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The real reasons these TV characters were killed off

Producers kill off TV show characters for a number of reasons. An actor or actress might be difficult to work with, the show may need an emotional punch to keep viewers interested, or it could just be the direction of the story. While we'll probably never know the reasons for every character's death, some stories from behind the scenes just couldn't stay under wraps.

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Prue Halliwell - Charmed

Shannen Doherty is arguably better known for being difficult to work with than she is for her acting. Her feud with co-star Jennie Garth on Beverly Hills, 90210 led to her dismissal from that hit show. The trend continued on her WB series Charmed. Doherty's alleged feud with co-star Alyssa Milano led to her character's death at the end of season 3, and she was later confirmed dead at the beginning of season 4.

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James Evans, Sr. - Good Times

Florida Evans reading the letter informing her of her husband James Evans, Sr.'s death is considered one of the most memorable moments in TV history. What most people don't know about is that John Amos, who played James, was as surprised to hear of his character's death as anyone. Amos has since opened up about why he was fired from the popular sitcom, saying he had issues with the show's direction. "I felt too much emphasis was being put on J.J. and his chicken hat and saying 'dy-no-mite' every third page," argued Amos, "when just as much emphasis and mileage could have been gotten out of my other two children." Of course, Amos admits that he "wasn't the most diplomatic guy" and probably approached producers the wrong way.

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Chef - South Park

South Park has earned a reputation for taking satirical jabs at pretty much all religions, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, and even Atheism. But Isaac Hayes, who voiced Chef for nine years, took issue with the show's handling of the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes was a member, and abruptly left the show. Nine days after Hayes quit the show, the creators killed off Chef in a gruesome fashion, followed by a touching eulogy delivered by the character Kyle.

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Dr. George O'Malley - Grey's Anatomy

T. R. Knight left Grey's Anatomy after five seasons, despite the fact that his character, George O'Malley, received favorable reviews from critics and fans alike. The actor cited his reasons for leaving as "a breakdown in communication," and his claim that show creator Shonda Rhimes tried to discourage his decision to come out as gay. As such, he asked to be written out of the show. Some have speculated Rhimes' way of getting revenge on the actor for leaving can be seen in the brutal way in which the character was killed off: being hit by a bus and then being pronounced brain-dead. That is pretty extreme. Couldn't George have just decided to stop being a doctor and work as a barista or something?

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Ana Lucia Cortez and Libby Smith - Lost

Many people believe that Lost characters Ana Lucia Cortez and Libby Smith (portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Watros, respectively) met their ends due to the actresses' arrests on December 1, 2005, for failed sobriety tests. In actuality, the arrests didn't affect the show at all. In an interview, show creator Damon Lindelof said that the character's deaths had already been written, adding, "We actually thought about changing it the other way around once [the DUI] happened … a DUI would come and go and what would live on would be the show." So the arrests were never a problem—for the show, anyway.

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Susan Ross - Seinfeld

Seinfeld viewers were shocked—and George Costanza was relieved—when Susan Ross, portrayed by Heidi Swedberg, died at the end of the show's seventh season. Apparently, George wasn't the only one happy to hear the news of the character's death. In an interview with Howard Stern several years later, Jason Alexander, who played George, revealed that Swedberg was difficult to work with, but not in the traditional sense. Alexander stated that Swedberg was a lovely person, but, "Her instincts for doing a scene—where the comedy was, and mine—were always misfiring."

And he wasn't the only one on set who felt this way. Alexander related how his costar Julia Louis-Dreyfuss agreed with him, casually remarking, "Don't you wanna just kill her?" Once writer Larry David heard this, that was all she wrote for Susan Ross.

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Eddie LeBec - Cheers

Poor Carla Maria Victoria Angelina Teresa Apollonia Lozupone Tortelli LeBec. Just when it looked like she'd finally found true love with hockey player Eddie LeBec, the poor doofus went and got himself killed in a bizarre Zamboni accident, setting up a wacky chain of events that led to Carla meeting Eddie's secret other wife during the funeral. The character's demise seemed to come out of left field, and Cheers writer Ken Levine later admitted that's because it really did: Thomas, who also worked as a radio DJ, made some disparaging remarks about his onscreen wife Rhea Perlman while he was on the air, and just like that, Eddie LeBec was never seen again.

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Lawrence Kutner - House

While House had its lighter moments, it could get pretty dark too. One example: Kal Penn, who played Lawrence Kutner, embarked on a political career of sorts partway through the show's run, and ended up taking a job with President Obama's administration. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to wring a bit of drama out of his departure, the show's writers opted to have the Kutner character commit suicide. Chilling as that end may have been, it seems that there were no hard feelings between the actor and the showrunners. Penn came back to reprise his role as Kutner for House's series finale in the form of a hallucination.

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Mrs. Wolowitz (a.k.a. Howard's mom) - The Big Bang Theory

Even though we never saw her face, we all know her voice. Debbie Wolowitz was a mainstay of the hit CBS series The Big Bang Theory. But when actress Carol Ann Susi died of cancer on November 11, 2014, Howard's mother was killed off shortly thereafter. The characters paid final tribute to Mrs. Wolowitz in the episode "The Leftover Thermalization," in which they have to eat the last of her leftover meals before they all spoiled.

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J. R. Ewing - Dallas

The only character to appear in every episode of the original Dallas, J. R. Ewing was famously shot in the cliffhanger episode "A House Divided," which left America wondering "Who Shot J.R.?" all summer. Though he survived that assassination attempt, a second shooter finally felled the infamous oilman during the second season of the series revival. Hagman, who'd been battling cancer in real life, passed away in November of 2012, forcing the writing and production staff to cover up for his absence while hurriedly writing J.R. off the show. The end came with "The Furious and the Fast," which aired several months after Hagman's death, and used pre-existing footage to cobble together his character's exit story.

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Tuco Salamanca - Breaking Bad

No scandals led to Tuco Salamanca's death at the hands of Hank Schrader in the hit series Breaking Bad. Essentially, actor Raymond Cruz, who portrayed the psychotic drug dealer, found the character very draining to play. He explained in an interview with Washington's WTOP in 2015, saying, "I wasn't sad to see Tuco go, because it's such a hard part to try to pull off. What you're watching is condensed. That's days and days of shooting scenes for 12 to 14 hours. It's a lot of hard work. It's so physically, emotionally, mentally draining, so when they finally killed him, I was happy."

But he must have recuperated: Tuco, to everyone's delight, returned in the Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul.

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Brian Griffin - Family Guy

The sudden and shocking death of Brian Griffin outraged many Family Guy fans who had grown to love the character, especially his adventures with Stewie. Two episodes later, Brian returned. This left viewers wondering: if the producers were going to bring the beloved character back so soon, why kill him off at all? According to show-creator Seth MacFarlane, Brian died in order to create shock. MacFarlane elaborated, saying, "It did what it was designed to do—it reminded people this is still a show where anything can happen despite the fact it's been on for a while."

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Charlie Harper - Two and a Half Men

Undoubtedly one of the most infamous character deaths in television history, what began as an attempt to help a troubled Charlie Sheen turned into an ugly, public firing. Two and a Half Men had been placed on hiatus while its star, Sheen, began another stint in rehab in January 2011, his third attempt that year. Shortly thereafter, Sheen went on an obscenity-laced rant on the Alex Jones radio show, during which he attacked the show's creator Chuck Lorre.

Lorre axed Sheen, and his character, Charlie Harper, was killed before the premiere of season 9, which featured the character's funeral. Even worse: Sheen was replaced by Ashton Kutcher. Some would call that a fate even worse than death…

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Matthew Crawley - Downton Abbey

At the end of Season 3 of Downton Abbey, the will-they-or-won't-they of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) was finally resolved when the two were married and quickly became pregnant with their first child and future lord of the manor. Mary went into labor, and after meeting his newborn son, Matthew jumped into a car to share the news—but the car crashed, and Matthew was instantly killed. It was a shocking TV death, but one that had to happen. Dan Stevens had asked to leave the extremely popular period series in order to pursue a movie career—he's been one of the breakout stars of the series and he wanted to cash in on other opportunities. Ultimately, a movie career hasn't really panned out yet—he was in bombs such as The Fifth Estate and The Cobbler. In 2017, he returned to TV, starring in FX's Legion.

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Dr. Sweets - Bones

John Francis Daley was part of the cast of Fox's long-running procedural drama Bones from almost the beginning … but not until the end. As Dr. Lance Sweets, Daley played a psychologist and behavior expert who helped the crime fighters of the series in their investigations. Over the years, Daley developed a second career as one of the most sought-after comedy screenwriters in Hollywood, working on the scripts for Horrible Bosses, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. In 2014, Daley was offered the chance to not only write the remake/reboot of National Lampoon's Vacation, but to direct it as well. Daley asked for a few months off from Bones to do the movie, but the writers couldn't think of a good way to explain a prolonged absence. So his character took a bullet from a bad guy and died.

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Maude Flanders - The Simpsons

Just like live-action actors, voice performers have to renew their contracts every few years. The cast of The Simpsons has gone through some major re-negotiations over the years—in 1998, Fox threatened to replace the actors rather than meet their salary demands. Things have worked out every time for the main cast, but not for Maggie Roswell. From the show's beginnings in 1989 until 2000, she provided the voices for several secondary Simpsons characters, including do-gooder neighbor Maude Flanders. At the beginning of the 1999-2000 season, Maude suddenly started making fewer appearances. When she did appear, her voice was different—Roswell had been replaced. In a February 2000 episode, Maude was killed in a shocking and ridiculous fashion—she fell off a grandstand when she was shot by a T-shirt cannon. So why the replacement and then the send-off? Fox said Roswell quit The Simpsons because she didn't want to commute from her home in Denver to Los Angeles for recording sessions anymore. But according to Roswell, it's because she asked for a pay raise.

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Will Gardner - The Good Wife

Josh Charles was a huge part of why The Good Wife turned in such compelling drama each week—his character, Will Gardner, was a brilliant attorney in the show's courtroom scenes, and he was also a foil and romantic interest for Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). That and the fact that The Good Wife didn't usually contain a lot of violence meant it was pretty shocking when Will was brutally shot in a courtroom scene in a 2014 episode. But creators Robert and Michelle King didn't have any animosity toward Charles. Before the 2013-14 season began, Charles knew his contract would be up, and he let the Kings know that he'd like to move on at the end of the year so they could actually plan an explosive exit for Will. "I was just ready to kind of move on," Charles said on The Late Show with David Letterman. As for his character's death, "I think it was great for the show and also I think was a proper goodbye to the character, so that was special."

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Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje - Lost

One of the biggest new shows of the 2004-05 season was also among the most innovative: ABC's time- and mind-bending desert island sci-fi adventure series Lost. Many of its cast became instant stars on the way to the show winning the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Other actors on the show didn't enjoy the process of making the series at all. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, for example, who played the mysterious and conflicted Nigerian priest/thug Mr. Eko, left the series in Season 3. Why? Well, Lost filmed in Hawaii, and while this might be hard to believe, Akinnuoye-Agbaje hated living in Hawaii. He asked to leave the show, and long-term plans for Mr. Eko were abruptly halted. The character was killed off, a victim of "the Monster."