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The Big Bang Theory Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

There are many advantages to growing up. You can own a house and drive a car — and you can pass your pop culture inspirations down to the younger generation. That's precisely what "The Big Bang Theory" did, as the show featured enough likeable characters, references, and guest stars to fill a "Star Trek" convention. In fact, many of the cameos filed in from all corners of pop culture, from movies to comic books and everything in between — including "Star Trek."

However, for every upside, there is a downside, and the biggest downside of growing up is that you eventually see the people you know and love, be they family or actors, pass away. "The Big Bang Theory" featured many thespians crucial to the current face of pop culture over the show's 12 seasons, and not all of them lived to see the finale. Here is a small collection of actors with ties to the series who are no longer with us.

Carol Ann Susi

A major ingredient in the comedy of "The Big Bang Theory" is its reliance (and twisting) of common nerd clichés. For example, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is an egocentric introvert with Vulcan-like emotions, while Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) is a geek who lives with his mother, Mrs. Wolowitz, who still treats him like a child. In the Season 8 episode "The Comic Book Store Regeneration," Howard reveals that his mother died in her sleep. Normally, actors are written out in such a way because they leave shows for other projects, but in Mrs. Wolowitz's case, she died both in the show and in real life.

On the morning of Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Carol Ann Susi, the voice of Mrs. Wolowitz — the character never appeared onscreen as a running gag — died of cancer (via The Hollywood Reporter). She was 62. At the time, the writers were unsure how Susi's death would impact the show, but she was officially written out of the series in "The Comic Book Store Regeneration," when the characters mourned her death. According to another Hollywood Reporter article, this storyline was "one of two options" the producers wanted to explore. The article implied that the second option was asking Melissa Rauch (who played Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz on the show) to replace Susi with her "spot-on impression."

Jane Galloway Heitz

Because "The Big Bang Theory" was on the air for 12 years, it ran through numerous guest actors, many of whom you might not recognize. One obscure name was Jane Galloway Heitz, who appeared in the Season 2 episode "The Friendship Algorithm" as the minor character Mildred. However, Heitz had a lengthy career playing minor characters in shows such as "ER," "Grey's Anatomy," "Monk," and "Glee," and before all that, she appeared in movies such as David Lynch's "The Straight Story." Before Heitz started acting, she was a casting agent (via The Hollywood Reporter), but in 1997, Heitz sold her agency to pursue a career as an actress.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, on November 13, 2019, Heitz died due to congestive heart failure. Her husband, TV producer Bill Heitz, died in 2002. Heitz was survived by her daughter, Amie Richardson, as well as her grandchildren Jack, Claire, and William.

Stephen Hawking

Since the main characters of Sheldon Cooper, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), Howard Wolowitz, and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) work at the California Institute of Technology, they aren't just into science fiction; they also love science fact and the champions of science. Famous faces within the scientific community, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Stephen Hawking, popped in once in a while. Actually, Hawking popped in more than once.

Hawking appeared in multiple episodes throughout the series' run, including "The Hawking Excitation," "The Extract Obliteration," and "The Celebration Experimentation." He became fast friends with Sheldon. Moreover, he told Sheldon to turn the finger of Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) into Saturn and "put a ring on it." Hawking was once considered the smartest man on the planet, so you couldn't ask for better advice.

On March 14, 2018, Hawking died peacefully in his sleep (via the BBC) at the age of 76. According to the article, he was diagnosed with a rare motor neuron disease at the age of 22, and doctors predicted he only had a few years to live. Hawking defied the odds, but he lived most of his life in a wheelchair and used a voice synthesizer. Who can say how many more "The Big Bang Theory" episodes would have guest-starred Hawking had he not passed away? Given his fictional incarnation's relationship with Sheldon, Hawking might have shown up for the series finale.

Stan Lee

When the main cast of "The Big Bang Theory" aren't eating in the California Institute of Technology's cafeteria or crashing in Sheldon and Leonard's living room, they are perusing the latest offerings from the local comic store. As such, comics play a big part of their lives and the show, so it would only make sense for the king of comics, Stan Lee, to appear in "The Big Bang Theory."

Stan Lee cameoed in the episode "The Excelsior Acquisition," and unlike most guest stars, Lee's show incarnation didn't get along well with Sheldon. In that episode, Sheldon goes to court because he ran a red light while driving Penny (Kaley Cuoco) to the hospital in "The Adhesive Duck Deficiency." The court date prevents Sheldon from meeting Lee at the comic store, and since Penny feels bad — and knows where Lee lives — the two drop by his house uninvited. As a result, Lee files and signs a restraining order against Sheldon, who hangs it on the wall. Stan Lee's signature is still Stan Lee's signature, no matter what it's on.

In 2018, Lee passed away due to heart failure (via TMZ). He was 95 years old.

Adam West

A common trope is parents hiring entertainment for their childrens' birthday parties. Sometimes they employ clowns; other times they bring in someone dressed as Spider-Man. Sheldon Cooper can one-up all those kids because he got to see the real Batman for his birthday, and he only had to wait 30 years.

In the episode "The Celebration Experimentation," Leonard, Raj, and Howard are trying to figure out what to get Sheldon for his birthday present. Since Sheldon was devastated Batman didn't show up for his sixth birthday, his friends decide to invite one of the actors who portrayed Batman, Adam West. And, he isn't that hard to find because the local comic store owner, Stuart Bloom (Kevin Sussman), has West's contact information. While ferrying West to Sheldon's birthday, Leonard, Raj, and Howard have a heated debate over who was the best Batman actor, and West has his own opinion on the matter.

Adam West died peacefully surrounded by family members in 2017 at the age of 88 (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Carrie Fisher

While "The Big Bang Theory" episodes cover a gamut of stories, they frequently feature two specific story beats: Sheldon and his friends geek out when they meet a pop culture icon, and you never know how (or if) they will gel. Sometimes the celebrity participates in a friendly yet heated debate; other times Sheldon and co. wrap the celebrity up in shenanigans or vice versa. If it weren't for the latter, Sheldon would have never visited Carrie Fisher.

In the episode "The Convention Conundrum," Sheldon can't get tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, so he tries to create his own comic convention instead (as one does). To start, he plans to invite his favorite "Star Wars" actor. No, not Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones. Of course, this involves a bit of stalking, but Jones is a good sport and invites Sheldon to hang out at a carnival and do karaoke, as well as prank some neighbors with a ding-dong ditch. One of these neighbors is none other than Fisher, who runs outside with a baseball bat since Jones has constantly targeted her with that prank. Unlike Jones, Fisher's role in "The Big Bang Theory" starts and ends at being the annoyed victim of Jones' antics.

In December 2016, Fisher was on an airplane when she suffered a "massive heart attack" (via TMZ). While an emergency medical technician was onboard at the time and tended to her, by the time the plane landed, she was "unresponsive." Fisher was rushed to an intensive care unit but died days later (via CBS). She was 60 at the time.

Jessica Walter

Even though Jessica Walter didn't have the same sci-fi and comic credits as Mark Hamill and Kevin Smith when she appeared on "The Big Bang Theory," she still had a long and prolific career that would be the envy of most actors. Walter is best known as Lucille Bluth on "Arrested Development" and Malory Archer on "Archer," but she also played characters such as Fran Sinclair on "Dinosaurs." 

Walter appeared in "The Benefactor Factor" as Mrs. Latham, the titular benefactor. Mrs. Latham initially comes off as condescending, and that's because she is. She just loves making smart people feel uncomfortable (her words, not ours). As the episode goes on, Leonard does anything he can to secure funds for his department, including going on dates with Mrs. Latham. Hijinks ensue, but the audience never learns how the dates truly went — and are probably better off not knowing (hint, hint).

Jessica Walter passed away on March 24, 2021, in her sleep at the age of 80 (via Deadline).

Leonard Nimoy

Out of all the sci-fi actors the main characters adore, none are referenced more often or are closer to Sheldon Cooper's heart than Leonard Nimoy. Sheldon owns a napkin signed by Nimoy, a restraining order signed by Nimoy, and a Spock action figure. Since Sheldon's heart is seemingly shaped like a Vulcan greeting, you might be surprised to hear that Nimoy never appeared on the show. But Spock did. It sounds confusing, but it's easily explained.

During the episode "The Transporter Malfunction," Penny purchases "Star Trek" transporter toys for Sheldon and Leonard, and initially, both are content to keep the toys mint-in-box. But, Sheldon's dream consciousness, taking the form of a Spock toy and borrowing Nimoy's voice, convinces Sheldon to take the transporter out of the box and play with it. Sheldon does so (because who wouldn't refuse advice from Spock) and accidentally breaks his toy, so he switches his with Leonard's under the assumption that he would never take it out of the box. Afterward, the dream Spock takes the role of Jiminy Cricket and convinces Sheldon to set things right.

On February 27, 2015, Nimoy passed away at the age of 83 due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (via The New York Times). In 2014, he'd publicly announced that he had the disease and blamed his smoking habit earlier in his life.