In Memoriam: How To Respectfully Handle Losing An Actor In An Active Show
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In Memoriam: How To Respectfully Handle Losing An Actor In An Active Show

By Jodi Clager | Seriously Random Lists | July 15, 2013 | Comments ()


I’ve seen it mentioned in other places: What will “Glee” do to say goodbye to Finn, the character played by Cory Monteith? Will it be handled with the same idiocy and lack of good sense as the Gun Violence episode? Or will it be handled in a way that is both respectful of the character and of the actor? Will the cast and the audience be allowed to grieve for the man under pretense of saying goodbye to the character? If “Glee” wants to handle this terrible situation correctly, they have a few examples to look to for inspiration.

Phil Hartman: “NewsRadio”

Phil Hartman played Bill McNeal, the abrasive, loudmouthed, and beloved radio anchor of the show. When Hartman was murdered by his wife, who then committed suicide, the show had to make a decision. Do they give Bill McNeal, and Hartman, a proper goodbye or do they pretend that he moved? The fifth season premiere chose to give a proper goodbye. We join the characters as they return from Bill’s funeral and listen to Catherine (Khandi Alexander) read personal messages from his will. Matthew (Andy Dick) refuses to believe Bill is dead and insists that he is just in hiding.

As I am unable to find a clip for you, I would point you to Amazon where you can watch the full episode, “Bill Moves On”. Hartman is mourned with laughter, tears, and a keen understanding of the hole left behind, both in the show and in our lives.

John Ritter: “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”

When Ritter passed suddenly from an aortic dissection, his television family lost their father. His character Paul Hennessy died after collapsing in a grocery store while buying milk. The episode dealing with the death of the family’s patriarch began with bickering of siblings and normalcy before punching the audience in the gut with loss. The show may not have been for everyone, but Ritter was a gifted actor and physical comedian who deserved more than a Cousin Oliver.

John Spencer: The West Wing

John Spencer played Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff. When Spencer died from a heart attack, his character did the same on election night. Since Spencer had completed two shows that had not yet aired, co-star Martin Sheen appeared before one of the finished episodes to pay tribute to his castmate and friend:

“Good evening. On December 16 we lost our good friend and colleague John Spencer. Through our shock and grief, we can think of no more fitting memorial to this wonderful man, this extraordinary actor, than to share with you, beginning tonight, the last few months of his work here on The West Wing. Johnny, it seems we hardly knew you, we love you and we miss you.”

Larry Hagman: Dallas

The resurrected prime time soap opera lost Larry Hagman, who played family patriarch J.R. Ewing, to complications from myelodysplastic syndrome due to throat cancer treatments. The show changed their opening credits in tribute to Hagman and then paid respect to the man and the character with a touching eulogy from Sue Ellen (Linda Grey), J.R.’s longtime love and Hagman’s longtime castmate.

Will Lee: “Sesame Street”

Will Lee played Mr. Hooper on the beloved PBS show. When Lee passed away, the show decided it was an opportunity to present death to children in a way that didn’t talk down to them or feed them lies. Big Bird, with his questions and his grief, stood in for a generation of children learning what it really means when someone dies.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Al Batross

    I thought The Wire's send-off to Richard DeAngelis' character when he passed away was pretty special.

  • T_A_R

    The Wire also dealt with Robert Colesberry's death well, a double blow to the show given his role on the production end. Oddly, Ray Cole's wake was might be one of the more "upbeat" moments for The Wire...

  • Penny Marie Sautereau

    Over three decades later, I still can't watch that Sesame Street segment without bawling like a child.

  • Protoguy

    You forgot Sparticus. Oh wait, they didn't do anything, did they?

  • CarlyQ

    You jerks just had to include Mr. Hooper, didn't you? I'm a blubbering mess.

  • smijca

    Lost dad in March of this year to a heart attack. Spent my lunch break watching the "8 Simple Rules" clips and dammit if it doesn't feel like just yesterday. The whole Katey not able to walk into/sleep in their room also rang so true as I remember seeing mom struggle to gather the courage to finally spend a night alone in hers. Death sucks donkey balls.

  • Lovely Bones

    The tribute to Mako Iwamatsu during the anthology episode of Avatar is very brief and simple, gracefully executed, but it's as much of an emotional gut punch by itself as the moment it accompanies in the series.

  • They showed "Tales of Ba Sing Se" the other day, and I bawled like a baby by the end of Uncle's tale. I do, every time, and I've seen it more times than I can say.

  • Crisy

    I've recently lost my dad to cancer, after battling it once successful, it came back with a vengeance and took him from us within two weeks.. he was strong and stoic until the very end, the only time he broke down was when my mom broke something in the kitchen, that he would have fixed in a second, came in and sobbed while resting her head on his large burly chest 'what am I going to do without you'

    The John Ritter video made me cry so many tears, I am in a high powered corporate job but I don't give a fudge. Sometimes you just have to feel it!

  • Protoguy

    Sorry to hear he lost his fight and that you lost him.

  • emmalita

    Sorry for your loss. I went through that 2 years ago with my mom. I still get attacked by the feels when I remember the look on my dad's face the first time he brought the mail in after my mom died.

  • PerpetualIntern


  • chanohack

    I'm sorry you lost him.

  • I had the most macabre thought this morning. When thinking about how Glee would handle this episode, I thought, "I might have to actually watch it and see." And then I thought about that episode being the highest ratings they'll see in years, and that somewhere some unfeeling executive is smiling about that. It nearly made me vomit.

    I have no personal stake in that show or these actors, but they're human beings who have lost a dear friend. I've seen that quite recently in my personal life, and the thought of what these people are facing makes me want to curl up and cry.

  • chanohack

    They should donate the proceeds for that episode to a rehab center. (Do episodes work like that?)

  • I doubt it, but they could donate profits from song sales on iTunes, which I think is still a thing. Of course, as I understand it, they haven't proven yet that it was drugs, though it seems most likely.

  • N

    Cory Monteith was very involved with a charity called Project Limelight, so it would be lovely if they could give proceeds to that cause.

  • Jezzer

    Suddenly Susan was a completely mediocre sitcom, but when one of its supporting cast members, David Strickland, killed himself, the show managed to put out one of the most moving tribute episodes I've seen.

  • The Replicant Brooke
  • Guest

    All the feels!

  • Modernlove

    Why did I think it was a good idea to watch any of these before work? The Ritter one will always just gut me. Always.

  • apsutter

    It's weird but Phil Hartman's death still feels like an open wound. Anytime I catch a show that he's a part of it stings just the same.

    And Katey Segal reacting to John's death is just so freaking sad. Like we were talking about in the other thread I'm a big fan of farewell episodes. It lets the audience and the actors all say goodbye and grieve together. Just moving the show along and not mentioning the character anymore just feels wrong. These are characters that meant something to many people and it's a disservice to act like they just disappeared.

  • yocean

    the Mr. Hooper got me weepy. damn PBS, you mourn hard and sweet.

  • trixie

    Damn, I was doing ok until the Sesame Street one. I think that's because when we lose someone we love a small part of us is still a little kid asking "Why?" and saying "It's not fair!" Now I'm a slobbery mess.

  • cicatricella

    I was pretty wee when that episode first aired & I remember watching it then. Still gets me in the gut.

  • SottoVoce

    I miss Phil Hartman's humor.

  • manting

    hardly a day goes by that I dont qoute a Hartman line from the simpsons. The planet of the apes "the musical" episode is one of my all time favorites. "I can sing!" He sure could.

  • Can I play the piano anymore?
    Of course you can.
    Well I couldn't before!

  • SottoVoce

    I haven't seen that in years. Thanks for posting it.

  • Tinkerville

    He really was one of a kind. He could show up in a movie for a hot minute and be the best thing about it. Looking at you, So I Married An Axe Murderer.

  • SottoVoce

    Yes, that's so true.

  • foolsage

    He was remarkably gifted. His voice was golden.

  • SottoVoce

    It was. I hope his kids are doing well despite their loss.

  • JSDA

    Glee has a different element, imo Cory was only 31 and his leading lady on screen was also his leading lady off screen. How does Rachel Berry cope and mourn while Lea mourns. I know if is rough on all the actors not just Lea but I would have to think the writers will take that into confederation.

  • Wrestling Fan

    gah, Mr Hooper. 30-something years later, and I'm still not over it.

  • apsutter

    "I don't like makes me sad" Ugh...freaking gut me already Big Bird

  • Ruthie O

    What continues to amaze me about Sesame Street is how it has never, ever talked down to children. Sesame Street speaks the language of children, but without patronizing and with full respect and empathy. I can't think of another kids show that would have handled death so honestly and gracefully.

  • As a modern Sesame Street watcher (I have 2 young kids) I'm STUNNED my this clip. Because it is so amazing.

    Look SS is still a fantastic show but it is a far cry from the days when they showed adults talking like adults or adults talking honestly about hard topics. The current iteration would never have shown these characters (who are almost all still ON the show) having an adult conversation. And when they interaction with "the children" there's definitely an lack of authenticity - they're constantly smiling in that game-show host way. And they don't touch on hard topics. The show now features things like hat balancing competitions, or getting a stain out of your best shirt. But in three years of watching the current show I've seen nothing that even gets into the same hemisphere of this level of authenticity.

    And that is so sad.

  • Maybe Mr. Rogers. Maybe.

    I started tearing up when Big Bird started handing out pictures and was bawling by the time he wanted Mr. Hooper to see his. Damn you, Pajiba! Must you make me cry at work?

  • Ruthie O

    Ah yes, good call. Definitely Mr. Rogers.

  • Yeah, no - they're not going to do this well on Glee.

  • MissAmynae

    Someone will be singing Boyz II Men. Its so haaaaaaaaard to say gubbyyyyyyyeeeee to yesterdayyyyeeeeeeeheeheeheeheyyeeeyeeheehee.

    I think that's how you spell "overdramatic vocal run"

  • PDamian

    I'm guessing "One Sweet Day," although I hope to God they don't make Lea Michele sing the Mariah Carey part. I can't imagine how devastating that would be.

  • MissAmynae

    in all seriousness, because she's an actual theater person (not just an actress who can sing) it might be cathartic for her. I could see it going either way.

    If she chooses, I'd love for her to be able to sing something soft, quiet and privately. An "In My Room" or "Yesterday" could be quite lovely, and appropriate.

  • chanohack

    The "Glee" people have written some beautiful episodes. Maybe not often, maybe not lately, but they can do it. I'm really hoping they'll pull this one together.

    Hoping, but not holding my breath. Hoping.

  • sjfromsj

    If they are not still there, they should bring back the crew who wrote the episode about Sue's sister's death/funeral. That eulogy was heart-wrenching and so beautiful.

  • chanohack

    And completely not the ones that wrote the episode about Burt's heart attack. Nope.

  • ZizoAH

    Well, it's not that they have an easy job to do it, specially when his girlfriend/fiancee is the one who will have to do it both on and off screen.

  • The more I think about the reality for Lea Michelle, the more I wish they'd just cancel the show and spare her (and everyone else) this grief. But the network would never kill their cash cow* to spare someone's feelings.

    (*I'm assuming it is still a big money maker for them. I don't know anyone who still watches it.)

  • MissAmynae

    All jokes aside, this has to horrible for her. Poor kid, I actually want to give her a hug.

  • I have a strong dislike of her character and her public persona, but yeah, this is awful. Not only does she have to mourn the loss of her boyfriend, but she has to go to work every day on the show that brought them together? That's brutal.

  • Guest

    I was thinking the same thing all last night, I don't know how the show can respectfully continue and I know it won't be the same without him. As someone who still watches it, I think that cancelling it would really be the best option and I don't think I could continue to watch it if they go forward.

  • ZizoAH

    I do. And it was the 7th most watched show on Fox last season, with a 3.2 in the demo. And they make tons of cash with the music downloads, so I guess it's not going anywhere.

    But I do get what your saying...

  • rio

    seriously, Ryan Murphy is a functioning sociopath.

  • John G.

    barely functioning

  • foolsage

    He seems to be. I'm curious how he'll handle this.

  • llp

    I haven't even pressed play on the Sesame Street one and I am already crying. That was a beautiful episode of television, and it helped me to understand what happened when my grandmother died shortly afterwards.

  • Jess

    The West Wing one gutted me. I loved how for that episode, they got back so many actors from past seasons for the funeral. It was really touching...

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