When people die in real life, it brings great sadness. When people die on television, it can be just as sad – and brilliant for ratings (usually). The best TV deaths are ones we don’t expect, a complete shock, or welcome relief ending a drawn out illness. Script writers have developed a sixth sense at delivering a sure fire winner when offered the chance to end a character’s life, and tears aplenty normally equal ratings gold.
With the shock passing of Mel Rafter this week, I felt it was time to remember the passing of some of our favourite TV characters & the means by which they left us in a top 10 honour roll… tissues at the ready…
10. Teri Bauer (24)
For the entirity of season one, Jack Bauer was hunting the people that had kidnapped his daughter & his wife. Hunting like a mad man. He found Kim, but was still chasing Teri right up to the final episode where he is confronted with his dead wife tied to a chair, having been shot by the superbly evil Nina Myers (the mole within CTU). It was a bold move to kill off one of the central cast members at the end of the first season, but it showed the producers were not afraid to pull punches with the script at any moment – even when the show should have been wrapping up in a neat little package. It heraleded a new style and new movement within US drama, and we’re all the better for it.
9. Joey Tribiani’s Dr Drake Ramoray (Friends)
God bless this little muddle. He was a stupid as he was beautiful. When Joey suggested in an interview that he helped write the character for Days Of Our Lives, particularly the parts where Dr Drake was really good, he got important noses out of joint. When the scriptwriters for the show read the interview, their revenge was excated by writing the character out of the show in speactacular fashion, by having him die in an elevator accident (despite his attempts to encourage other characters to join him in the lift so as to protect him from his demise. It didn’t work. He could never come back, as the only person that could save Dr Drake Ramoray was Dr Drake Ramoray. Ahh, sweet irony.
8. JR Ewing (Dallas)
JR set the tone for archetypal bastards. At it’s height, Dallas was spawing spin-off series left, right & centre and the world was lapping it up. JR Ewing was doing everything he could to make life better for him & worse off for everyone else, so it was only a matter of time before he got something-ed. It’s a cracking cliffhanger… And OK, he didn’t die, but everyone thought he did for a while, OK?!
7. Maude Flanders (The Simpsons)
Maude Flanders had to die. The actress (Maggie Roswell) who was her voice left the cast over a pay dispute, and to the producer’s credit rather than have her appear in future storylines with a different voice they simply wrote her out in spectacularly Simpson-ish fashion: Being knocked off the bleachers at a football game by a t-shirt fired from a t-shirt gun, Maude falls to the ground where she is prounounced dead at the scene by a conveniently placed Dr Hibbert. Ned is understandably shattered, and for an episode everyone goes out of their way to be nice to him. Even Homer.
6. Colonel Henry Blake (M*A*S*H)
Henry Blake spent the first three seasons of M*A*S*H attempting to hold the loonies at the #4077th together. It was pathos mixed with slapstick mixed with the realities of the Korean War, and America lapped it up. When Henry got his discharge, everyone was very happy for him, that he was going home (even though they weren’t). Radar had to deliver the news, and it was a shocking moment all round.
5. Mark Greene (ER)
Anthony Edwards dies a lot in things. First Goose in Top Gun, now this. He’d been a favourite on the medical drama ER, and portrayed a character of strong ethics & conviction who loved often to his detriment. He also developed an inoperable brain tumour that ultimately led to his death, listening to a version of the lullaby he used to sing to his daughter as his life flashed before his (and our) eyes. Cue tissues.
4. Susan Ross – George’s girlfriend (Seinfeld)
That she agreed to marry George in the first place is amazing. That she let him do any of the preparation – even simply purchasing the wedding stationary – is insane, and it was ultimately her undoing. George met Susan when he and Jerry were pitching their sitcom on NBC (“It’s a show about nothing” “Then why am I watching it” “Because it’s on TV” “Not yet it isn’t”). Inexplicably, more likely out of complete desperation, Susan and George hook up. George is feeling all constricted, and he vows to try and get out. But the second grade envelope glue does Susan in before he could break up with her. Life as a widower could never be the same again.
3. Mrs Landingham (The West Wing)
The tragic death of the long-time Bartlett secretary and friend hit the President with a blow no war could offer. He never really recovered from it. All after she’d finally gotten her licence for the first time in her life, purchased her first car, and is killed by a drunk driver. Martin Sheen’s argument with God in the following episode surrounding her funeral remains compelling.
2. Molly Jones – A Country Practice
She eventually died of a drawn-out case of leukaemia, sitting in a chair watching husband Brendan & daughter Chloe playing in the yard of their farm. The shot is from her point of view, the camera starts to fade to black. and Brendan runs at her shouting her name, realising she was passing. Fade to black. Cue montage. Roll credits. Wail uncotrollably.
1. Maggie Doyle – Blue Heelers
Years. YEARS of sexual tension between PJ Hasham & Senior Constable Margaret Doyle had finally been realised. They were in love, and didn’t care who knew. It was quite the scandal in part, but viewers had been hoping & praying for 7 seasons that they’d get together and finally did. In the midst of cracking a the case of who had killed her brother (Robbie), Maggie had to fake leaving Mt Thomas to flush out the killers. They were flushed out, and PJ realised they had been tricked and arrived to see Maggie be gunned down in a hail of bullets. He was arrested with her murder and worked tirelessly to prove he’d been set up. It turned out her other brother Mick had killed her and before PJ could arrest Mick, Maggie’s dad had killed him in revenge – all this 10 episodes after her death. It was a landmark on the Australian TV landscape as Lisa McCune was bowing out at the height of her popularity, and out of the role that had made her a household name. She won 4 Gold Logies during her stint on Blue Heelers, and the show never really recovered ratings-wise after the resolution of her death.
- Mel Rafter (Packed to the Rafters) – She’d just married into Australia’s favourite family of the moment, and she and husband Ben were trying to start a family. Then she was too busy playing with her mobile to notice the stop sign she drove right through and was t-boned by another car. Like all sad passings, it’s those left alive that have to struggle with grief loss that experience the most pain and from the final scenes we knew Ben will struggle.
- Gretel Killen/Wendy Harmer (The Logies) – Try as they might, both ladies suffered at the hands of the hardest hosting gig on Australian television. I’m sure they wished the stage had swallowed them much earlier than the closing credits & scathing reviews did.
- Grace Sullivan (The Sullivans) – They thought she’d be safe, being in England, but a tragic end at the hands of those horrible Nazis when bombing London. She did die by telegram, though.
- Everyone at some time on Neighbours/Home & Away – If there’s one thing that soapies teach us, it’s that everybody on TV dies sometime, and often sooner or later than they should have. The list is too long to mention however I remember distinctly my mother sobbing when Daphne (Neighbours) died. And my wife the same when Flynn (Home & Away) passed, particularly seeing the candle-dotted sand dudes of Summer Bay as the community turned out to support his wife, Sally.
- Warwick Brown (CSI) – He’d was just getting his life back on track after some personal distractions, only to have his life taken shockingly by Undersherrif Jeffery McKeen. It was the beginning of the end for Gil Grissom.
- Naughtiest Home Videos (Doug Mulray vs Kerry Packer) – while no one died during the show, it passed away during the first episode courtesy a network owner who was not impressed by a certain randy kangaroo.
- Michael Scofield (Prison Break) – after escaping two prisons and being on the run for 4 seasons, finally succumbed to the tumour in his head just when we thought he was going to have a happy ending.
- Various cast members on Number 96 – either due to the serial killer or the bomb that destroyed Australia’s most infamous block of flats.
Stop attempting to hug the TV, dry your eyes and embrace someone you love in real life. Then tell me who else should be on the list, or what memories you have of your most memorable TV deaths.