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The Most Bizarre Sitcom Deaths Explained

Handily among the dominant genres of American entertainment since the mid-20th century, situation comedies have carved out a permanent presence in popular culture. In a general sense, sitcoms provide lighthearted, low-stakes escapism for folks who just want to shut their brains off and laugh after a long day. When serious issues arise on a sitcom, they're usually dealt with swiftly and entirely within the confines of "very special" episodes. Most of the time, nobody dies, because people don't turn on sitcoms to get bummed out. That's what makes death on sitcoms something of a departure from the norm, and therefore, worth examination.  

To be clear, we're not talking about instances in which an actor who plays a character passes away. You'll note we didn't include Bill McNeal from NewsRadio on this list of bizarre sitcom deaths, because that wasn't a sitcom death: That was the real-life death of Phil Hartman. The fact that Hartman's character couldn't appear on new episodes of television any longer is merely incidental. We're talking about the deaths of characters and characters alone, which can be extremely, enormously, and inordinately weird.

Death in real life is almost always sad — but that's not necessarily the case for imaginary deaths on sitcoms. Within those bounds, imaginary death can be strange, hilarious, and downright bizarre. These are the strangest sitcom deaths around.

Susan Ross

"Seinfeld-esque" is practically a synonym for self-absorption and casual cruelty: The quintessential '90s sitcom derives much of its humor from the callous behavior of its four primary characters. So when a doctor informs George Costanza that his fiancé, Susan Ross, has died from licking toxic glue on cheap wedding invitation envelopes in "The Invitations," the proverbial NBD shrug offered in response by George, Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer, feels par for the course.

Not totally unlike his character, Jason Alexander wasn't too upset about seeing his onscreen bride-to-be move on to her next life. Along with the rest of the main Seinfeld cast, Alexander struggled to creatively mesh with actor Heidi Swedberg. "I couldn't figure out how to play off of her," Alexander told Howard Stern in 2015, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine were always misfiring."

Alexander wound up taking some extra steps to clarify that nobody from Seinfeld had any personal or professional animosity towards Swedberg, whom he describes as "generous and gracious." Sometimes, everyone involved in a professional situation tries their best, and for reasons nobody has control over, things don't work out.

Roseanne Conner

When Roseanne returned to ABC in 2018, it looked like Roseanne Barr was back on her way to the heights of success she experienced during the show's initial run from 1988 to 1997. Then she got intensely racist on Twitter, and that was the end of that.

But The Conners — A Roseanne-less revival — certainly made the best of the star's embarrassing departure. On the new show's premiere, "Keep on Truckin'," which aired later that same year, Roseanne's family learns she succumbed to a secret opioid addiction. This leaves the recently-widowed Dan Conner (John Goodman) to cope with an additional pile of regret, on top of his already soul-crushing circumstances. 

The creative minds behind The Conners managed to shift a public scandal into a pretext for addressing the opioid epidemic that continues to plague America. That's not just impressive — it's astounding. Turns out, Roseanne Barr wasn't as essential to Roseanne as the title implies.     

Dan Conner

The revelation that Dan Conner has been secretly dead since the penultimate episode of the previous season probably isn't even in the top five most befuddling moments of Roseanne season nine. As some readers might recall, The Big Lebowski premiered in March 1998, less than a year after the provisional Roseanne series finale. The explosion of John Goodman's movie career might explain Dan's relatively few appearances during the final batch of episodes from the original run of Roseanne. ... and the continued popularity of Goodman the actor and Dan Conner the character might explain the latter's abrupt and unexplained return from the grave at the start of the 2018 Roseanne revival. 

Rather than take the grounded program in a supernatural direction, its creative crew decided to play season nine's dark revelation for laughs. In the season 10 premiere, we see the television couple in bed. Roseanne briefly thinks Dan has died, but he lets her know that he's just sleeping. Resurrecting a long-dead character more than a decade later certainly qualifies as "bizarre." But, especially with the power of hindsight, it looks like the minds behind Roseanne/The Conners made the right call by bringing Dan back without much of a to-do. 

Maude Flanders

Technically, it's only 30+ seasons deep, but The Simpsons feels like it's been on TV since the literal beginning of time. As a consequence, either due to the real-life passing of a voice actor or narrative necessity, the writers have had to remove a not-insignificant number of characters from Springfield's sprawling cast: Edna Krabappel, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, Mona Simpson, and Frank "Grimey" Grimes, to name a few examples. But the first major death on The Simpsons — and, therefore, one of the most famous deaths in television history — is Maude Flanders' in "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily." When the Flanders visit the race track for a family outing, Maude gets hit by a flurry of free merch from a t-shirt cannon barrage and falls off the bleachers to her doom.       

"Alone Again, Natura-Diddily" doesn't play Maude's death like an especially serious matter, partially because actor Maggie Roswell was still alive and well. The plot of the episode, apparently, came about because Roswell asked for a raise to cover her travel expenses.  According to Payscale.com, Fox was paying Roswell, the voice of multiple characters, a maximum of $2,000 per episode in 1999. We don't have the exact numbers available, but we can guess that the advertising revenue from a single commercial break during an episode of The Simpsons generated far, far more than $2,000 at the time. Roswell has since renegotiated her contract and returned to the show. 

Bleeding Gums Murphy

As the wife of one of The Simpsons' most prominent supporting cast members, Maude Flanders is still the most notable Springfield citizen to shuffle off the mortal coil. But she is most definitely not the first. That noble distinction goes to Bleeding Gums Murphy, whose death due to heart attack-related complications in "'Round Springfield" marks the first of its kind on The Simpsons.

Voiced by Ron Taylor, with musical performances belted out by Dan Higgins, Bleeding Gums Murphy appears in the background of a handful of prior episodes. But apart from "'Round Springfield," his only other prominent speaking role is also his debut, in "Moaning Lisa."

Ironically, back in 1995, the death of Bleeding Gums Murphy might've felt like a bittersweet reminder of the passage of time. Here, we had a season one Simpsons character succumbing to natural causes. Even today, six seasons is generally considered a lengthy tenure for an animated sitcom. The first time "'Round Springfield" aired, maybe audiences found themselves asking how much longer The Simpsons could possibly continue. Those fools. Those poor, poor fools...

Sarah Lynn

Netflix's BoJack Horseman has a way of making us depressed, curing that depression with hilarious gags, then bringing that depression raging back with a vengeance. Now, the death of ex-child star Sarah Lynn in "That's Too Much, Man!" looks like a predictable Hollywood cliché on its surface. But for those of us who still aren't totally accustomed to emotional earnestness in animated talking animal shows, Sarah Lynn's demise packs a wallop.

Of course, series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg might remind us that the show drops plenty of hints of what fate has in store for the "Prickly Muffin" singer. "In her very first episode, her kiss-off to BoJack is like, 'There's no hope for me! I'm going to surround myself with enablers until I die tragically young!'" Bob-Waksberg mentioned in a 2016 interview with Vox. "We never tried to hide the ball on that." He continued, "Even three episodes earlier where she goes, 'I'm clean and sober!' I think savvy TV-watchers are going to go, 'Okay...'"

Yeah, well, maybe we just wanted to believe Sarah Lynn would make it, Bob-Waksberg! Is it so wrong to have hope?! While Sarah Lynn no longer resides in the realm of the living following "That's Too Much, Man!," Kristen Schaal returned to the role in flashbacks and dream sequences, most notably the series' brutal penultimate episode, "The View From Halfway Down."     

Barbara Reynolds

Modern classic It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia could've put more respect on the name of Barbara Reynolds (Anne Archer) before removing her from fictional Philly once and for all via botched neck lift. Even after her death, former husband Frank often refers to her with a derogatory term for sex workers. Still, as we know from "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom," in life, her sexual prowess was essentially unmatched and warrants celebration. While she certainly made some questionable choices with respect to Bruce Mathis — Dennis and Dee's biological father — ultimately, she leaves him a considerable amount of money in her will that otherwise would be wasted on Dennis and Dee. 

Was Dennis and Dee's mom a horrific sociopath? Of course, because everyone on Always Sunny is one of those. But when we look back at her appearances before "Dennis and Dee's Mom Is Dead," we gaze upon the early years of Always Sunny: It's a little less episodic, a little more grounded in reality, and somehow, even darker than more recent Always Sunny outings.     

Maureen Ponderosa

Always Sunny gets a lot of attention for its nihilism, but it's also clever enough to completely switch premises and aesthetics, then effortlessly change back to the status quo of jerks who work at a crummy bar. The modern dance sequence in "Mac Finds His Pride" probably stands as the best example of Always Sunny's genre-elasticity, but let's not forget that one time Always Sunny turned into a true crime show.

During the production of season 12, Glenn Howerton didn't know for sure how much more Always Sunny he had in him (turns out it was a lot). So if the show seems like it's tying up Dennis' lingering storylines that year, we have an idea why that could be the case. "Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer" consists of documentary-style footage and editing focused on the suspicious death of Dennis' former wife, Maureen "Bastet" Ponderosa (Catherine Reitman). At first, it looks like we'll never know for sure if she truly did fall off a building by accident, or if Dennis ruthlessly murdered her to avoid paying alimony. But later, it's revealed that Maureen really did fall off a building all on her own, making this an unusual instance of an Always Sunny character being accused of a crime that they did not, in fact, commit.

Country Mac

Some people still believe Seann William Scott's career hit its pinnacle when he played Stifler in the American Pie movies. However, one could argue that while those films play like relics of the Y2K era, Always Sunny might be immortal. Thus, Scott's greatest achievement as an actor is actually his one-episode foray as Country Mac in "Mac Day."

Inadequacy complexes and an inability to reconcile his faith with his sexuality plague City Mac (Rob McElhenney), but Country Mac doesn't share his cousin's hang-ups. County Mac inadvertently steals a bunch of City Mac's thunder by demonstrating authentic badassery, LGBT pride, courage (with restraint) when violent confrontations are necessary, and generosity with really excellent weed. Country Mac also drinks from a single can of beer that is somehow both full and with him at all times. Country Mac is obviously too beautiful to exist on the same show as the Always Sunny gang, so he falls off his motorcycle and dies. Then Frank flushes his ashes down the toilet. 

Pierce Hawthorne

Creator Dan Harmon and star Chevy Chase did not become best friends on the set of Communityalthough Chase's unhinged voicemails to Harmon certainly made for celebrity gossip column gold. It could be that Harmon  hardly a perfect picture of stability during his time running the NBC cult sensation  was not the right person to manage Chase's aging movie star ego. It could be that the two were never going to get along. All we know is that things got ugly.

Pierce Hawthorne exited Greendale Community College on much friendlier terms than his actor. In "Geothermal Escapism," it turns out that the recently deceased Pierce bequeathed Troy (Donald Glover) 14 million dollars, on the condition that Troy sail around the world on the appropriately-named ship, Childish Tycoon. Pierce also left inspiring messages for each individual member of the study group. 

Despite all the behind-the-scenes upheaval, Pierce's death leans into the warmth and emphasis on, well, community, that's helps define Community. Incidentally, "Geothermal Escapism" also reveals that Pierce dies from dehydration during the process of filling multiple canisters with his own sperm. Can't get too sappy on a Dan Harmon show, naturally.

Charlie Harper

The saga of Charlie Sheen's infamous meltdown and subsequent departure from Two and a Half Men is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Meanwhile, the situation left the show's creative minds in a once-in-an-era position: They were forced to write off a main character whose actor remained highly visible in the mass media, and who the general public knew left the operation on the absolute, rock-bottom-worst of terms. 

Technically, Two and a Half Men kills off Sheen's character, Charlie Harper, twice. HIs first demise comes when he falls off a subway platform and an oncoming train instantly kills him. His second demise comes when we see a piano fall on a stand-in actor heavily implied to be Charlie Harper. Perhaps the sitcom, which ran from 2003 to 2015, could've handled the situation with its wayward star in a classier manner. Then again, let's not judge creator Chuck Lorre too harshly if he enjoyed squashing Charlie Harper into a pile of flesh and cigarette ash. 

Ed Truck

The head of Ed Truck (Ken Howard), who mentored Michael Scott on his way up the Dunder Mifflin ladder, is ripped clean off his body during a drunk driving incident, as described in The Office's "Grief Counseling." Michael takes the news poorly, leaving it up to Dwight Schrute to remain stoic and composed, in order to keep administrative affairs at the Scranton branch running smoothly.

In the same episode, Dwight describes absorbing his own twin brother while the two of them developed in utero. Indeed, this whole episode is loaded with exciting, graphic, and outright disturbing incidents that take place in locations the audience never sees. What we do see is stuff like Jim charming Karen at the Stamford branch by chasing down an order of her favorite brand of potato chips. The Office loves to purposefully contrast the characters' mundane realities with over-the-top imagery, and this is one of the best examples of that approach.

Lucille Austero

The final two collections of Arrested Development episodes certainly bend the legacy of the series away from what it would've been had its 2006 cancellation remained its end. One of the plots interwoven throughout season four, which premiered on Netflix in 2013, entails the mysterious disappearance and presumed murder of Lucille Austero, also known as Lucille Two, played by Hollywood royalty and EGOT-winner Liza Minnelli. 

Jessica Walter, who portrayed Lucille Bluth, passed away at the age of 80 in March 2021, meaning we know for sure that Arrested Development season six won't happen. Setting aside possible spoilers for anyone planning to watch season five, let's look at Lucille Two as a character who entertains and delights us all for three seasons, returns for a fourth years later, and, in doing so, demonstrates that sometimes three seasons, plus one extra for the heck of it, is more than enough.  

Brian Griffin

The Simpsons and South Park tend to soak up most of the discourse related to adult animated sitcoms that have remained in production for remarkable durations of time. But did you know Family Guy is still on the air? It's true! Seth MacFarlane's flagship 'toon is slated to remain on TV until at least 2023, making it easily one of the most lucrative and long-running programs Fox ever canceled

Since its premiere in 1999, Family Guy has hardly demonstrated restraint when it comes to slaughtering its characters: Mr. Weed, Loretta Brown, Thelma Griffin, Brian's wife Jess, and a few others are all ghosts haunting the suburb of Quahog, Rhode Island. MacFarlane and company even went so far as to mow down beloved domestic pet Brian Griffin, voiced by MacFarlane, in 2013. Naturally, Stewie time-travels him back to life, but for a solid three episodes, fans thought Brian had crossed the rainbow bridge once and for all. 

Some of those fans lost their friggin' minds, but MacFarlane welcomed their insanity. "We were all very surprised — in a good way — that people still cared [enough] about that character to be that angry," he said in a 2013 Hollywood Reporter interview. "We thought it would maybe create a little bit of a stir, but the rage was not something we counted on."

Diane Simmons

We've listed a lot of killed-off characters here, but newscaster and Rhode Island media personality Diane Simmons (Lori Alan) is the only one who takes a bunch of other secondaries from a long-running sitcom into the next life with her. 

In the 2010 double-length Family Guy episode "And Then There Were Fewer," Diane knocks off multiple Quahog residents: James Woods, Muriel Goldman, Quagmire's occasional date known only as "Stephanie," plus a few more. Turns out, it's all part of a master revenge plan to execute her ex-boyfriend James Woods and frame her Channel 5 Action News co-host Tom Tucker, both of whom replaced her with younger women as soon as she turned 40. Not that it would've done her any good as far as James Woods is concerned, but we're pretty certain she could've just sued Channel 5 for discrimination, instead of resorting to a murderous rampage. 

Ultimately, Diane herself meets her end when she threatens Lois, which prompts Stewie to intervene with a sniper rifle. "If anybody's going to take that b**** down, it's going to be me," says the awful baby, shortly after Diane's body falls off a cliff and into the Atlantic Ocean.   


You may have noticed this list includes a handful of characters who die offscreen, thus sparring the audience any explicit visual details related to their demises. Not so for Chef, who is a major part of South Park's supporting cast until he falls off a cliff, gets impaled on a sharp stick, and is torn apart by wild animals in the ironically-titled "The Return of Chef."

At the time, the public was led to believe Chef's fate was sealed because actor and iconic soul singer Isaac Hayes quit South Park in light of an episode that brutally mocked Scientology. Hayes, a Scientologist, passed away in 2008, about two years after the end of his tenure on South Park. Since then, the early narrative surrounding Hayes' departure from South Park has been credibly disputed.  

"Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park; someone quit South Park for him," Isaac Hayes III, his son and overseer of his estate, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. "What happened was that in January 2006 my dad had a stroke and lost the ability to speak. He really didn't have that much comprehension ... At the time, everybody around my father was involved in Scientology — his assistants, the core group of people ... My father was not that big of a hypocrite to be part of a show that would constantly poke fun at African-American people, Jewish people, gay people — and only quit when it comes to Scientology. He wouldn't be that hypocritical."

Mayor Walter Gunderson

We can only think of two characters from the history of television who both play pivotal, foundational roles in the mythology of their respective series, finally appear after years of other characters discussing them as if they're mythological figures, and then immediately die: Jacob from Lost, and Mayor Walter Gunderson from Parks and Recreation. Following a mayoral tenure of nearly 40 years, the Parks and Rec audience finally sees Mayor Gunderson, in the form of Bill Murray, at his funeral.

According to EW, while the show routinely mentions Mayor Gunderson starting around season two, the folks behind Parks and Rec didn't necessarily plan for him to ever show up on camera. At one point, they considered casting Arnold Schwarzenegger, but scrapped that plan when his duties as the actual governor of California conflicted with his ability to play the imaginary mayor of Pawnee, Indiana. 

As the story goes, Amy Poehler mentioned Murray would make a stellar Gunderson on an episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Over the next few years, a handful of chance encounters between Murray and Parks and Rec actors led to him watching the show, becoming a fan, and consenting to pretend to die on its behalf.

Mr. Heckles

Judging by the fact that streaming platforms are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to carry the thing, we can surmise that a whole heap of folks still rely on the buzz of nostalgic coziness Friends provides. We say this without judgment: Its world is one in which twentysomethings working service industry jobs can afford New York City apartments as spacious as medium-size houses, after all.

But did you know your '90s cutie-pies Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe might be guilty of manslaughter, or possibly second- or -third-degree murder? In "The One Where Mr. Heckles Dies," the friends harass an old man who lives in the apartment underneath them by stomping on their floor/his ceiling, until the strain of repeatedly whacking his ceiling with a broom leads to his collapse. Naturally, the friends face no consequences for their crime. 

Larry Hankin, the actor who played Mr. Heckles, brought some highly-relevant experience to the table: He also portrayed an actor pretending to be Kramer, another wacky neighbor, in Seinfeld's fourth season. Speaking to The AV Club in 2019, Hankin revealed that the Friends writers killed Heckles essentially because one of the male friends was going to need an apartment, and the show had already spent time and money putting together the set for Heckles' place.

Charles the hostage

ABC's wildly successful TGIF lineup of the '90s catered to an audience that was old enough to treat Friday as a cause for celebration, but not old enough to understand they're supposed to go out and party. Ergo, while these sitcoms aren't as explicitly kid-oriented as cartoons or puppet shows, their worldviews are really only a few metaphorical blocks away from Sesame Street. But every now and again, we catch an inkling that the creative minds behind Family Matters — one of the biggest sitcom hits of the decade — strove for more than calling Steve Urkel a nerd a dozen different ways in every episode. 

In "I Should Have Done Something," police officer and family patriarch Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) struggles with guilt over his failure to prevent an old man's death during a convenience store robbery the previous year. The dead hostage, Charles, never appears on screen, but he nevertheless haunts deeply emotional scenes that all take place between segments devoted to Family Matters' usual goofball antics. The tonal whiplash hardly works as good television, but it's kind of fascinating to watch talent struggle with the limits of the genre in which it's confined.

Don Geiss

Even the other characters on 30 Rock are surprised to find out General Electric CEO Don Geiss has died off screen, weeks before they find out about it. Of course, it's all part of an elaborate cover-up designed to facilitate Kabletown, the show's fictionalized version of Comcast, buying up the show's fictionalized version of NBC. In an astounding and darkly humorous coincidence, the same thing happened in the real world. The truth might usually be stranger than fiction, but in this case, the two aligned perfectly in the most bizarre possible way.

We cannot determine whether 30 Rock removed Don Geiss because the writers thought it was the best strategy to carry the show forward, or because actor Rip Torn's penchant for alcohol-related mayhem was causing some form of problem behind the scenes. Torn himself died several years later in 2019 at the age of 88, due to Alzheimer's-related issues.

Denholm Reynholm

If you're a supporting cast member, and, when you leave due to scheduling conflicts, the series has to resort to hiring one of the greatest comedic actors of his generation to replace you, that's a sign that you've done a better-than-okay job.

Chris Morris portrays Denholm Reynholm, boss and owner of Reynholm Industries, throughout the first seven episodes of The IT Crowd. In "Return of the Golden Child," Denholm learns of law enforcement's interest in some peculiarities they've noticed with the company's pension fund. In response, he immediately hops out a window of one of the top floors of the Reynholm Industries office building. Upon Denholm's untimely end, his son, Douglas Reynholm — played by Matt Berry, currently better known as Laszlo Cravensworth on What We Do In The Shadows — returns from abroad to run the company.  

Shortly before his suicide, Denholm muses aloud to a room full of employees, "I hope it doesn't sound arrogant when I say I am the greatest man in the world." Now those are some last words for the ages.