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King Of The Hill Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

The Fox animated sitcom "King of the Hill" premiered on January 12, 1997. The brainchild of "Beavis and Butthead" creator Mike Judge and "The Simpsons" writer Greg Daniels, the show centers on propane (and propane accessories) salesman Hank Hill (Mike Judge), his wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy), son Bobby (Pamela Adlon), and their suburbanite neighbors in fictional Arlen, Texas. Though animated, like its Sunday night stablemates "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," the show keeps a more grounded approach to its storytelling, rarely making an episode that could not have been done in live-action. Its common sense family values cut across political lines, even as it tackles issues like racism, misogyny, conspiracy theories, and George W. Bush's limp handshake.

The show ended its run in 2010, though a revival season may be in the works. If a reboot does happen, it will, unfortunately, have to happen without a few cast members who have passed away — some of whom made short, notable appearances, while others were core members of the show's ensemble. Let's take a look at some "King of the Hill" actors you may not know have died.

Carl Reiner

Comedy legend Carl Reiner made his first of two appearances on "King of the Hill" in the Season 2 episode "The Unbearable Blindness of Laying," playing Gary Kasner, a gregarious Arizona retiree and Hank's mother's new boyfriend. While Hank struggles with the thought of his mother dating, the rest of the family is enchanted by Gary — especially Bobby, who begins to imitate Gary's Yiddish-inflected speech patterns. When Hank accidentally walks in on his mother and Gary making love, the shock of it makes him go temporarily blind.

Writer/director/actor Reiner was one of the great comedy minds of the 20th century, working in film, theatre, and making a lasting impact on the golden age of television. While starring on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," he made a lifelong friendship with fellow icon Mel Brooks, and the two worked together for decades. Reiner created "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in 1961 and adapted his own novel "Enter Laughing" for film in 1967. His collaboration with Steve Martin resulted in comedy classics "The Jerk," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," and "The Man with Two Brains." In later years he was best known for Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" films and for his active Twitter account. Reiner died on June 29, 2020, at the age of 98.

Tammy Wynette

1970s country music superstar Tammy Wynette voiced Hank's mother Tilly in Season 2 for the episodes "The Unbearable Blindness of Laying" and "Peggy's Turtle Song." Hank idolizes Tilly as the perfect mother even when reality doesn't bear that out, as in "Turtle Song," when a Mother's Day phone call reveals that Tilly did not in fact enjoy every minute of raising Hank, as we for some reason believed. Unfortunately, these were the only two episodes to feature Wynette, who died in her sleep on April 6, 1998. Tilly was voiced by actress Beth Grant in one Season 3 episode, and then by K Callan for the remainder of the series.

Born Virginia Pugh in a small town near Tupelo, Mississippi in 1942, Wynette had a string of megahits in the late 1960s and 1970s, including "Stand By Your Man" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." She was married five times, most notably to fellow country music star George Jones from 1969 to 1975. During the 1980s her career waned due to changing musical tastes and her own issues with painkiller addiction, but in 1991 was awarded the TNN/Music City News Living Legend Award and made several appearances on shows like "Married with Children" and "Evening Shade," often as herself or a thinly veiled version of herself.

Lane Smith

Memphis-born character actor Lane Smith appeared on "King of the Hill" three times as different characters, most notably in the Season 4 episode "Meet the Propaniacs." Bobby starts a propane-themed comedy troupe alongside Dale (Johnny Hardwick), Luanne (Brittany Murphy), and some of Hank's co-workers at Strickland Propane. They tour the other Strickland locations around Texas and land a gig at the Texas Propane Dealers Association convention. But when a routine involving Hank and propane bigwig Charlie Fortner (Smith) ends in disaster, the Propaniacs are forced to hang up their tanks.

After a stint in the Army, Smith studied acting in New York at the famed Actor's Studio before making his Broadway debut in 1959. He played the lead in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" off-Broadway for 650 performances and won a 1984 Drama Desk award for his role in the original Broadway production of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross." On screen, he was arguably best known as the prosecuting attorney facing off against Joe Pesci in 1992's "My Cousin Vinny" and as Daily Planet editor Perry White in "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." Smith died in 2005 from complications due to ALS.

Mac Davis

Singer-songwriter Mac Davis had a long career in film and television, in addition to his work as a musician. He made several appearances on "King of the Hill" as various characters, including Heimlich County Sheriff Buford in the Season 4 nail-biter "High Anxiety," in which a cocktail waitress who has taken a shine to Hank ends up dead. Hank, meanwhile, is preoccupied with the fact that he accidentally took a puff of marijuana from her roommate.

Born in 1942 in Lubbock, Texas, Davis took off for Atlanta and later Los Angeles, writing songs for Nancy Sinatra and Elvis Presley, who scored late-career hits with Davis-penned "A Little Less Conversation" and "In the Ghetto." His biggest solo hit was the 1972 crossover success "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me," which was covered by Rascal Flatts decades later. Davis hosted his own variety show in 1974 and was a frequent musical guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" throughout the '70s and '80s. In 1979 he made his film debut in the Nick Nolte football picture "North Dallas Forty," and worked steadily as a character actor until his death in 2020 due to complications from heart surgery.

John Ritter

Comedy actor John Ritter voiced Eugene Grandy, Landry Middle School's haughty band teacher and academic decathlon coach, on four episodes across the run of the show. His final episode, Season 8's "Stressed for Success," aired several months after his death in September 2003 and is dedicated in his honor.

Born in 1948, Ritter seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, the movie cowboy Tex Ritter. "I was the class clown, but also the student body president," he told the Associated Press in 1992 (via Variety). After a few small roles in film and television during the early 1970s, he rocketed to stardom as Jack Tripper on the 1976 ABC sitcom "Three's Company," alongside Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt. After the show ended in 1984, he kept working steadily, appearing in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King's "IT," as well as in the films "Stay Tuned" and "Problem Child." In 1996 he earned raves for his supporting turn in Billy Bob Thornton's breakout film "Sling Blade"; the two would reteam in 2003 for "Bad Santa." Ritter was working on the set of his sitcom "8 Simple Rules" on September 11, 2003 when he fell ill and was taken to the hospital; he died later that night from an undiagnosed heart ailment.

Eloy Casados

California-born character actor Eloy Casados appeared on several episodes of "King of the Hill" in the first four seasons as Strickland Propane employee Enrique. In later seasons, Enrique would be voiced by actor Danny Trejo.

Casados got his start in small roles in film and television productions like the Robert Forster and Lauren Hutton romance "Pieces of Dreams" and the TV movie "Mustang." In 1978, he scored the title role in the television movie "Ishi: The Last of His Tribe," also starring Dennis Weaver. His career continued throughout the '80s and '90s with small featured roles in "Cloak and Dagger," the Cheech Marin vehicle "Born in East L.A.," and the Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke flop "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man." While he was voicing Enrique, Casados also had a recurring role as Sheriff Sam Coyote on "Walker, Texas Ranger." His last role was in a Southwestern adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Casados passed away on April 19, 2016.

Henry Gibson

When Peggy gets a job at the local newspaper, the Arlen Bystander, she becomes embroiled in a somewhat one-sided competition with nattily dressed, one-eyed reporter Bob Jenkins, voiced by veteran comedy actor Henry Gibson. Fond of bemused commentary and lofty quotations, Jenkins isn't always the most creative wordsmith, as when he nicknames a mysterious protestor (Dale, naturally) flaunting Arlen's new anti-smoking laws "The Smoking Bandit."

Born in 1935, James Bateman took the stage name Henry Gibson as a jokey reference to the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Gibson was a member of the original cast of "Laugh-In" from 1967-71. He voiced Wilbur the Pig in the celebrated 1973 animated adaptation of "Charlotte's Web" and was a favorite collaborator of director Robert Altman, appearing in several of his films, including "Nashville" as vain country music star Haven Hamilton. Gibson split his time between film and television, making memorable appearances in "The Blues Brothers" and "The 'Burbs" in the 1980s, Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" and the Nickelodeon cartoon "Rocket Power" in the '90s, and "Wedding Crashers" and the law dramedy "Boston Legal" in the 2000s. Gibson released two comedy albums in the 1960s, and his comedic poems from "Laugh-In" were collected into a book titled "A Flower Child's Garden of Verses." Gibson died in 2009 at age 73.

Fred Willard

Legendary funnyman Fred Willard appeared on "King of the Hill" several times, mostly playing Officer Brown, an Arlen city cop assigned to Tom Landry Middle School, where Bobby attends. Working out of a custodial closet, his days of chasing and shooting criminals are mostly behind him, though he gets a chance at redemption in the Season 12 episode "Cops and Robert," where Hank is attacked by a deranged man whose wallet Hank accidentally stole.

Born in 1933, Willard got his start with Chicago's famed Second City comedy troupe in 1965 and spent the next 55 years making over 300 appearances in film and television. In 1977 he starred with Martin Mull in the Norman Lear-created talk show parody "Fernwood Tonight," playing a smarmy, oblivious showbiz phony — a type of role he would return to often. Willard and Mull reunited nearly 20 years later on the sitcom "Roseanne," with Willard playing Mull's fiancé. A small role in "This Is Spinal Tap" led to a long and hilarious collaboration with filmmaker Christopher Guest in the semi-improvised films "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show," and "A Mighty Wind." In his last years he was still working steadily in both live-action and animation, appearing on the Netflix shows "Space Force" and "I Think You Should Leave," while also lending his voice to Disney Junior's "Mickey and the Roadster Racers." Willard died in 2020 at age 86.

Dennis Burkley

Character actor Dennis Burkley voiced Landry Middle School's Principal Moss on 35 episodes over the entire run of "King of the Hill." Usually just on hand for a scene or two, dispensing disinterested or downright bad advice to students and parents alike, Burkley got the chance to shine in the Season 13 episode "Bill Gathers Moss." When Hank discovers that Moss is living at the school following his divorce, he suggests that Moss move in with chronic sad sack Bill Dauterive (Stephen Root). What starts out as an ideal situation becomes a nightmare as Moss reveals himself to be a slob, an inconsiderate roommate, and a surprising lothario.

Born in California in 1945 but raised outside of Dallas, Texas, Burkley played a fair share of thugs, bikers, and rednecks on shows like "The Dukes of Hazzard," "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and the short-lived "Sanford" starring Redd Foxx. He played barfly Mac Slattery on 85 episodes of the Norman Lear soap opera parody "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," and had memorable roles in Peter Bogdanovich's "Mask" and the Sylvester Stallone flop "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot." Burkley died in his sleep in July 2013.

Tom Petty

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Tom Petty was not a very experienced actor before joining the cast of "King of the Hill" in Season 8 as Lucky, the local redneck who would eventually marry and raise a family with Peggy's niece Luanne (Brittany Murphy). He had made cameos in the 1987 Alan Rudolph reincarnation romance "Made in Heaven" and in Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" follow-up, "The Postman." He also played himself on an episode of "The Larry Sanders Show" and in countless music videos. But voicing a full character, much less a brand new character on a long-established show, was a tall order. Nevertheless, Petty excelled, and Lucky's slightly disreputable but ultimately sweet demeanor fit him like a glove.

By the time he brought Lucky to life, Florida native Petty was already a rock music legend several times over, from his work with The Heartbreakers, as a solo artist, and as a member of supergroup The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and occasional voice actor George Harrison. Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 1996 he was awarded the George and Ira Gershwin Award from UCLA. Petty died of a heart attack in his home on October 2, 2017.

Brittany Murphy

"Clueless" star Brittany Murphy was part of the cast of "King of the Hill" from the very beginning, voicing Hank and Peggy's live-in niece Luanne Platter, as well as Dale's son Joseph for the first four seasons; when Joseph goes through puberty in Season 5, Murphy's "Clueless" boyfriend Breckin Meyer took over the role. Murphy auditioned for the role when she was 17, and kept working on the show even as her star rose and feature projects took up more of her time. "I call it my work job," she told Sidewalks Entertainment in a 2005 interview. "I love the show and think it's one of, if not the best-written show on TV."

While recording "King of the Hill" twice a week, Murphy appeared in films such as "Drop Dead Gorgeous" and "Riding in Cars with Boys." In 2002 she starred with Eminem in his semi-autobiographical film "8 Mile" and hosted "Saturday Night Live." As the 2000s continued, however, Murphy began to be known more for her tabloid coverage than her film roles. Her 2007 marriage to writer Simon Monjack raised eyebrows, with some friends and family believing he was forcing her to lose weight and change her appearance to be a more bankable star. On the morning of December 20, 2009, Murphy's mother found her unresponsive; she was later pronounced dead of a combination of pneumonia, anemia, and drug use. A Lifetime Original Movie about Murphy's life and death aired in 2014, and in 2021 HBO aired a documentary, "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?"

Johnny Hardwick

Texas comedian Johnny Hardwick worked on "King of the Hill" behind the scenes as both a writer and story editor, but fans of the show knew him best as Dale Gribble, the chainsmoking, endlessly paranoid exterminator and conspiracy theorist. With his balding head hidden under a Mack Truck baseball cap and his beady eyes behind a pair of Unabomber-esque reflector shades, Dale lives to tell Hank, Bill, Boomhauer, and whoever else will listen all about the dark, sinister forces controlling the world. And yet, he is so clueless that he hasn't figured out that his son Joseph looks nothing like him, but everything like his wife Nancy's masseur John Redcorn. Like the marble-mouthed womanizer Boomhauer, Dale was something of a one-joke character at first, but grew and deepened as the show went on, eventually becoming the beloved husband and father that he always thought he was, and even bonding with John Redcorn over a shared mistrust of the Federal government.

Hardwick in many ways was Dale. The character was designed by Mike Judge and his animators based on his actual appearance, and years later, Hardwick revived the character (and Dale's alter ego Rusty Shackleford) for dozens of videos on his popular YouTube channel. Dale was in many ways his life's work; he never took another television role after "King of the Hill" ended in 2010, and was scheduled to be a part of the recently-announced revival series. In August 2023 Hardwick was found dead at his Austin home; he was 64 years old.