Valerie/Valerie's Family)
It's hard to think of any other TV show that saw three title changes, but when a series loses the star that it is named after, it goes without saying that some title shuffling is necessary.
TV vet Valerie Harper had returned to the small screen in 1986 with Valerie, a fairly standard family-based sitcom that saw strong ratings— so strong, in fact, that Harper was soon demanding more money. When an agreement wasn't reached, Harper walked, her character being killed off and leaving the sitcom to be renamed Valerie's Family in season three before dropping her name completely and becoming The Hogan Family for its remaining three season run.
6 Doctor Who/The Ninth Doctor (Doctor Who)
We know, we know— Christopher Ecceleston's version of Doctor Who wasn't actually "killed off," just regenerated as the character had already done several times and would continue to do. But for all intents and purposes, the ninth incarnation— and the first of the modern stint of the series— was finished off thanks to issues behind the scenes.
While his portrayal was obviously a big part of the reason why Doctor Who's modern revival had been a success, Eccleston claims that the showrunner was never a fan of his interpretation and the two frequently clashed. As a result, Eccleston left after just one 13-episode season and the Doctor quickly regenerated yet again.
5 James Evans (Good Times)
There are multiple instances throughout television history of sitcoms that were intended to be grounded, complex portrayals of family units with parents at the center, but were retooled when a wise-cracking, gimmicky younger character became unexpectedly popular and made into the new main character.
In the case of Good Times, that character was Jimmy "J.J." Walker, whose goofy presence and "Dy-no-mite!" catchphrase soon became what the entire show was built around. This didn't sit well with actor John Amos, who clashed with producers over the change in the show's focus along with his role on the show and was fired as a result. His character, James Evans, was then killed in a car accident at the beginning of the fourth season.
4 Marissa Cooper (The O.C.)
Like a lot of stars that transitioned from child star to teenage actor in the 1990s and 2000s, Mischa Barton had trouble resisting the allure of partying and fast living. She also made the mistake of leaving her most high-profile role, as Marissa Cooper on teen drama The O.C., before it ended its run, thinking she could be a bigger star without it (she couldn't).
Clearly there was some bad blood between Barton and the show's production team concerning her time on the show and decision to leave. Barton was reportedly told her character was simply going to exit the show peacefully, but when the episode actually aired, it was stated that Marissa died in a car accident on the way to the airport.
3 Prof. Maximillian Arturo (Sliders)
1990s sci-fi show Sliders was a silly show, no question— but it was the type of silly that everyone involved in it seemed to be "in on" and playing up. Everyone except for actor John Rhys-Davies who, for whatever reason, must have had the impression that he was signing onto a serious, high-brow production.
Davies frequently mocked the show, its writing, and its premise— but also obviously didn't mind the steady paycheck as he still stayed on board and made no attempts to leave. But after years of complaining, the producers had enough and made that decision for him, killing his character in the process.
2 Eddie LeBec (Cheers)
If you have a cushy gig on one of the biggest shows on television and you'd like to keep that gig, it's probably best not to insult your bigger and more important co-stars.
This was a lesson learned the hard way by actor Jay Thomas, who cracked jokes about Cheers co-star and on-screen wife Rhea Perlman on a radio show and was fired from the show shortly after. His character, Eddie LeBec, was then killed off screen in a Zamboni accident— not the most dignified of deaths, which was probably intentional.
1 Charlie Harper (Two And A Half Men)
Has there been— or will there ever be— a more public, more high-profile, and more bizarre feud between the star and creator of a television show as that one that led to Charlie Sheen's departure from Two and a Half Men?
Coinciding with what was obviously a lot of personal turmoil for Sheen himself at the time, the actor went to war with Men creator Chuck Lorre in a serious of weird interviews and the result was Sheen being fired and his character being killed off in a deliberately and hilariously "final" manner.
Sources: tvline.com, people.com, ew.com, looper.com, variety.com, usmagazine.com