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ER Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

When the medical drama "ER" premiered on NBC in 1994, it took the world by storm, quickly becoming one of the most watched and highly beloved shows on the air. This may have come as a surprise to some Hollywood insiders, because the show -– created by "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton, himself a trained doctor -– was not even meant for television in the first place. According to Crichton's website, "ER" was originally written in 1974, with the intent of making a documentary-style movie about the inner workings of an emergency room. When no one wanted to make the movie, it eventually got reshaped into a television pilot, which then became one of the most iconic programs in history.

"ER" rocked the television landscape with its raw, vivid portrayal of the emergency room at the fictional County General Hospital. The characters were complex, the medical cases were fascinating, and the writing was sharp. George Clooney and the rest of the cast catapulted to superstardom, and the show garnered much acclaim. In fact, "ER" is among the most Emmy-nominated programs in history.

"ER" notable not only for how long it ran (from 1994 to 2009), but for having one of the most star-studded casts in history, including both starring roles and guest appearances. Sadly, not all of those cast members are still with us. Here are some "ER" actors you may not know passed away.

Dearon Deezer D Thompson

Dearon Thompson (also known as "Deezer D") appeared in 190 episodes of "ER" as nurse Malik McGrath. He stayed with the show for its full run –- from pilot to finale -– and only three cast members were in more episodes over the years. Nurse McGrath was known for his comedic relief, and for his close friendship with main character Abby Lockhart, played by Maura Tierney. In addition to "ER," Thompson's acting credits include bit roles in movies such as "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion" and "Bringing Down the House." Thompson was also a rapper, with his most notable release being 2008's "Delayed, But Not Denied."

Thompson died on January 7, 2021, at age 55. No official cause of death was revealed, but he had previously undergone open heart surgery and his brother told news outlets he believed the star died of a heart attack. Many of the show's cast paid tribute, most touchingly Noah Wyle. In a heartfelt Instagram post, Wyle wrote, "I lost a dear friend yesterday. Deezer D, known to millions of ER fans as nurse, Malik McGrath, died yesterday morning. He was one of the most creative and charismatic men I've ever known, and his gospel of positivity pulled us both up from many a dark place. I will miss him terribly. Please say a prayer for him and hold a living thought for his family today."

Vanessa Marquez

Not all "ER" cast members went on to successful post-show careers, and Vanessa Marquez's story is one of the sadder ones. Marquez starred as nurse Wendy Goldman, appearing in 27 episodes of "ER" between 1994 and 1997. While her other credits include films like "Stand and Deliver" and a slew of television movies, Marquez was probably most known for claiming that George Clooney had a hand in getting her blacklisted in Hollywood after she complained about racism and sexism on the set of "ER".

Tragically, Marquez is also notable for the way that she died. The actress was shot and killed by police during a welfare check at her home in South Pasadena on August 20, 2018, at age 49. The 911 call was for medical purposes, but armed officers arrived and, believing that Marquez had a gun, fired shots. Her family filed a wrongful death suit, and they were awarded $450,000 in a settlement with the city. 

Glenne Headly

Beloved character actress Glenne Headly starred as Dr. Abby Keaton, a pediatric surgeon, in the third season of "ER." Headly was actually pregnant at the time and, since the pregnancy was not written into the show, she had to wear oversized scrubs and stand behind gurneys in most scenes. The actress eventually left the show when her character went to teach Pakistani surgeons, but not before Dr. Keaton had a secret affair with intern Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle).

Headly was an Emmy-nominated actress, with nominations for her work on two miniseries: 1997's "Bastard Out of Carolina" and 1989's "Lonesome Dove." At the time of her death, she was mid-shoot on a new Hulu show called "Future Man." Headly is also known for her film work, with memorable appearances in movies like "Dick Tracy," "Mr. Holland's Opus," and "Sgt. Bilko." The actress died in Santa Monica on June 8, 2017, from pulmonary emblem complications. She was 62.

Beah Richards

Beulah Richardson –- better known by her stage name Beah Richards -– played Dr. Peter Benton's mother Mae in the first season of "ER." Mae was suffering from dementia, which gave the actress plenty of opportunity to flex her stellar acting chops. Over her four-decade career, Richards starred in many acclaimed films, including "Beloved" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" (the latter of which earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations). She also earned a Tony nomination in 1965 for her role in "The Amen Corner."

Additionally, Richards was a staple of the small screen, appearing on programs such as "The Bill Cosby Show," "Beauty and the Beast," and "227." She won an Emmy in 2000 for her final role, a guest-starring stint on "The Practice" (though she was too sick to attend the ceremony). Richards had a previous Emmy for a guest appearance on "Frank's Place" in 1988. She passed away of emphysema on September 14, 2000, at her home in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she was born. She was 80 years old.

Rosemary Clooney

Rosemary Clooney only appeared in two first-season episodes of "ER," playing Mary Cavanaugh a.k.a. Madame X, a retired singer suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Nonetheless, the actress made a strong mark for two reasons. First, she was related to that other Clooney, George (she was his aunt). Second, her performance was absolutely fantastic, and she went on to earn her third Emmy nomination for the role in 1995.

Clooney is perhaps best known as a singer, starting off in bands before making her first solo record in 1946. She eventually struck out on her own full-time in 1949, and a few years later, skyrocketed to prominence with the release of "Come On-a My House". Frank Sinatra once referred to her as "a symbol of modern American music." Singing led to acting, and Clooney made her movie debut in 1953's "The Stars are Singing." She also hosted "The Rosemary Clooney Show" and starred in movies like 1954's "White Christmas," the Bing Crosby holiday classic. 

Personal issues with drugs and alcohol derailed her career, but Clooney came back strong. In 1996 -– two years after appearing on "ER" –- the legend scored her first #1 album with "Rosemary Clooney's White Christmas." Sadly, she passed away on June 29, 2002, at the age of 74. She had undergone surgery for lung cancer months before, and complications from the cancer were cited for her death.

Red Buttons

There are guest stars, and then there are guest superstars, and Red Buttons was nothing but a superstar. The actor appeared as "Ruby" Rubadoux in five episodes of "ER," beginning in 1995 and ending in 2005. Button's 2005 appearance as the disgruntled patient was his final role before he died, and it earned him an Emmy nomination. It was just one more nomination for the acclaimed comedian and actor.

Buttons came to prominence as a burlesque comedy star, which led to early comedic roles in television and film. Eventually, he was able to transition to drama, even winning an Oscar and Golden Globe for his role in the 1957 film "Sayonara." Buttons was also nominated for two other Golden Globes, for the films "Harlow" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" Other notable roles include Randy Sherman in "The Big Circus" and James Martin in "The Poseidon Adventure." Buttons died in Century City, California, on July 13, 2006, at age 87. Vascular disease was listed as the cause of death.

David Spielberg

Back in 1995, actor David Spielberg played Dr. Neil Bernstein in four episodes of "ER." Dr. Bernstein was the Chief of Pediatrics at the time, and his major storyline involved a clash with Dr. Mark Greene, played by Anthony Edwards. Spielberg was commonly misperceived to be a relative of Stephen Spielberg, though the two were of no relation in actuality. Famous directors aside, the actor made a mark of his own, with 144 credits to his name.

While many people may not know Spielberg by his moniker, it is a fair bet that they have seen some of his work. In particular, Spielberg was prolific with appearances on the small screen. Aside from "ER," Spielberg's other noteworthy television roles include parts in "Wiseguy," "Jessica Novak," "The Practice," "Falcon Crest," and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." He even guest starred on "Baywatch" in three separate roles. On June 1, 2016, Spielberg passed away of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He was 77 years old.

Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae was best known for her role as Edna Garrett on "The Facts of Life," which was a spin-off of "Diff'rent Strokes," where she first played the character. The beloved actress continued to work in television until 2015, and her role on "ER" is one of the standouts on a long list of credits. Rae appeared as Roxanne Gaines in multiple episodes of the medical drama in 2008, toward the end of its run.

Rae received two Tony nominations in the 1960s –- one for Best Featured actress in "Pickwick" and one for Best Actress in "Morning, Noon and Night." She also earned two Emmy nominations, for "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" and "The Facts of Life." She acted all the way up until her late 80s, with roles in "Ricki and the Flash" in 2015 and "Girl Meets World" in 2014. Rae died in Los Angeles on August 5, 2018, at age 92, after multiple bouts with cancer. A year before her death, she discussed her bone cancer diagnosis and her zest for life: "I love life. I've had a wonderful one already ... I've had a great life, but I have so many wonderful things happening. I'd like to choose life. I'm grateful for the life I've already had."

Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine only appeared in two episodes of "ER", but the renowned actor certainly made an impact. He was nominated for an Emmy -– his third career nomination -– for his 2009 guest stint on the show. Borgnine performed in the show's final season (including in the series finale) as Paul Manning, an elderly man whose wife dies in the hospital.

With an illustrious resume spanning over six decades, Borgnine was a staple of television, film, and theatre. He won many awards, including an Oscar in 1955 for the film "Marty" and a Screen Actor's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He is also known for starring on the television show "McHale's Navy," for parts in movies such as "The Wild Bunch," and for voicing Mermaid Man on "SpongeBob SquarePants." Borgnine died of kidney failure at age 95 on July 8, 2012, in Los Angeles.

Edward Matthew Lauter Jr.

Edward Matthew Lauter Jr., known professionally as Ed Lauter, has one of those faces that most television fans will recognize. The productive actor amassed more than 200 credits over the course of his career, most notably in crime dramas and television movies. Amongst his notable turns was his stint as Fire Captain Dannaker on "ER." Lauter appeared in six episodes between 1998 and 2002.

Lauter referred to himself as a character actor and discussed his position in Hollywood with mixed feelings. In an interview with Shock Cinema, he acknowledged he was "recognizable," but that "sometimes people don't know my name. They will say, 'Oh, yeah! There's that guy! You were in ... you were in ...' So, in a way it's good — and in a way it's bad." Lauter's roles were mostly on television ("Shameless," "Psych," "Golden Years," "B.J. and the Bear") and in film ("The Artist," "Trouble With the Curve"), though he did also appear in theatre productions. He passed away in Los Angeles on October 16, 2013, at the age of 74, of mesothelioma. Multiple of his performances have come out posthumously.

James Farentino

Though he had a tumultuous personal life, James Farentino was a talented actor with a strong early resume. Among his roles was that of Ray Ross, the estranged father of Dr. Doug Ross (played by George Clooney) in three episodes of "ER," Farentino was perhaps best known for starring on the shows "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers" and "Dynasty," and for his Emmy-nominated role in the miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth".

Aside from his acting, Farentino was also notorious for a troubled personal life. The actor was arrested for cocaine possession by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while filming in Vancouver in 1991. Two years later, he was charged with stalking Tina Sinatra, daughter of crooner Frank, who he once dated. His final brush with the law came in 2010, when he was arrested for misdemeanor battery in his own home. Farentino died on January 24, 2012, of a heart ailment. He was 73.

Paul Benjamin

Actor Paul Benjamin appeared in three episodes of "ER" –- one in 1994 when the show was first starting, and two in 2002, nearly a decade later. Benjamin's character Al Ervin was a homeless man with a terminal illness who requests the help of Dr. Mark Greene, who is himself dying of brain cancer. He would go on to become one of many patients "ER" brought back years after their first appearance.

Benjamin never quite made it big, but he had a steady stream of roles in television, film, and theatre. He is probably best known for his appearance in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," in which he portrayed ML, one of the three cornermen. His other credits include the television movies "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "Gideon's Trumpet," and films such as "Midnight Cowboy," "The Anderson Tapes," and "The Education of Sonny Carson." Benjamin died in Los Angeles on June 29, 2019, of undisclosed causes. He was 81 years old.

Beverly Polcyn

Beverly Polcyn is another actor who never attained widespread notoriety, though she did gain recognition with a memorable part in the spoof film "Not Another Teen Movie," wherein she made out with Mia Kirshner, nearly 50 years her junior. Years later, in 2009, she appeared on "ER" as Marjorie Manning for two episodes. In the series finale, Polcyn's character dies, with her husband (Ernest Borgnine, also on this list) by her side as she succumbs to sepsis and pulmonary edema.

In addition to "ER" and "Not Another Teen Movie," Polcyn's other acting credits include minor parts in "Date Movie" and "All About Steve." She also made many guest appearances on television, usually in unnamed bit roles. These included parts on "The Neighbors," "Monk," "Malcolm in the Middle," and many more. Though her roles were typically small, she made her mark on set -– even impressing Reese Witherspoon, who once gave her a sweet shoutout on Instagram, commenting upon her energy in a "Legally Blonde" dance sequence (Polcyn was in her 80s at the time). Polcyn passed away in Winnetka, California, on August 18, 2018. She was 90 years old, and her cause of death was never made public.

Mary Mara

Stage and television actress Mary Mara played the recurring role of Loretta Sweet in nine episodes of "ER" during Season 2. Sweet is a sex worker who visits the Cook County General Hospital's emergency room for a variety of reasons; the single mother of two children (one played by "Star Wars" actor Jake Lloyd), Loretta attempts to turn her life around but is thwarted by a diagnosis of terminal cervical cancer.

Mara, who began her career on stage with the New York Shakespeare Festival and in films like "Blue Steel" and "Mr. Saturday Night" (as Billy Crystal's daughter), followed her "ER" stint with two seasons as a series regular in "Nash Bridges" as Inspector Bryn Carson, and episodes of "NYPD Blue," "Ally McBeal," and "Farscape." She remained active on television throughout the 2000s with guest roles on "The West Wing," "Monk," and "Star Trek: Enterprise," and closed the decade with multiple appearances on "Dexter" as informant Valerie Hodges, "Ray Donovan" as the ill-fated wife of James Woods' Patrick Sullivan and "Lost" as Ben's assistant, Jill.

Mara, who retired from acting after appearing in the 2020 indie, "Break Even," was found dead in the St. Lawrence River in Cape Vincent, New York, on June 26, 2022. The 61-year-old Mara's death was attributed to asphyxiation due to drowning and was ruled accidental.

John Aylward

Presiding over Cook County General was Dr. Donald Anspaugh, who served as a surgeon, chief of staff, and board member at the hospital from 1996 to 2008. Gruff by nature but also paternal, especially to John Carter and Abby Lockhart, Anspaugh offered steady support to the series' leads and on occasion, stepped into the spotlight with his own storyline. Chief among these was the death of his son from cancer in Season 4 and his support for Carter's decision to move into emergency medicine.

Seattle-based actor John Aylward, who played Dr. Anspaugh from Seasons 3 through 15 of "ER," was a television and stage veteran who began his on-screen career with the 1976 TV movie, "The Secret Life of John Chapman." Anspaugh was cast on "ER" after co-producer Caroly Flynt saw him in an award-winning turn in "Psychopathia Sexualis" in Los Angeles. The popularity of the NBC series led to more film and TV opportunities, including roles in "Armageddon" and "Thirteen Days" and guest roles in "The X-Files," "3rd Rock from the Sun," "The Practice," and a recurring role as Democratic National Committee chair Barry Goodwin in "The West Wing."

When "ER" closed its doors in 2008, Aylward remained busy with guest roles in "Madmen" and "Yellowstone" as a local preacher, Father Bob. His final screen appearance came with a recurring role in the short-lived Rosario Dawson series, "Briarpatch," in 2019; Aylward died at his home in Seattle at the age of 75 on May 16, 2022.

Sam Vlahos

Character actor Sam Vlahos played Pedro, a homeless man who sought care from Cook County's medical staff in eight episodes of "ER" between Seasons 4 and 9. The character of Pedro was one of the dozens of minor roles on television and in films that Vlahos played between 1960 and 2003, though Pablo was perhaps the longest-running of his many TV assignments. Vlahos also closed his career playing Pablo; his final appearance in Season 9's "The Advocate" was also his last screen role prior to his death in 2011.

Born Sonteron Vhalos to Greek and Mexican parents in San Diego, California, Vhalos became an actor after serving in the U.S. Air Force during the 1950s. He made his debut in a 1960 episode of "Hawaiian Eye" but appeared more frequently on television during the 1970s when he amassed credits in "The Bionic Woman" and "The Rockford Files." Television remained his primary screen showcase throughout the '80s and '90s, and included multiple episodes of "Night Court," "Hunter," and "Santa Barbara," though he also appeared in features like "A Time of Destiny," "The Rapture," and "American History X."

Frequently cast in Latino or Native American roles, Vlahos made his first appearance as Pablo in Season 4's "Good Touch, Bad Touch." He remained active on other series during his "ER" tenure, including appearances in "JAG" and "Touched By an Angel," before retiring from the entertainment industry. Vlahos died after a long illness on September 3, 2011, at the age of 76.

Fred Ward

Golden Globe-winning actor Fred Ward appeared in the 13th season of "ER" as Eddie Wyczenski, the long-estranged father of Abby. Having abandoned the family when Abby was a child, Eddie checks into Cook County under an assumed name in order to reconnect with his daughter. However, the reunion ends on a sour note — father and daughter part more distant than before.

Ward began his acting career in Europe where he dubbed Italian-language films into English. He returned to the United States in the 1970s and worked steadily as blue-collar types in films like "Escape from Alcatraz" before earning his breakout role as doomed astronaut Gus Grissom in Philip Kaufman's "The Right Stuff." That project led to stabs at leading man status, most notably in the title role for "Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues." Though the film was a box office failure, Ward found critical success and audience support for the light touch he brought to sleepers like "Tremors" and "Miami Blues."

Ward reunited with Kaufman to play American writer Henry Miller in "Henry & June" and he soon settled into character turns in such critical and box office hits as Robert Altman's "The Player" and "Short Cuts" before dividing his time between TV and features throughout the 2000s. The former included stints in "Grey's Anatomy" and "True Detective." The news of Ward's death at the age of 79 on May 8, 2022 was met with tributes by peers, co-stars, and fans.

Sonya Eddy

Sonya Eddy played more than her share of nurses over the course of her screen career. Her best-known role is most likely Epiphany Johnson, the head nurse in "General Hospital," but she also held down nurse roles in films like "Seven Pounds" and in shows like "Arli$$" and "Beverly Hills 90210." Given the sheer number of times she played nurses, one might expect that Eddy also played a nurse in her three guest turns on "ER," but the actress played a student affairs secretary in Season 7's "A Walk in the Woods" and a bombastic patient in Season 13's "Somebody to Love" and "Heart of the Matter."

Eddy began her screen career with guest roles in "The Drew Carey Show" in 1995, and quickly added more series to her resume, including "Murphy Brown," "Seinfeld," and "Gilmore Girls." Feature film appearances included "Patch Adams," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," and "Patch Adams." The majority of these assignments were minor roles as secretaries, lunch ladies, and (of course) nurses, but "General Hospital" afforded Eddy a fully realized character and the chance to display her dramatic and comic talents as well as her singing skills.

Her tenure as Johnson ran from 2006 to 2022 and included a foray into the soap's spin-off, "General Hospital: Night Shift" from 2007 and 2008. Eddy, who in real life led a campaign to provide scholarships for nurses during the COVID-19 epidemic, died from an infection after non-emergency surgery on December 19, 2022.

Phyllis Frelich

Tony Award-winning deaf actress Phyllis Frelich appeared in two episodes of "ER" as Dr. Lisa Parks, who provides perspective for Dr. Peter Benton about his own deaf son in Season 5's "Stuck on You." Benton later returned the favor in "Nobody Doesn't Like Amanda Lee," where he helps Dr. Parks convince the ER staff that her granddaughter's illness is more serious than initially diagnosed. The "ER" roles came during a particularly busy time for Frelich, who also appeared in episodes of "Diagnosis: Murder" and "Pacific Blue" during this period.

Frelich was perhaps best known for the original Broadway run of "Children of a Lesser God," which playwright Mark Medoff wrote for her. Medoff won the Tony Award for the film in 1980 and later earned an Emmy nomination for the 1985 TV movie, "Love is Never Silent," which featured fellow deaf actors, Ed Waterstreet and Lou Fant.

Frelich alternated between the stage and television from the 1980s to the 2000s; among the latter credits was a recurring role on "Santa Barbara" as Sister Sarah and guest turns in "LA Law" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" as the mother of William Petersen's Gil Grissom. That episode partnered her with actress Marlee Matlin, who won the Oscar for her performance in the film version of "Children of a Lesser God." The "CSI" guest shot was her final screen appearance: Frelich died at the age of 70 from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), an incurable neurological disease, on April 10, 2014.

Hal Holbrook

Reeling from the loss of his father and the breakup of his relationship with Abby, Goran Visnic's Dr. Luka Kovac leaves County General in an effort to turn his life around. That pursuit lands him at a nursing home, where he meets Walter Perkins, a resident with terminal cancer who provides him with kindly but firm advice and perspective. The role of Walter, which appeared in two episodes of "ER" in Season 14, was played by Oscar nominee and ten-time Emmy nominee, Hal Holbrook.

Holbrook first rose to fame with his one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight!," which saw him wear extensive makeup to play and recite humorous passages by the acclaimed author. Holbrook played Twain in more than 2,000 performances, including a Tony-winning run on Broadway in 1966 and an Emmy-winning TV version in 1967, before retiring the show in 2017. Holbrook won four more Emmys — one for "The Bold Ones: The Senator," two for the 1973 TV movie, "Pueblo," and a fourth for the title role in the 1974-1976 miniseries, "Lincoln." Holbrook's extensive and celebrated screen career included the feature films ""All the President's Men," "The Fog," and "Wall Street," while TV assignments included a series regular role in "Evening Shade" and guest turns in "The West Wing," and "The Sopranos."

In 2007, the 82-year-old Holbrook became one of the oldest actors to receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his turn in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild." That late-inning success led to more film work, including Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Holbrook died of undisclosed causes on January 23, 2021.

George Plimpton

John Carter hailed from a family that while wealthy from a financial standpoint was also poverty-struck when it came to emotional connection. Both of Carter's parents were distant, reserved figures in his life, while his grandfather, John Truman Carter Sr., doled out affection with a dose of disapproval for Carter's decision to become a doctor. Carter's grandfather appeared in two episodes — Season 4's "My Brother's Keeper," where he castigated Carter for not protecting his drug-addicted cousin, and Season 7's "Thy Will Be Done." In both episodes, the elder Carter was played by George Plimpton.

A unique figure in the annals of journalism and popular culture, Plimpton was best known in literary circles as the editor of the acclaimed journal, The Paris Review, a position he held from 1953 to 2003. But it was his adventures in the sports world and other pursuits, chronicled in the pages of Sports Illustrated and in several books, that made Plimpton something of a household name. He sparred with boxing legends Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson, played exhibition games for the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts, served as goalie for the Boston Bruins, battled Arnold Palmer on the PGA tour, and pitched in a post-season game for the New York Yankees.

Among Plimpton's screen credits were episodes of "The Simpsons" and "Wings" and turns in features like "Good Will Hunting," "Nixon," and "Reds." His commercial output included well-remembered spots for Mattel's Intellivision system in the 1980s. He died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 76 on September 25, 2003.