Playing an iconic character can make an actor’s career. But our beloved stars may not always want to play a character for too long, as much as fans may wish for the opposite. In fact, a number of performers have asked writers to kill off their characters for various reasons. And here are ten of them.
Related: Top 10 TV Shows Cancelled Too Soon
10 Isaac Hayes (Chef)—South Park
If there’s one thing South Park is known for, it’s its mockery of everything. An equal opportunity offender if there ever was one.
Soul singer Isaac Hayes voiced Jerome McElroy, referred to simply as “Chef,” in the animated comedy. For nine years, Hayes went along with South Park as the screenwriters mocked anyone and everyone. Liberals, conservatives, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons… you name it. But he called it quits when South Park crossed a line… and made fun of Scientology.
“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins. As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices,” Hayes, a Scientologist himself, said in a 2006 statement.
His character, Chef, met a gruesome death on screen in the season 10 premiere that subtly mocked his beliefs.
9 Tom Payne (Jesus)—The Walking Dead
Set in a world riven by anarchy, AMC’s The Walking Dead has one of the highest death counts on television. Its “No one is safe” philosophy leads to characters dying all the time, usually by violent means. While plot requirements kill many of the characters, some actors ask for it, the most notable being Jeffrey DeMunn and Tom Payne.
DeMunn quit and asked for the death of his character Dale Horvath in the second season after The Walking Dead fired his friend and producer Frank Darabont.
Tom Payne’s Paul “Jesus” Rovia was killed off in the middle of season nine. This was because Tom Payne, feeling that too many leading characters were alive, volunteered him for death in a bid to return the show to its “anyone can die” roots.
8 McLean Stevenson (Lt. Col. Blake)—M*A*S*H
One of M*A*S*H’s most beloved characters was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, played by McLean Stevenson. Blake died in a plane crash at the end of season three, a tragic loss mourned by many fans.
The death was caused by McLean Stevenson. Tired of playing second fiddle to Alan Alda’s Hawkeye, Stevenson wanted to leave for greener pastures. He wanted to be on a set where he was the leading man instead of a mere supporting actor. The writers indulged him and killed off Lt. Col. Blake.
Stevenson went on to star as the leading man in a couple of failed sitcoms. Unfortunately, he never found the success he sought.
Summing up his biggest mistake, Stevenson admitted, “The mistake was that I thought everybody in America loved McLean Stevenson. That was not the case. Everybody loved Henry Blake.”
7 Jessalyn Gilsig (Siggy)—Vikings
As the wife of Jarl Haraldson, Siggy was the most powerful woman in Kattegat. However, she loses that status when her husband is killed in a duel by the upstart Ragnar Lothbrok, who takes his place.
Hers is a riveting tale of a woman brought low by circumstances beyond her control and trying to claw her way back to the top. Siggy went from Ragnar’s mistress to his servant yet took all the challenges life heaped upon her with quiet and admirable grace.
It would have been gratifying to see Siggy rise again, and many fans who had hated the character at the beginning of the series started actively rooting for her. But that never came to be, as Siggy drowned while saving Ragnar’s children who had fallen into a frozen lake.
It looked like a cruel decision by the showrunners until the real reason came to light. The Canadian actress playing Siggy, Jessalyn Gilsig, found it challenging to live in Ireland for long periods. Her family in Canada needed her, but the filming schedule stood in the way. So she had Siggy written off the show.
6 Raymond Cruz (Tuco Salamanca)—Breaking Bad
Raymond Cruz portrayed the deranged and unstable drug dealer Tuco Salamanca in Breaking Bad.
While Tuco was being set up to be the big bad of season two, he died rather early in the season. That’s because Raymond Cruz hated the character. Iconic as his portrayal was, Cruz found Tuco Salamanca difficult to play. Convincingly Pulling off the performance drained the actor, a feat he felt he couldn’t keep up for a whole season.
As he said in an interview, “I asked them to kill me. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to coming back and doing the part. It’s really difficult to pull off. They were like, ‘We want you to come back and do eight more episodes.’ And I said, ‘No. I’ll do one more, and that’s it. You guys have to kill me.’ They’re like, ‘We never heard of an actor that wanted to die.’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t understand. This part’s really hard.’”
5 Josh Charles (Will Gardner)—The Good Wife
Fans of The Good Wife spent five seasons rooting for Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Will Gardner (by Josh Charles), only for Gardner to be shot dead in a courtroom by a client in the finale of season five.
However, this wasn’t due to the screenwriters pulling a George R.R. Martin. The Good Wife focused on Alicia Florrick and her relationships rather than an ensemble cast, and few characters were ever in danger of being killed off. Will Gardner’s exit was entirely due to Josh Charles deciding against renewing his contract.
Charles only had year-long contracts with the CBS production, which he kept re-upping. Finally, after four renewals, he decided he had had enough and wanted to try something else. His co-star Julianna Margulies tried dissuading him… to no avail.
“I called Josh, and I gave him terrible Jew guilt. I knew he was about to get married. I’m good friends with his wife, and they’re dear friends of ours. I said, ‘Josh, how about this: 15. Think about it. Wait. Think about it. Money in the bank for 15 episodes. Do you know how expensive it is to have a baby in New York City?’ I went right to the kid thing, and it was disgusting, honestly,” Margulies said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
4 Kal Penn (Dr. Lawrence Kutner)—House, MD
Dr. Lawrence Kutner had a memorable two-season run on House, M.D. as one of the members of the diagnostic team assisting the eccentric but brilliant Dr. Gregory House.
Dr. Kutner tragically committed suicide in the fifth season. Dr. House insisted that Kutner’s suicide made no sense given the circumstances and that his brilliant subordinate had been murdered. Kutner had never displayed any suicidal tendencies or mental health problems. Everything had been going well for him when he shot himself in the head. But the death was ruled a suicide despite House’s misgivings because the gun belonged to Kutner and had his fingerprints on it. No one found any evidence of foul play.
As always, House was right. Somewhat. Kutner’s suicide had been sudden and unexpected, but it wasn’t due to some in-world bad guy. The actor playing Kutner, Kal Penn, had asked for the death of his character following his landing of a role on Barrack Obama’s staff at the White House in 2009. To ease Kal Penn’s transition from House, M.D. to the White House, Kutner had to die.
3 Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley)—Downton Abbey
With over 120 million viewers around the world, Downton Abbey is considered one of the most popular series in British television history. Its appeal to viewers has one wondering why anyone would want to leave such a popular show. But wary of being typecast, Dan Stevens asked for Matthew Crawley to be killed off in Downton Abbey. This was heartbreaking for fans of the period drama who had fallen in love with the character.
His stint on the period drama came to a teary end when Matthew Crawley perished in a car crash in the finale of the third season. Fans everywhere were distraught, but Stevens had had enough of playing Matthew Crawley. He wanted to pursue other projects.
2 John Francis Daley (Dr. Lance Sweets)—Bones
During his six seasons on Bones, Dr. Sweets became a fan favorite and a consistent source of comedic relief. Brought onto the show to counsel both Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), he eventually squashed their initial about his ability to help. So his unexpected death in Season 10 was a surprise. However, it wasn’t a result of story concerns but rather due to the actor, John Francis Daley.
Daley wanted to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. He had received an offer to direct National Lampoon’s Vacation and decided that the death of his character would make for a fitting exit. The showrunners obliged him, and Dr. Sweets bit the dust.
1 Chyler Leigh (Lexie Grey)—Grey’s Anatomy
Chyler Leigh was better known as Dr. Alexandra “Lexie” Grey, the half-sister of Meredith Grey, the titular heroine of Grey’s Anatomy.
Lexie Grey took a job at the Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, the fictional hospital where Grey’s Anatomy is set, after learning from her father that she had an older half-sister she had never known about.
Meredith’s lack of eagerness dampened Lexie’s hopes of bonding with her sister. But her elder sister eventually warmed up to her, and the two started getting along.
After five years in the medical drama, Lexie Grey died in a plane crash alongside her on-and-off-again love interest, Mark Sloan. The two lovebirds, unable to stay together for any extended period of time in life are reunited for eternity in death. The Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital was renamed the Sloan Grey Memorial Hospital in their honor.
Leigh asked for her character to be written off so she could spend more time with her family.