Below are 22 of the saddest deaths in TV history that are sure to get your emotions flowing.
Tell us which ones had you breaking out the tissues in the comments section below!
Rita Morgan — “Dexter”
While deaths weren’t uncommon on this serial killer-based show, Rita’s death shocked viewers due to its circumstances. After an entire season playing largely-unnecessary “cat-and-mouse” games with the Trinity Killer, Dexter arrives home to find his wife’s murdered body in the bathtub — the final victim of Trinity. Finding the couple’s child crying in the corner of the bathroom only added to the heartbreak of this poignant scene.
Joyce Summers — “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
Widely hailed as one of the best depictions of death in modern TV, the death of Buffy Summers’ mother — Joyce Summers — is heartbreaking due to its mundane nature. Compared to the supernatural “baddies” dispatched on every other episode of the show, Joyce’s death comes as the result of the very-human cancer. The resulting hour of TV is a quiet, contemplative reflection on the human grief response that’s masterfully written by nerd hero Joss Whedon.
George O’Malley — “Grey’s Anatomy”
Grey’s Anatomy had more than its fair share of sad deaths, but the passing of the injured and disfigured George O’Malley tugged the most on the heartstrings. While the staff at Seattle Grace is prepping for the character’s departure to military service, they’re presented with a John Doe who’s been rushed in from a bus accident. Only at the end of the episode does show creator Shonda Rhimes reveal them to be the same person — after the remaining gang missed their chance to say their last goodbyes.
Ben Sullivan — “Scrubs”
Although Brendan Frazer’s “Ben Sullivan” character had only a short arc on medical comedy Scrubs, his death made a major impact on TV audiences. Not only did the episode lead viewers to believe that Ben was alive following the return of his leukemia, it allowed audiences to see a more emotional side of sardonic Dr. Cox than ever before. It’s a stunningly normal depiction of death and its consequences, which is seen all too rarely on TV these days.
Mr. Hooper — “Sesame Street”
The death of actor Will Lee gave the popular children’s show the opportunity to teach children about death in the memorable episode, “Farewell, Mr. Hooper.” In the show, the remaining adult actors explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died and won’t be coming back — shedding real tears over the loss of their friend and the gravity of the situation.
Fry’s Dog — “Futurama”
Anyone who’s ever experienced the loss of a beloved pet could relate to the devastating episode, “Jurassic Bark.” In the show, it’s revealed that Seymour — the former pet of time-traveling main character Fry — waited outside the same pizza joint where they first met for years until his death. It’s a profound episode for what’s usually a light-hearted cartoon. Be sure to grab the tissues!
Dan Conner — “Roseanne”
Plenty of fans cried foul at Roseanne’s seemingly rose-colored end, which found the family winning millions in the lottery, Jackie finally meeting her match and Dan recovering from his earlier heart attack. But in a shocking twist, the family’s happy ending is revealed to be a dream and that America’s favorite father actually passed away at Darlene’s wedding. Though it’s a more fitting end for the sarcastic series, it’s an undeniably gut-wrenching finale episode.
Sun and Jin Kwon — “Lost”
“Lost” had its fair share of tragic deaths, but the visual image of Jin-Soo and Sun-Hwa dying hand-in-hand on their submarine is one of the most memorable and most affecting scenes of all. After all the struggles the couple faced reconciling their marriage during earlier seasons of the show, their final deaths are incredibly poignant — made even more so by the thought of the young daughter they’ve left orphaned back on the mainland. Don’t watch this one before any major events that require clear, un-puffy eyes!
Adriana La Cerva — “The Sopranos”
Turning informant for the FBI isn’t exactly a recipe for a long and healthy life, but mob wife Adriana gets viewers hopes up with the suggestion that she and fiance Chris might leave “the family” behind for a life in the Witness Protection Program. It isn’t until her final moments — when she realizes Silvio is driving her into the woods, instead of towards the hospital — that she realizes there’s no way out. The end of the episode is mercilessly cruel, but it’s undeniably one of the saddest deaths in recent TV history.
Paul Hennessy — “8 Simple Rules”
The sudden death of John Ritter affected everybody in the entertainment industry and beyond, making the handling of his character’s death on “8 Simple Rules” one of the saddest episodes of TV ever filmed. While the execution of the storyline was handled well, what truly turns this episode into a tear-jerker is the very real grief of the supporting cast that’s captured on film.
Fred Burkle — “Angel”
Joss Whedon strikes again. In “Angel” (the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff), the awkward Wesley Wyndam-Pryce spends nearly two seasons pining over shy Fred before finally “getting the girl.” Unfortunately, their happiness lasts less than a single episode, before Fred succumbs to a demon that’s plotting to use her body as a vessel. Not only is the cast forced to watch her painful, drawn out death, they do so while an enemy wears her face and uses her memories against them. It’s an episode that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Nate Fisher — “Six Feet Under”
As a favorite of many funeral industry professionals, “Six Feet Under” makes this list for its handling of the death of main character Nate Fisher. Despite having recovered from a brain hemorrhage and coma — and despite being promised a speedy recovery — Nate’s passing in his sleep comes as an unexpected and heartbreaking surprise to viewers. The fact that his brother David is asleep next to him at the time only twists the knife further for fans of this HBO drama.
Lady Sybil — “Downton Abbey”
Though the later death of Matthew Crawley in the Downton Abbey season three finale is more surprising, the passing of Lady Sybil following childbirth is harder to bear emotionally. After receiving conflicting pieces of medical advice, Sybil dies in a fit of eclampsia seizures while surrounded by stunned, grieving relatives. In the aftermath, a devastated Tom is left to raise their baby on his own, reminding families everywhere about the importance of good medical care during pregnancy.
Delores Landingham — “The West Wing”
In a series of ironic twists that would make Alanis Morrisette proud, Mrs. Landingham — a widow and close confidante to Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet — finally gets her first driver’s license, only to die in an auto accident. It’s a cruel twist of fate, but fortunately, stellar actress Kathryn Joosten isn’t written out of the series entirely. She appears later on in a vision, correctly advising the President to run for reelection.
Coach — “Cheers”
While the loss of the beloved bartender “Coach” wasn’t covered in great depth on the show itself, fans still struggled to say goodbye to actor Nicholas Colasanto, who died of a heart attack in 1985. While it took producers until the following fall to acknowledge the death in the script, many viewers praised the realistic approach that bar patrons might have handled the loss of a favorite employee (as well as the introduction of fan favorite Woody Harrelson).
Eddard Stark — “Game of Thrones”
Although Eddard — or “Ned” — Stark’s death was foretold in George R.R. Martin’s books on which the HBO show is based, it still came as a surprise to many viewers. After all, actor Sean Bean’s face was the one on all the show’s posters! Following series conventions, the character should have escaped to earn his revenge at a later time. But when his sword falls and Ned is separated from his head, all viewers can do is watch along with his helpless daughters Arya and Sansa as he meets his untimely end.
Lt. Col. Henry Blake — “M*A*S*H”
“Sad” isn’t necessarily the best descriptor for the death of Henry Blake, which is revealed in a message read by Radar that the medical officer died in a plane crash on his way back to the states. “Unexpected” might be a better fit, as death was rarely discussed on TV before 1975. Add to that the fact that the death was sprung on supporting cast members (only Alan Alda knew the contents of the message) so that their reactions of shock and horror would be as genuine as possible, and you’ve got the recipe for one of TV’s most memorable (if not visually stunning) deaths.
Omar Little — “The Wire”
As the patron saint of East Coast crime, it’s not surprising that the seemingly-invincible Omar meets his end on gritty crime drama, “The Wire.” What is surprising is the method of his execution, which comes not at the hands of a policeman or gang member, but from a teenager trying to make a name for himself on the streets. It’s the randomness of the killing — and the loss of a beloved character — that earns this episode a spot on our list of saddest TV deaths.
Lane Pryce —“Mad Men”
The character drama Mad Men revolves more around emotional complexity and real life issues than manufactured outbursts, which makes scenes like the suicide of marketing exec Lane Pryce all the more poignant. In the face of crushing debt — and following a botched attempt at taking his life in the Jaguar he can’t afford to pay for — Lane hangs himself in the office, leaving his body to be found by Joan. It’s a sad end — one that’s exacerbated by Don Draper’s recent tongue-lashing of the character.
Edith Bunker — “Archie Bunker’s Place”
Knowing that Jean Stapleton wanted to be written off the series didn’t make her passing of a stroke in the second season premiere any easier to watch. In the episode, Archie Bunker is forced to face his worst nightmare — the loss of his wife — and his grief is almost too much to take. It’s a well-acted, well-written episode, but it’s not one to watch if you’re in a cheerful, light-hearted mood!
Amber Volakis — “House”
The two-part season four finale of the popular medical drama has been described as “beautifully crafted, but unspeakably harsh” for the way it handles the death of employee Amber Volakis following a bus crash involving her character and Dr. House. After the “medical mystery of the week” is solved, it’s revealed that Amber will die as the result of her injuries and a drug reaction, though she can be woken up in order to say her final goodbyes. As the episode ends, she’s taken off life support while surrounded by friends and coworkers, having chosen to end her life with acceptance and love, rather than anger.
Phil Hartman — “NewsRadio”
The tragic murder of Phil Hartman in 1998 left a huge hole in the comedy world — and plenty of concerns about the future of his NewsRadio sitcom. And although the series would only last one season in his absence, the show’s writers came together to create a meaningful tribute episode at the start of season five that centered around the reading of the character’s final will. As with other deaths mentioned above, the true power of this episode comes from the genuine emotion displayed by cast members as they said a public goodbye to the comedy legend.
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