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Modern Family Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Modern Family" became one of the most successful sitcoms on the air after it hit TV screens back in 2009, breathing new life into the mockumentary subgenre. Following the lives of three very different branches of the same family, the Los Angeles-set show won numerous awards and received widespread critical acclaim for the way it portrayed modern family life in the United States. Running for 11 seasons and 250 episodes in total, "Modern Family" featured a large ensemble cast and some big names made guest appearances over the course of its run. Sadly, not all of them are still with us today. In fact, we've lost way more members of the show's extended family than you may have realized.

Some of the actors on this list actually made their final career appearances in "Modern Family," which is not a bad way to wrap up a resume. Here's everyone who has acted in the show that has since passed away.

Jon Polito

Earl Chambers is a former business partner and friend of Jay who turns into his enemy when he sets up a rival business. Most people think of Robert Costanzo as the person behind Earl, but he wasn't the first actor to play him. Earl was originally portrayed by Jon Polito, who appeared as the character in three episodes in Season 6 and Season 7.

Polito amassed more than 200 credits over the course of his astonishing career. He got his start in 1981, playing real life mobster Tommy Lucchese (one of the Mafia's "founding fathers," per The Mob Museum) in the NBC series "The Gangster Chronicles." He went on to gain recognition for his performances in "Homicide: Life on the Street," bringing Detective Steve Crosetti to life. Speaking to Groucho Reviews, the actor revealed that the character was originally Irish and that the creators changed his background on the strength of his audition.

Fans of the Coen brothers will know Polito well, as he appeared in five of their films. They approached him about "Miller's Crossing" after seeing him perform on stage, and he would go on to appear in "Barton Fink," "The Hudsucker Proxy," "The Big Lebowski," and "The Man Who Wasn't There." In more recent years, Polito had a significant part in "Big Eyes" and voice roles in "Batman: Arkham Underworld," "Ultimate Spider-Man," and "Tangled: The Series." He died in 2016 "due to complications from cancer," Entertainment Weekly confirmed. He was 65.

David Brenner

David Brenner only appeared in a single episode of "Modern Family," but he made a big impression in Season 1's "My Funky Valentine." The episode largely revolves around Jay taking Gloria to a comedy event for Valentine's Day, where Brenner is performing. Gloria is not particularly happy about the choice, but, in the end, it's Jay who regrets the decision — he walks out after the comic hones in on the age difference between the two.

A well known stand-up comedian throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Brenner was perhaps best known for his frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." He appeared in more than 150 episodes of the talk show and even occasionally hosted it when Carson was unavailable. Brenner also appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" and "Real Time with Bill Maher," and he starred in the short-lived NBC comedy "Snip."

Brenner became a comedian after spending several years working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry as a writer and producer. He ultimately became a respected comic and was looked upon highly by the likes of Richard Lewis. He died from cancer in 2014 at the age of 78. Publicist Jeff Abraham told The Hollywood Reporter that Brenner "died peacefully at his home in NYC surrounded by his family."

Marsha Kramer

Character actor Marsha Kramer, who died in 2020, played Jay's assistant Margaret in "Modern Family." Appearing in more than a dozen episodes between Season 5 and Season 11, her character was a close friend and ally to Jay. She made her debut on "The Bill Cosby Show" in 1970 and went on to make appearances in shows like "Cheers," "The Bob Newhart Show," "Malcolm in the Middle," and "Dr. Ken." She was well-known to fans of "Frasier," in which she played Tooty the Store Lady. She only physically appeared in the show a couple of times, but the character — who hosts the story time talk show on KACL — is mentioned in numerous episodes.

Margaret from "Modern Family" was Kramer's final role and the one she will be remembered for (she played the character over a dozen times, way more than any of her other characters), at least in terms of TV. She was also well-known for her stage work, which "Modern Family" creator Jeff Greenberg mentioned in his tribute. "So sad to hear that my long time friend, Marsha Kramer passed away yesterday at the age of 74," Greenberg wrote on Twitter. "She was so delightful in the 14 eps she shot as Margaret on 'Modern Family' over the last 7 yrs, but I'll always remember her soaring aloft as Wendy to Sandy Duncan's Peter Pan."

John Heard

Most people know John Heard for playing the father of Macaulay Culkin's character in the first two "Home Alone" movies, but he appeared in a bunch of other memorable roles over the years. In "Modern Family" he played Gunther Thorpe, Gil's father. Gunther shows up in the Season 5 episode "The Feud," in which Phil loses his position as social chair of the realtor group to Gil and has to hand over his medallion. This was Heard's one and only appearance in "Modern Family" and the character was not mentioned again.

Heard made his debut in the TV movie "Valley Forge" in 1975. He went on to appear in a few notable TV shows in the years that followed, such as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Miami Vice" and "The Equalizer," but before long he had established himself on the big screen. Two years before he made his debut as Peter McCallister in "Home Alone," Heard played the rival of Tom Hanks in "Big." Not long after that he appeared alongside Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in "Awakenings," which was met with critical acclaim and nominated for three Academy Awards.

Heard's performance in "The Sopranos" as Detective Vin Makazian earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination in 1999. He didn't win, but his peers knew how talented he was. Bette Midler, Jeff Bridges, Elijah Wood, Rob Lowe, and Marlon Wayans were among the many actors who paid tribute following his death. Heard was found dead at a hotel after having back surgery, according to Variety. He was 71.

Elizabeth Peña

Although she didn't have a regular role in "Modern Family," Elizabeth Peña did make more than one appearance. The actor portrayed the character Pilar, the mother of Gloria who disapproves of her marriage to Jay. The protective type, it is made clear throughout the series that she owns an heirloom known as "the family gun." Pilar only appears in two episodes, "Fulgencio" and "The Old Man & the Tree," but she is mentioned in many more.

According to Empire Magazine, Peña was the daughter of two people heavily involved in the performing arts: Her father established a theater company in Cuba, while her mother was a producer. Her first role came in the 1979 film "El Super," in which she played the teenage daughter of an exiled Cuban couple living in New York City. She went on to appear in shows like "Cagney & Lacey," "T.J. Hooker," and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" in the 1980s, as well as films like "La Bamba" and "Batteries Not Included."

Peña was perhaps best known for her turn as Detective Tania Johnson in 1998's "Rush Hour." Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker star as odd-couple cops trying to track down a kidnapped girl. Johnson, the long-suffering partner of Tucker's Detective James Carter, comes to the rescue at the end of the film, disarming a bomb that's been strapped to the girl. She was also the voice of Mirage in "The Incredibles." She died in 2014 at the age of 55 following a brief illness, per the Los Angeles Times.

John Cygan

"Modern Family" fans may not recognize John Cygan, as he only appeared in a single episode of the show before his death. He played the Admissions Dean of a private school in a Season 4 episode called "The Future Dunphys." Jay takes Manny to Dryden Academy hoping to get him enrolled, but he doesn't get into the school after messing up his interview with the Cygan's character.

Active since 1990, Cygan made his screen debut in the television series "Babes." A few years later he landed the regular role of Harlan Stone in the Bob Newhart sitcom "Bob." He would go on to play a sheriff in "The X-Files" and appear as part of the main cast of shows such as "The Commish" and "Space Strikers." In the years that followed he made guest appearances in everything from "Diagnosis Murder" to "Frasier," but Cygan was arguably best known for his off-camera work.

Cygan was a veteran voice actor with some big characters and projects under his belt. He voiced Twitch in "Toy Story 3" and provided additional voices for a bunch of other animated films, including "Monsters University," "The Lorax," and "Minions." In the video game world, Cygan was known for providing the voice of Solidus Snake in 2001's "Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty" and Canderous Ordo in 2003's "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," both of which were big hits. Per The Hollywood Reporter, he died from cancer in 2017 at the age of 63.

Fred Willard

A veteran of over 300 career credits, Fred Willard was the man responsible for bringing the character of Frank Dunphy to life in "Modern Family." The father of Phil, he appears in 14 episodes in total. He was almost always shown with a fun smile on his face and was constantly joking around with Phil and others. Frank died of old age in season 11, bringing Willard's time on the show to an emotional close.

A talented baseball player in his youth, Willard actually considered a career in the sport before pursuing showbusiness. He spent time in the Army and was stationed in Berlin for a while, where he played for the regimental baseball team. He turned to acting after moving to New York and eventually made his debut in 1966, appearing in a pair of TV shows ("Hey, Landlord" and "Pistols 'n' Petticoats"). He would become best known for his collaborations with Christopher Guest, appearing in five of his films ("Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind," "For Your Consideration," "Mascots") between 1996 and 2016.

His performances in "Modern Family" earned him two Primetime Emmy Award nominations, adding to the three he earned from his guest role in "Everybody Loves Raymond." Willard died in 2020 at the age of 86, with TMZ later reporting the cause of death as cardiac arrest.

Jackson Odell

Jackson Odell played the character Ted Durkas in "Modern Family," a student who attends the same school as Luke Dunphy and Manny Delgado. He's something of a bully, taking advantage of the other kids and making a general nuisance of himself. In Season 1's "My Funky Valentine," he steals Fiona (Manny's love interest) away from him using a poem that Manny wrote. He also appeared in Season 4's "Open House of Horrors," tricking Manny into thinking that he wanted to be his friend only to humiliate him.

Unlike most of the other actors who passed away after appearing in "Modern Family," Odell was still a relative youngster at the time, making his death all the more tragic. The actor (who also worked as a musician and recorded songs for the movie "Forever My Girl") was perhaps most famous for his role in "The Goldbergs." He played Ari Caldwell, the brother of Adam Goldberg's love interest Dana Caldwell, between 2013 and 2015. The Colorado native also had parts in "iCarly" and "Arrested Development."

Odell died on June 8, 2018 from an accidental overdose. He was found unresponsive at the sober living home where he was staying. The cause was "acute heroin and cocaine toxicity," the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office ruled (via People). He was only 20 years old. "He will always be a shining light and a brilliant, loving and talented soul," the family said in a statement.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Lillian Adams

Lillian Adams is another actor that even dedicated fans of "Modern Family" may have trouble recognizing, because she only appeared in the pilot episode. She portrays an airline passenger on the flight that Mitchell and Cameron are on after returning from Vietnam with their newly adopted baby. While she was never a major star like some of the other actors on this list, Adams was a familiar presence on television screens for more than 50 years. She had guest appearances in a huge number of shows, ranging from "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone" to "Two and a Half Men," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," and "Parks and Recreation." Television viewers might also recognize her from the many commercials she was in over the years.

In terms of feature films, Adams plied her trade in several comedies. She was in "The Jerk," "Little Nicky," "Private Benjamin," and Jim Carrey's box office smash "Bruce Almighty." She played Mama Kowalski, whose bakery is visited by Carrey's character during his time as a frustrated reporter. The shop is making a giant cookie in the hopes of generating some good press following a scandal. She was 89 when she died from cardiac failure in 2011. According to Variety, she was living at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills in California at the time.