It is not unusual to become attached to certain TV or movie characters and the actors who play them. However, it’s easy to forget when the actor passes away. Whether it’s due to little press surrounding their death or we simply forgot, it’s devastating to realize they are no longer with us.
While the death of stars like Michael Jackson and Regis Philbin were met with massive tributes and worldwide headlines, other celebrity passings have flown under the radar. From beloved cast members of hit TV shows to lesser-known stars with familiar faces, here are some famous people we forgot died.
Natasha Richardson Had a Tragic Skiing Accident
While she is a Tony Award-winning actress and part of the Redgrave acting dynasty, Natasha Richardson is best known for her role in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. Richardson was also married to Liam Neeson until her fatal ski accident at a Canadian resort in 2009.
Richardson fell during a ski lesson and laughed about it. The ski patrol suggested she see a doctor. Insisting she was okay, Richardson returned to her hotel, where she was rushed to the hospital later that evening. Sadly, the star passed away from a hematoma caused by a blunt impact to her head.
Richard Griffiths Didn’t Survive Heart Surgery
Most people recognize Richard Griffiths as ill-tempered Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter films. His last appearance in the franchise was in the seventh film. As he got older, Griffiths’ health wasn’t in the best state, causing him to need heart surgery in 2013. At 65, Griffiths passed away from complications.
Daniel Radcliffe paid tribute after Griffiths’ passing, stating, “Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments in my career. Before official production had begun on Potter, we filmed a shot… I was nervous, and he made me feel at ease.” Potter fans will always remember him.
Lisa Robin Kelly Struggled With Addiction
Fans of That ‘70s Show know Lisa Robin Kelly, who played Eric Forman’s sarcastic older sister Laurie. However, viewers were puzzled when her character was written out of the show in 2001. She returned for a few episodes until producers recast her with a different actress.
After being arrested in 2010 for a DUI, Kelly explained that she left That ‘70s Show because of a drinking problem. Kelly drank to cope with her miscarriage. In 2013, she entered a rehab facility, but it was too late. Kelly passed away in her sleep due to an accidental overdose.
James Avery Died After Open-Heart Surgery
Fans of the Fresh Prince loved to watch Will face-off with his Uncle Phil, played by James Avery. The ‘90s sitcom is Avery’s most memorable role, but he had a lengthy resume. Uncle Phil has a heart attack in one episode, which isn’t very different from Avery’s medical condition in real life.
Avery suffered from heart disease and kidney disease before having open-heart surgery in 2013. Sadly, he passed away due to complications from the procedure. His Fresh Prince costars shared moving tributes to the late actor. Will Smith said, “Some of my greatest lessons in acting came through James Avery.”
Michael Clark Duncan Died After a Heart Attack
Michael Clark Duncan was an imposing figure on screen with his large physique. The 6’5” actor had a breakthrough moment as inmate John Coffey in The Green Mile with Tom Hanks. He seemed like an overall healthy guy until he suffered from a heart attack in July 2012.
Unfortunately, Duncan passed away from complications two months after the heart attack. His fiancé at the time said he fought for two months to get better, but his heart wasn’t strong enough. Duncan was remembered for his powerful presence on screen.
Heather O’Rourke’s Death Sparked Rumors
One of the scariest horror flicks of the ‘80s was Poltergeist, in which Heather O’Rourke communicated with a supernatural entity. She reprised the role in two sequels before suddenly passing away in 1988 during surgery for a previously undetected bowel defect. She was only 12.
The circumstances of her death were highly unusual because she hadn’t experienced prior symptoms. Years later, a bizarre rumor surfaced that Poltergeist was cursed. In addition to O’Rourke’s death, other actors from the movie passed away shortly after filming.
Taylor Negron Lost His Battle to Cancer
While Taylor Negron’s name isn’t instantly recognizable, his face will make you say, “I know him from somewhere.” The actor never had any starring roles, but he did have guest appearances in everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Party of Five and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
He called himself “The alternative everyman in movies.” In 2015, Negron passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer when he was just 57. He was known as “that guy” in so many projects, and people didn’t realize he had passed away.
Marcia Wallace Battled Pneumonia
In the ‘70s, Marcia Wallace made many people laugh as the wisecracking, redheaded receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show. She is also credited for lending her distinctive voice to play Bart Simpson’s cynical schoolteacher on The Simpsons.
In 2013, the LA Times reported that Wallace passed away at 70 after battling pneumonia. She had previously had surgery for breast cancer and was deemedcancer-free. After her death, Simpsons executive producer Al Jean said they would retire her character because Wallace was irreplaceable and beloved by everyone on the show.
Bernie Mac Had Health Complications
Comedian Bernie Mac was in his prime when he passed away. He started his career as a standup comic and spent years in comedy clubs. Mac hit his stride when he teamed up with Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and DL Hughley for the “Original Kings of Comedy” tour.
He then landed The Bernie Mac Show on Fox, which ran until 2006. Mac continued to climb the ladder of success during his career and always found a way to top himself. Unfortunately, he passed away after battling pneumonia in 2008.
John Spencer’s Character Predicted His Death
Since he began his career in the ‘60s, Johns Spencer amassed a lengthy resume with plenty of TV and movie roles. However, his most famous role was as the White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing. The part was his last.
His character suffered a near-fatal heart attack in the show’s sixth season. The following year, Spencer had a heart attack in real life when he was 58. Unfortunately, he did not survive unlike his character. The show’s cast said his death was a tough loss.
John Mahoney Had Throat Cancer
One of the most beloved shows of the ‘90s was Frasier, in which John Mahoney played Frasier’s father. He had many memorable performances on the big and small screens throughout his career, but he sadly passed away at age 77 after battling throat cancer.
In October 2017, a year before he died, Mahoney was optimistic that he could beat cancer a second time. He had first been diagnosed 20 years earlier, just as his career was heating up. He said, “I wasn’t going to let cancer get me. I waited too long for this.”
Chris Penn Left Many People Devastated
Chris Penn is another one of those actors whose faces you have seen everywhere. His memorable roles were in Footloose, Reservoir Dogs, and Rumble Fish. However, some people know him from the 2001 comedy Corky Romano. When he was 40, Penn was found dead at home.
After his autopsy, reports showed that Penn had an enlarged heart and various substances in his body. His Footloose costar, Lori Singer, was devastated by the loss. She said he was a brilliant artist who was a genuine person and a talented actor.
Dana Hill Didn’t Know About Her Medical Condition
In the early ‘80s, Dana Hill was one of the most pervasive child actors, appearing on TV series like Mork & Mindy and Magnum P.I. However, her most notable role was as Audrey Griswold in the 1985 sequel National Lampoon’s European Vacation. She then segued into a career in voice acting.
The actress had type 1 diabetes since she was 10 years old, which stunted her growth. Hill was frequently hospitalized because of kidney damage. In May 1995, she went into a diabetic coma and suffered a stroke, passing away at age 32.
Dana Plato Went Down a Dark Path
The short life of Dana Plato was a cautionary tale for child actors who experienced fame at an early age. When Plato was a teenager, she landed a role on Diff’rent Strokes, the hit sitcom that debuted in 1978. But Plato struggled.
She was dealing with substance abuse issues and overdosed on valium at 14. By 15, Plato started showing up to the set drunk and when she became pregnant at 18, her career fizzled. After many run-ins with the law and continued struggles, Plato died from an overdose.
Erin Moran Didn’t Catch It in Time
Erin Moran was just a teenager when she played Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days from 1974 to 1984. Unfortunately, her Happy Days success didn’t last as the acting roles dried up. When the cast won a settlement in 2012, Moran quickly spent her share of $60,000.
She was homeless and drinking herself into oblivion. Moran started a memoir about her post-TV descent into depression and substance abuse when she passed away at 56. The autopsy showed that Moran had stage 4 cancer that she hadn’t caught in time.
David Graf Was Too Young
While it might not have been a critically acclaimed franchise, fans loved the goofy Police Academy movies. Between the six sequels and a short-lived TV series, David Graf was a mainstay of the franchise as officer Eugene Tackleberry. Graf also had a recurring role on The West Wing.
In 2001, the beloved actor was taken too soon after suffering a fatal heart attack. Graf had been active in the Screen Actors Guild. The then-president of SAG said, “His kindness, generosity of spirit, and ability to tirelessly work for the better of actors will be missed.”
Wendie Jo Sperber’s Legacy Lives On
After getting her big break in 1978, Wendie Jo Sperber shot to superstardom with a role in the blockbuster hit Back to the Future. She played Marty McFly’s sister. Sperber had a fantastic career and worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood while racking up screen credits.
In 2005, the actress passed away after battling breast cancer. Before her death, she founded the WeSPARK Cancer Support Center to provide free programs, which alleviate the physical and emotional effects of a cancer diagnosis. Sperber’s legacy lives on through her organization.
Michael Jeter Died From Natural Causes
As a Tennessee native, Michael Jeter was a familiar face in movies and TV series. He got his start in the theater and took home a Tony Award in 1990 for his performance in Grand Hotel. Jeter was an acting chameleon with more talent than people knew.
Jeter could go from a homeless cabaret singer (The Fisher King) to a death row inmate with a Cajun accent (The Green Mile). His talent was unimaginable. Jeter, who was HIV-positive, passed away at 50 in 2003 while filming the animated holiday film Polar Express.
John Cazale’s Cancer Spread
John Cazale was described as “the greatest actor you haven’t heard of,” even though he was only in The Godfather (1 and 2), The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Cazale’s most iconic role remains Fredo Corleone in The Godfather.
Producers for The Deer Hunter thought he would die before wrapping, so Robert De Niro paid Cazale’s insurance so he could take the role in the film. Sadly, the cancer started in his lungs and spread to his bones. His long-time partner, Meryl Streep, put her career on hold to be with him until he died.
Gary Coleman Had a Freak Accident
Former child star Gary Coleman became an icon in Hollywood thanks to his unforgettable role as Arnold Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes. He quickly won over viewers with his signature catchphrase, “What’chu talkin’ bout, Willis?’ The part helped him land jobs on other popular series.
Coleman had a condition known as Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, an autoimmune disease that alters the kidneys. As a result, he stopped growing at 4’8” and underwent two kidney transplants. However, he had a freak accident and passed away after falling down a flight of stairs in 2010.
Rob Knox Met a Tragic End
There have been many deaths in the Harry Potter family, but none of them were as shocking as the murder of Rob Knox. The actor started his career at 11-years-old and played Marcus Belby in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Knox was only 18 when his life came to a tragic end. In 2008, Knox and his brother got into an altercation outside a bar. He was stabbed and succumbed to his injuries. His family started the Rob Knox Foundation for aspiring young actors to honor Knox’s memory.
Windell Middlebrooks Got a Twitter Tribute
Most people in their late 20s know Windell Middlebrooks as Kirby from The Suite Life on Deck. He played the hilarious cruise ship security guard. However, others know him as the face of Miller Hill Life beer or for his roles in Ace in the Hole and Body of Proof.
Millennials nostalgically recognize Middlebrooks from his appearances on Hannah Montana, My Name Is Earl, and Scrubs. Sadly, in 2015, Middlebrooks passed away from a blood clot when he was only 35. Fans everywhere took to Twitter to pay tribute to the actor with the hashtag “RIP Kirby.”
Leonard Nimoy Had a Magnificent Career
While Leonard Nimoy is known by everyone who has ever watched Star Trek, most forget he is dead because people thought he would live forever. For nearly 50 years, Nimoy portrayed the pointy-eared USS Enterprise first office, Mr. Spock.
Nimoy was also the author of several poetry collections and established himself as a director. His directorial work included Three Men and a Baby, which was a box office hit worldwide. At 83, Nimoy fell into a coma and passed away in 2015. Star Trek fans everywhere mourned the loss of Mr. Spock.
Fans Worried About Brittany Murphy Before Her Death
It has been a while since the world lost Brittany Murphy. The actress got her big break in the ‘90s classic Clueless, playing Tai Frasier. Throughout the 2000s, Murphy starred in iconic films like 8 Mile and Uptown Girls.
The Hollywood icon was a rising star when she tragically lost her life in December 2009 after going into cardiac arrest due to pneumonia. Fans noticed she was extremely skinny shortly before her passing, and doctors said anemia and drug use contributed to her death.
Michelle Thomas Lived a Healthy Life
Michelle Thomas was born to be a star. Her father was a musician, and her mom was a stage actress. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Thomas was recognized as Justine Phillips on The Cosby Show and Steve Urkel’s girlfriend, Myra Monkhouse, on Family Matters.
Despite living a healthy lifestyle, following a strict vegan diet, and never drinking or smoking, Thomas was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1997. She underwent two surgeries before passing away in 1998 when she was only 30. Family and friends surrounded Thomas until the end.
Gregory Hines Showed the World His Talent
Dancer-actor Gregory Hines made his film debut in 1981’s History of the World, Part I. The film, directed and produced by Mel Brooks, helped Hines land roles in other movies like The Cotton Club, White Nights, and Waiting to Exhale. He had an irresistible charm.
In 1997, Hines landed his own series, The Gregory Hines Show, as well as a recurring role on Will & Grace. Hines was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2001 and kept his condition a secret from everyone except his family. He passed away in 2003.
Johnathan Brandis Couldn’t Handle the Fame
Johnathan Brandis was pushed into acting by his parents, who signed him up for modeling when he was only two. As a child, he appeared in several commercials before landing a recurring role on the ABC Soap Opera, One Life to Live as Kevin Buchanan.
Brandis’ starring role in The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter made him a household name. He never had a choice about being famous or not. Brandis lost his childhood, and it took a toll on his mental health. At 27, Brandis tragically took his life.
Harold Ramis Made People Laugh Until It Hurt
Throughout his incredible career, Ramis fought a silent battle. He grew to fame, starring alongside Billy Murray in Stripes and Ghostbusters. However, his biggest successes took place behind the camera. Ramis co-wrote the uber-successful Animal House. He also directed Groundhog Day and Analyze This.
While his work made people laugh till their sides hurt, Ramis struggled with an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. He ultimately passed away at 69. His ailing health led to the end of a decades-long feud between him and Murray.
Earl Hindman Didn’t Have to Show His Face to Win Over Audiences
Most people have never seen his entire face, but Earl Hindman won over audiences in the ‘90s standing behind a fence on the sitcom Home Improvement. He portrayed Tim Allen’s next-door neighbor, Wilson, who kept his face hidden while giving Allen advice.
He might not have been seen much on camera, but Hindman was a professional actor for over three decades. He spent 16 years playing Detective Lt. Bob Reid on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope. Sadly, the world lost our favorite fishing hat-wearing neighbor in 2003 to lung cancer.
Ben Woolf Was a Horror Film Mainstay
He might not have had many prominent roles, but Ben Woolf is most recognized for his part in American Horror Story. He played both Infantata and Meep during the show’s first and fourth seasons. Besides his acting work, Woolf was also a preschool teacher.
As a child, Woolf was diagnosed with pituitary dwarfism, causing his height to be stunted. His dwarfism caused other health complications which contributed to his fatal stroke in 2015. Woolf was only 34 and passed just before being honored at the Russian Horror Film Awards.
Sawyer Sweeten Found Fame Too Young
Everybody Loves Raymond was a huge hit, and fans remember Geoffrey Barone, played by Sawyer Sweeten. With a sweet smile and baby face, it’s hard to forget the adorable child actor. He was still a kid when he started acting and struggled like other adolescent stars.
When Sweeten was 19, he took his life in 2015. His sudden passing shocked the Everybody Loves Raymond community. Patricia Heaton, who played his on-screen mom, said he was “a funny and exceptionally bright young man.” Ray Romano added that Sweeten was a “wonderful and sweet kid.”
Jean Stapleton Lived a Long Life
As Edith Bunker in All in the Family, Jean Stapleton won three Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe awards for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She also made appearances in Archie Bunker’s Place, a follow-up to All in the Family.
However, Stapleton’s character was killed off after just five episodes. Her packed list of credits earned Stapleton a place in the American Theater Hall of Fame and the Television Hall of Fame before she passed away in 2013. She was 90 and died of natural causes.
Cory Monteith Hid His Addiction
If you were a fan of Glee in the 2010s, you probably remember Cory Monteith as Finn Hudson. The Canadian actor rose to fame as part of the glee club singing ensemble. Before becoming famous, Monteith worked as a taxi and school bus driver, Walmart greeter, and band drummer.
While it might have been hidden from young fans of the series, Monteith struggled with addiction for most of his adolescent and adult life. He went into many treatment facilities but always fell back into his old habits. Monteith tragically died from an overdose in 2013.
Sarah Danielle Madison Almost Left Acting
Sarah Danielle Madison landed her first significant role in Jurassic Park III as one of Alan Grant’s graduate students. From there, she played Dr. Sarah Glass in 7th Heaven on the CW and Colleen Sarkoissian in 90210. However, Madison had other dreams.
Madison wanted to quit acting to become a doctor, but a random encounter led her to be an extra in 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding. After this, she had some small parts but only made headlines in 2014 when she passed away in her sleep at 40 years old.
Judi Barsi’s Father Took Her Life
Many young actors struggle to cope with the sudden attention from fame; in Judi Barsi’s case, her family suffered the most. After landing a role in Jaws: The Revenge, Barsi lent her voice to the animated films The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
Bursi’s father had a mean temper and was abusive. He hated her fame, and in 1988 it came to an end. When Bursi was 10, her father took her life in a murder-suicide alongside her mother. She was gone too soon, but fans remember her sweet voice.
Skye McCole Bartusiak Suffered Before Her Death
The Texas-born actress started her career playing Pippa Hatcher in Steven King’s Storm of the Century. Skye McCole Bartusiak went on to play Mel Gibson’s youngest daughter in The Patriot, a role she is best known for. She was just a child then.
Bartusiak’s career began to take off when she was cast as Marilyn Monroe in the series Blonde. Her final role was in the indie movie Sick Boy. In 2014, Bartusiak died of an accidental overdose after suffering from seizures, leading her family to initially believe she choked to death.
Thuy Trang Had a Fatal Car Accident
Born in southern Vietnam, Thuy Trang immigrated to the US with her family after the Vietnam War. While growing up in the US, Trang was on the path to becoming a civil engineer when she decided to pursue acting instead.
After appearing in a commercial for the Church of Scientology, Trang landed her first significant role as the Yellow Power Ranger, Trini Kwan. Trang was part of the 1993 original cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Sadly, her career came to a sudden end in 2001 after a fatal car accident.
Carl Switzer Had a Misunderstanding
In the Our Gang film series, freckle-faced Carl Switzer played the sweet, Darla-loving, little rascal, Alfalfa. Unfortunately, after his youthful looks wore off, Switzer didn’t have the same success landing roles in adulthood. He mostly appeared in B-level movies and TV series.
Besides his acting work, Switzer was a breeder and trainer for hunting dogs. He also led hunting expeditions. In 1959, while helping a customer, a 31-year-old Switzer got into an altercation over a lost hunting dog and $50. Sadly, he was shot and killed during the argument.
Andy Hallet Was an Angel Fan Favorite
When Andy Hallet was in costume, it was hard to recognize him. The actor became famous for his role in the Buffy the Vampire spin-off, Angel. Fans remembered him as the green-skinned lounge singer demon named Lorne. It was, unfortunately, his last acting role.
In 2004, Hallet was diagnosed with congestive heart disease. Angel was ending, so he stepped out of the spotlight to focus on his health. After years of hospital visits, Hallet passed away in 2009. His Angel costars said he was the life of the party.
Glenn Quinn’s Struggles Took Over
Andy Hallet isn’t the only Angel star to have left the earth too soon. Glenn Quinn, who played the Irish demon Doyle in the show’s first season, died after an accidental heroin overdose. Quinn had a blossoming career before struggling with drug addiction.
Quinn grew to fame portraying the boyfriend-turned-husband of Becky on Roseanne. His struggles began when he started working on Angel. Rumors swirled that he was aggressive on set. In 1997, a trip to his home in Ireland may have been the tipping point, according to his sister.
Andy Whitfield’s Stardom Was Cut Short
Welsh actor Andy Whitfield got his big break when he landed a role in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. A few months after the show’s premiere in January 2010, Whitfield was diagnosed with stage 1 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Production for Season 2 was delayed for Whitfield’s treatment.
Doctors told Whitfield he was cancer-free, so he started the intense physical training to get into top shape for the show. However, his remission didn’t last long. A few months later, Whitfield’s cancer returned. The second round of treatment wasn’t successful, and he passed away in 2011.
Rapper Heavy D’s Flight Was Too Long
If you have ever flown on an international flight, doctors always recommend walking around to keep the blood flowing. As a hip-hop pioneer, Heavy D was a force to be reckoned with in the ‘90s. He became the head of Uptown Entertainment and continued to make music.
In 2011, the rapper randomly collapsed at home and was declared dead at the hospital. Doctors revealed that a blood clot in his leg caused his death. Heavy D had recently flown from London to LA, which caused the blood clot that led to a pulmonary embolism.
Lynne Thigpen Seemed to Be Healthy
Her name might not ring a bell, but anyone who watched PBS’s Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego will recognize Lynne Thigpen’s face. After playing the Chief on the children’s show, Thigpen starred in the CBS drama The District.
In 2003, Thigpen complained of a headache before she died at her home. The cause of death was later determined to be a cerebral hemorrhage. Her friends and family were confused because she seemed to be healthy. A foundation was created in her name in 2005 as a safety net for actors.
Mary Pat Gleason Was Always a Familiar Face
Like other actors on this list, Mary Pat Gleason was one of Hollywood’s most creative character actresses. The scene-stealing actress had dozens of film and TV credits from Bruce Almighty to The Crucible. She also won an Emmy for her role as a writer on the drama Guiding Light.
Gleason delighted fans of CBS’s Mom as Mary, who would take over AA meetings to discuss her bizarre problems. Her character was killed off in the middle of a meeting. Unfortunately, Gleason passed away in 2020 after battling uterine cancer.