Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Boy Meets World Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Boy Meets World" is a coming-of-age comedic television show that aired on ABC and ran for 158 episodes across seven seasons. Fans watched Cory Matthews, played by Ben Savage, grow up as he learned to navigate middle school, high school, and finally college, all the while surrounded by his family, friends, and lovable teacher George Feeny. The show certainly left an impact on '90s kids, largely thanks to the memorable performances of Ben Savage, Rider Strong as Cory's best friend Shawn, and Danielle Fishel as Cory's love interest Topanga. The show's cast even reunited at Fan Expo Boston in 2019, signifying just how eager fans are to see the original cast back together again. 

The main cast drew in audiences every week, but the show's healthy rotation of recurring characters and guest stars made for an exciting array of talent across the show's run. While many of the "Boy Meets World" alumni have gone on to have roles in the revival series "Girl Meets World," which debuted 14 years after the finale of "Boy Meets World," there are many electric performers and side-splitting actors who never got a chance to appear in the new Disney Channel show. Here are actors you might not have realized passed away since participating in "Boy Meets World."

Brittany Murphy

In the episode "My Best Friend's Girl" and "The Last Temptation of Cory," Brittany Murphy plays Trini, Topanga's eccentric best friend. In the first of the episodes, Shawn asks Topanga out before Cory, so Cory asks out her friend Trini in a futile attempt to make Topanga jealous despite not really liking Trini. In the "Last Temptation of Cory," Murphy reprises her role, checking on her sick friend Topanga. 

Though Trini's problem was that no one really "got" her, Murphy certainly found her place in television. While she had some success appearing on shows like "Sister, Sister," "Drexel's Class," and "Almost Home," her most recognizable roles came along with the Fox animated sitcom "King of the Hill." She portrayed both the teenage Joseph Gribble and Luanne Platter, Hank and Peggy's niece taken in after her mother got sent to jail and her dad left the trailer park for an oil rig. Unfortunately, Murphy died after collapsing in her home in 2009. The autopsy suggested that her death was the result of an unfortunate combination of medications, but the exact causes of her death are unclear and have led to some controversy.

Peter Tork

In the Season 2 episode "Career Day," Peter Tork appears as Topanga's father, Jedidiah Lawrence. As Cory's dad stands in the wings waiting for his turn to present to the class, Jedidiah explains that he is a luthier, specifically a guitar maker who makes instruments for a bunch of famous rock stars. In the Season 3 episode "Rave On," Jedidiah is commissioned by Mrs. Matthews to make a guitar for Mr. Matthews in celebration of their 20th anniversary. He also plays music at the end of the episode, playing the happy couple's favorite song, "My Girl."

One of the reasons this latter appearance is significant is because of Peter Tork's background in music. Tork was a member of The Monkees, a rock band made for a sitcom about the struggles of a musical group trying to make it. While in the band, Tork played the bass and keyboard mostly. However, for various recordings, he also played the banjo and the harpsichord. In 2009, Tork wrote publicly about his diagnosis with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the mouth and throat that ultimately took his life in 2018.

Paul Gleason

In the Season 5 episodes "Fraternity Row" and "It's Not You... It's Me," Paul Gleason plays the no-nonsense Dean Borak at Pennbrook University. In the former episode, he ends up busting Eric's self-made fraternity, Magna Pi. In "It's Not You... It's Me," Eric tries to get out of writing a paper by cozying up to Dean Borak. 

Playing an uncompromising tough guy wasn't a novel experience that began with "Boy Meets World." In "Die Hard," Gleason plays Dwayne T. Robinson, an LAPD deputy who does little to help John McClane deal with Hans Gruber. Part of the reason Gleason feels so at home in the role of Dean Borak is likely due to the actor's more famous performance as a humorless school administrator in "The Breakfast Club," in which he played Vice Principal Vernon. Gleason also appeared in "All My Children," "Malcolm In the Middle," "Friends," and "Seinfeld." According to The Telegraph, he died of mesothelioma in 2006, likely from working with his father on construction sites in his teenage years.

Anne Haney

In Season 7, after Cory and Topanga spend the night of their wedding in jail, they try to find some time to relax on their tropical honeymoon. Anne Haney makes an appearance in the episode as Mrs. Nelson, an older woman staying at the same island resort with her husband. 

Haney is most widely known not for her single appearance in "Boy Meets World" but instead for her roles in "Mrs. Doubtfire," as the family court supervisor, as the secretary in "The American President," and as Greta in "Liar Liar." Haney didn't get these and other roles by being a born-and-raised actor. Her route to the silver and small screens was a touch unusual. As she was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, "My husband died, my daughter went to college, the dog got fleas and the maid quit. So I had to come to Hollywood." In 2001, after 23 years of acting, Haney died of congestive heart failure in her home at the age of 67.

Buddy Hackett

In his appearance in the Season 4 "Boy Meets World" episode "Easy Street," Hackett plays Mr. Fontini, a big tipper at the restaurant Cory recently got a job at. While Shawn works the early morning shift at the docks in December, Cory makes cinnamon cappuccinos and gets 20-dollar tips from Mr. Fontini and his associate. However, it's not until Fontini begins asking more of Cory, delivering unmarked envelopes to suspicious mailboxes, that Shawn puts together that Cory is working for a member of the mob. 

Hackett didn't begin his comedic career with the '90s ABC sitcom, and it certainly wasn't his first time using ethnic stereotypes to deliver his punchlines. Posthumously described by The Chicago Tribune as "edgy" and "skating on the thin ice of ethnic humor and sex jokes," Hackett made a name for himself in the '50s and '60s. A natural entertainer, Hackett's routines took him from live standup routines to Broadway shows to films like "The Music Man," "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," and even "The Little Mermaid," where he voiced Scuttle. He even had his own NBC sitcom. Though he was once a fixture of late-night talk shows, Hackett largely withdrew from the public eye as he dealt with various health problems. According to The New York Times, Hackett died in 2003, likely from a history of heart disease, though he also experienced a stroke in the days before he passed, according to his son.

Julius Carry

In the fifth season's "Fraternity Row," Julius Carry plays a college philosophy teacher who takes a liking to his newest student, Shawn Hunter, who is skipping high school classes to attend undergraduate ones. However, Carry's character gives him an F on an essay due to his poor grasp of grammar and syntax. In the show's seventh season, Carry played the part of Angela's father, Sgt. Alan Moore, and appeared in two episodes: "Angela's Men" and "Angela's Ashes."

Carry was a character actor known for his role as the antagonist Sho'Nuff in "The Last Dragon," a 1985 martial arts comedy film. He is also known for his role as the bounty hunter Lord Bowler in "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.," which starred Bruce Campbell as a lawyer-turned-bounty hunter in the wild west of 1893. In 2008, Carry died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56, according to Variety. Carry's death was acknowledged in "Girl Meets World," where his character, Sgt. Alan Moore, is said to have died as well.

Gisele MacKenzie

The Season 1 episode "Boy Meets Girl" starts with an ancient educational film shown to Mr. Feeny's class titled "Hormones: The Telegram System of the Body." Unfortunately, the message about puberty and the oncoming romantic interest in girls is largely rejected by Cory, who wants to stay 12 years old forever. According to the Los Angeles Times, Gisele MacKenzie, who was once hailed as Canada's First Lady of Song, makes a brief guest appearance in the episode as the narrator of the film that even Cory's dad remembers from when he was 12. 

MacKenzie grew up as the daughter of a musician, and thus pursued music from an early age. Not satisfied with simply singing, MacKenzie also played the piano and the violin. In 1946, her low contralto singing range earned her a 15-minute radio show with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. In 1953, she appeared on "The Jack Benny Show" after having toured with the comedian the year prior. She also made regular appearances on "The Sid Caesar Show" and played a recurring role on "Your Hit Parade" from 1953 to 1957. She even hosted her very own musical variety show, "The Gisele MacKenzie Show," from 1957 to 1958. Though she appeared in other fictional television shows like "MacGyver" and "Murder, She Wrote," her appearance on "Boy Meets World" was her last acting job. Though she still performed after she was diagnosed with colon cancer, she passed away at the age of 76 in 2003.

Rue McClanahan

In the episode "Grandma Was a Rolling Stone," Alan's mother, played by Rue McClanahan, makes an unexpected stop by the house. Though she takes Cory's younger sister out shopping and Eric to an auto show, she ends up leaving early before she can take Cory to a baseball game to get Cal Ripken's autograph on his baseball card. In the end, she comes back and promises to do something really special for Cory the next time she comes into town. Unfortunately for Cory, this was McClanahan's only appearance on the show.

Though she began her performing career on the stage, McClanahan became more well known for her eventual career in television. She played Fran Crowley in "Mama's Family," where she co-starred with Betty White, and played Maude's best friend Vivian on the sitcom "Maude," which starred Bea Arthur. However, her most recognizable role was in a television show starring Arthur, White, and McClanahan as well as Estelle Getty: "The Golden Girls." In the show, she played the man-loving Southern belle Blanche Devereaux, a role that earned her an Emmy in 1987. In 2010, McClanahan died of a stroke, according to People.

Dick Van Patten

In the Season 4 episode "You Can Go Home Again," Eric takes Cory on a summer road trip. However, after not getting into college, he decides he doesn't want to go back home, since there's nothing there for him. After he takes the car keys from Cory, Cory decides to try walking back to Philadelphia. An Amish farmer passes and offers to take him as far as his farmhouse down the road. 

Though his character ultimately wasn't able to help Cory out, Dick Van Patten was a talented character actor who helped many people laugh over the years. He is most well known for his role as Tom Bradford in "Eight is Enough," an ABC show that ran from 1977 to 1981 and focused on a family with eight children. Van Patten also appeared in many films, including "Freaky Friday," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," and "Spaceballs." According to The New York Times, Van Patten's 2015 death was due to complications arising from his diabetes.

Dick O'Neill

In the Season 4 episode "I Ain't Gonna Spray Lettuce No More," Alan decides that he isn't satisfied continuing to work as a grocery store manager, so he quits. Since Eric didn't get into college after graduating high school, the father and son strike out together in search of work opportunities. In the end, the family goes to an outdoor equipment store, and Alan ends up the owner after Amy buys the place. The reason she was able to? The previous owner, played by O'Neill, wants to keep the store a family business. 

O'Neill is known primarily for playing the role of Charlie Cagney in the television show "Cagney & Lacey," though he also appeared in "The Jerk," "The Mosquito Coast," and "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three." According to the Los Angeles Times, having been an avid theater performer his whole life, he met his wife performing in a production of "The Sound of Music." In 1988, just two years after his appearance on "Boy Meets World," O'Neill died of heart failure.

Phyllis Diller

A mysterious creature bites Cory after a wolf is reported missing from the zoo in the Season 2 episode "Who's Afraid of Cory Wolf." He goes to a fortune-teller after his brother convinces him that he's now a werewolf. The woman who tells Cory's fortune is Madame Ouspenskaya, played by Phyllis Diller. 

Diller's entire comedic schtick when she first started doing stand-up in the 1950s was, according to People, "her lousy housekeeping." Her television debut was on Groucho Marx's quiz show "You Bet Your Life" in 1958. As a comedian, she earned appearances on "The Tonight Show" in 1958 as it was hosted by Jack Paar and later in 1959 with Bob Hope on his television shows. From there, Diller became a trailblazer for women everywhere, wanting to break into the comedy scene. Diller soon became a fixture of late-night talk shows and even got her own show, "The Phyllis Diller Show," which ran from 1966 to 1967. Known for her self-deprecating humor and her exaggerated cackle, Diller had an extremely successful career in television, films, and on stage, where she played the lead role in "Hello Dolly!" for three months starting in December 1969. 

Unfortunately, a heart attack in 1999 persuaded Diller to step back from entertaining, though she didn't quit all at once. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 95.

Pat Morita

In the Season 3 episode "I Was a Teenage Spy," Cory electrocutes himself and, in his unconscious escapades, travels back to 1957, where his knowledge of the Russian space program labels him a Soviet spy. In a last-ditch effort to return to the present, Cory is taken to the mystical Wise Man, played by Pat Morita, who readily dispenses advice. 

The episode contains a few references to Morita's career. Right before Cory is electrocuted, Mr. Feeny's line references "Happy Days," the hit ABC sitcom that ran from the 1970s through into the 1980s, where Morita played the role of Mitsumo "Arnold" Takahashi, the owner of the drive-in and restaurant where the main characters constantly hang out. While some may recognize Morita from "Happy Days," his fame peaked when he portrayed Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid." According to an essay written by his daughter, "The first Karate Kid film was both his most rewarding and most damning experience in show business ... The weight and loneliness of fame ultimately destroyed him." Though he starred in "the first Asian-American network sitcom" after "The Karate Kid," Morita was "never allowed a chance to prove his mettle in Hollywood due to the lack of roles for ethnic actors." After a lifetime of battling an addiction to alcohol, Morita experienced kidney failure after multiple infections and died in October 2005.

Ray Colcord

A unique entry to this list, Ray Colcord never made an in-person appearance in any "Boy Meets World" episode. However, Colcord's work was evident in every episode of the series. All 158 episodes of the show had their music composed by Colcord, himself a veteran of the television and film industry. Even the follow-up series exploring Cory and Topanga's exploits raising their daughter and son, "Girl Meets World," had 49 episodes composed by Colcord. 

While Colcord's impact on the story of Cory Matthews is significant, his career contribution to the music in popular film and television media goes further. In 1991, Colcord won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music for the show "Singer & Sons." According to a writeup in the Society of Composers and Lyricists, after getting a position at A&R Records, he performed on Don McLean's seminal album "American Pie" and "was the first to hear Aerosmith and convince Clive Davis to sign them." 

For four long years, Roy kept working despite a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. In addition to writing music for "Girl Meets World," Colcord kept up his running hobby, including participating in several Los Angeles marathons, despite physical weakness resulting from his illness.