Though we often become attached to some of our favorite film and television characters — and by association, also the actors who play them — sometimes we don’t realize the actors passed away. Whether it’s due to little press surrounding their death, or because we simply forgot, discovering they’re no longer with us is puzzling. Read on to discover these celebrities who died without you knowing.
1. Richard Griffiths
English actor Richard Griffiths was perhaps most recognized as nasty uncle Vernon Dursley from the Harry Potter franchise. But that’s far from being the extent of his résumé. Griffiths was also an acclaimed stage actor, having won a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, among a number of other awards.
Complications arising from heart surgery were what led to Griffiths’ death at the age of 65 in 2013. Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe paid tribute to Griffiths, saying, “Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career…Any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence.”
2. James Avery
Hollywood actor James Avery catapulted to stardom for his role on the legendary NBC television sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Avery played one of the best-known adult role models in TV history, Uncle Phil, who TV Guide ranked as number 34 in the list of “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.”
In 2013, Avery passed away from problems following an open heart surgery. He was 68 years old at the time. His death rocked coworkers and fans alike. Will Smith said of his passing, “Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living, and being a respectable human being came through James Avery. Every young man needs an Uncle Phil. Rest in peace.”
3. Lisa Robin Kelly
Lisa Robin Kelly’s career first took off after she landed roles in Poltergeist: The Legacy and Married with Children. But she didn’t get her big break until 1998, when she played Laurie Forman on the generation-defining comedy series, That ’70s Show. Her performance opened doors for her appearances on productions such as Charmed.
While Kelly’s on-screen performances garnered a substantial fan base, the troubles from her personal life eventually caught up to her. Pretty abruptly, she was written out of That ’70s Show so that her character Laurie could go to beauty school. She later passed away in 2013 after losing the battle against substance dependencies. She was 43 years old at the time of her death.
4. Gary Coleman
Former child star Gary Coleman made a name for himself in Hollywood thanks to his unforgettable role as Arnold Jackson in the hit sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes. He instantly became a fan favorite thanks to his characters’ catchphrase, “What’chu talkin’ bout, Willis?!”
This role also helped him land jobs working on a number of other series and films, like The Kid with the Broken Halo. Unfortunately, Coleman’s Hollywood career came to an end in 2010. The esteemed actor passed away after falling down a flight of stairs at his home. Coleman was 42 years old at the time of the freak accident.
5. Carl Switzer
Our favorite freckle-faced, Darla-loving Little Rascal, Alfalfa was played by Hollywood actor, Carl Switzer, who became a favorite among moviegoers after acting in Reg’lar Fellers and Our Gang. But the child actor didn’t have the same success landing roles once he entered adulthood.
As an adult, Switzer mainly appeared in B-level films before making the switch to television. Aside from acting, he worked as a breeder and trainer for hunting dogs, as well as being a hunting expedition guide. In 1959, when Switzer was 31 years old, he was involved in an altercation over a lost hunting dog and $50. He was unfortunately shot and killed.
6. Rob Knox
Harry Potter‘s Marcus Belby, Rob Knox began his acting career at 11 years old. He started out with small roles in British series The Bill, After You’ve Gone, and Trust Me, I’m a Teenager before landing his first movie role in the 2004 historical adventure film, King Arthur.
At just 18 years old, Knox’s life came to a tragic end. He was at a Southeast London bar in 2008 when he and his little brother were involved in an altercation. Knox was stabbed and ultimately succumbed to his injuries. In his memory, his family started the Rob Knox Foundation to help train young, aspiring artists.
7. Thuy Trang
Born in the South Vietnamese capital city, Thuy Trang immigrated to the United States with her family after Saigon fell to the Viet Cong in 1975, when she was just an infant. She was on track to become a civil engineer, until she switched her focus and decided to pursue a career in acting.
Trang’s first experience in front of the camera was for a Church of Scientology commercial. This helped her land her first big role as the Yellow Power Ranger, Trini Kwan, in the 1993 original cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. She appeared in the first and second seasons, and then went on to work on a number of other shows and films, including Spy Hard. Trang’s acting career unfortunately came to an end when she was killed in a car accident in 2001. She was 27 years old at the time.
8. Harold Ramis
Original Ghostbusters co-writer and star Harold Ramis’ writing career began in college when he first started writing plays. He then moved on to freelance writing for the Chicago Daily News before becoming joke editor and reviewer for Playboy magazine. The position opened lots of doors for the young writer in Hollywood, and Ramis went on to co-write and act in Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, and Stripes.
The 2009 film Year One was the last movie Ramis acted in, wrote, produced, and directed. The Renaissance man passed away in 2014 at the age of 69 due to complications arising from an autoimmune ailment. Following his death, President Obama said, “When we watched his movies — from Animal House and Caddyshack to Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day — we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings.”
9. Michael Clarke Duncan
Before Michael Clarke Duncan became an Academy Award-nominated actor, he was digging ditches for a living. He then became a bodyguard for a number of big-name celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, The Notorious B.I.G., and Will Smith, to name a few. During this time, Duncan decided he would try his hand at commercial acting.
He started his acting career portraying bouncers in movies like A Night at the Roxbury and Bulworth. His big break came after heartbreaking performance as wrongly-convicted John Coffey in the 1999 fantasy crime drama, The Green Mile, earning him an Oscar nomination. In 2012, the praised actor suffered a heart attack and died. He was 54 years old.
10. Marcia Wallace
Quirky red-headed comedienne Marcia Wallace is most remembered for her role as Edna Krabappel, aka Bart’s teacher on The Simpsons. Her voiceover on the 1992 episode “Bart the Lover” earned the actress an Emmy Award. Before her work on the animated sitcom, Wallace played the chatty and witty receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show.
Wallace tragically passed away in 2013 at the age of 70 from pneumonia and sepsis. She was surrounded by her loved ones in her Los Angeles home. Simpsons executive producer Al Jean paid tribute to the actress, saying, “You fall in love with these people when you see them as characters on television, but when you met Marcia you loved her even more.”
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11. Dana Plato
Rewind to 1978 when Dana Plato became a household name for her role as Kimberly Drummond on the popular NBC sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes. The show became an immediate hit for NBC and ran for a total of eight seasons, even leading to its much-beloved spin-off, The Facts of Life, which was just as successful.
Diff’rent Strokes came to an end around 1985 and Plato struggled to find her place in the world. For years, Plato battled substance abuse until taking her own life in 1999 at the age of 34. She is still remembered today for her effortlessly sweet, charismatic television presence.
12. Heather O’Rourke
Child actress Heather O’Rourke got her big break in Hollywood after getting discovered by famed director Steven Spielberg during a visit to MGM’s studios. It was Spielberg who chose to cast O’Rourke as the daughter with eerie premonitions in his 1982 horror film Poltergeist, for which she is most remembered today.
O’Rourke played Carol Anne Freeling in the three Poltergeist films and appeared in twelve TV series, for which she won one Webster Award and was nominated for six Young Artist Awards. O’Rourke had an astonishing number of accomplishments before her untimely death at 12 years old. In 1988, the cherubic child star passed away from septic shock and cardiac arrest.
13. Taylor Negron
Actor and comedian Taylor Negron was known for his roles on sitcoms like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and That’s So Raven. And let’s not forget his legendary pizza delivery scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High! Off camera, Negron was an accomplished writer and painter.
In 2008, Negron was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. He bravely battled the disease for seven years until passing away in his Los Angeles home in 2015. Negron was 57 years old at the time. An outpouring of love flowed over social media immediately following the star’s death, and he is still remembered for his brilliant, comedic voice.
14. Glenn Quinn
Irish actor Glenn Quinn is most recognized for his role as Mark Healy on the 1990s sitcom, Roseanne. He also made a name for himself as Doyle, the half-demon seer from the late ’90s Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off show, Angel. Quinn was apparently very happy that Angel‘s producers made his character Irish.
He played British Mark on Roseanne, until the show’s end in 1997. After six seasons of faking a British accent, Quinn appreciated the freedom to speak in his native accent. When Roseanne was revived in 2018, Mark was conspicuously absent. Quinn had passed away in 2002 from a substance overdose. He was 32 years old.
15. Skye McCole Bartusiak
Texas-born Skye McCole Bartusiak got her start in Hollywood as Pippa Hatcher in Stephen King’s 1999 horror miniseries, Storm of the Century. She then went on to play Mel Gibson’s youngest daughter in the Revolutionary War epic The Patriot, the role that she is perhaps best known for.
Bartusiak’s career began to take off and she was cast as Marilyn Monroe in the television series, Blonde. From there, she starred in a number of other series and films. The actress’ final film role was in indie creation Sick Boy in 2012. Two years later, she died from an accidental substance overdose. She was just 21 years old.
16. Jonathan Brandis
Jonathan Brandis’ first stint in front of the camera was at the tender age of two, when his parents signed him up for modeling. He appeared in a number of commercials before landing a recurring role as Kevin Buchanan on the ABC soap opera, One Life to Live.
In 1990, Brandis played main character Bastian Bux in the fantasy film sequel, The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. This was his first starring role and helped make him a household name. Unfortunately in 2003, Brandis’ life came to a tragic end. He took his own life at 27 years old.
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17. David Graf
Ohio native David Graf first appeared on television in 1979 as a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. While he participated in the game show a number of times, the beginning of the ’80s proved to be a trying time for the actor, who struggled to find work.
After making small appearances in shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and M*A*S*H, Graf landed a role playing Eugene Tackleberry in the film Police Academy. He also played Tackleberry in the film’s spin-off television series. This led to a recurring role in West Wing and an appearance in Star Trek: Voyager. In 2001, Graf tragically passed away from a sudden heart attack. He was 50 years old.
18. Windell Middlebrooks
The face of Miller Hill Life beer ads, Windell Middlebooks is remembered by fans for his role in The Suite Life on Deck –– the sequel to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody — where he played cruise ship security guard Kirby Morris. Middlebrooks also had starring roles in Ace in the Hole and Body of Proof.
But that’s not all. Millennials will also recognize the Texas-born actor for his appearances on Hannah Montana, My Name is Earl, and Scrubs. In 2015, Middlebrooks sadly passed away from a blood clot when he was just 36 years old. Fans everywhere took to Twitter to express their sorrow and “RIP Kirby” became trending.
19. Wendie Jo Sperber
Best known for portraying Linda McFly in Back to the Future and for starring alongside Tom Hanks on the television sitcom Bosom Buddies, Wendie Jo Sperber is a face many film and series fans are familiar with. It’s only logical that she became a big Hollywood name, seeing as she was born and raised right nearby.
Sperber grew up with dreams of pursuing a career in performing arts. All that seemed possible after she was cast in her first small role in the 1978 comedy Corvette Summer. And while Sperber had quite a lucrative on-screen career, her time spent acting on camera ended in 2005, when Sperber unfortunately passed away from breast cancer at the age of 47.
20. Natasha Richardson
Tony Award-winning actress and Redgrave acting dynasty member Natasha Richardson began her acting career in the theater. Her versatility as an actress helped her succeed in both plays and musicals such as Anna Christie and A Streetcar Named Desire. But perhaps one of her most well-known roles was in the hit 1998 rom-com remake, The Parent Trap.
Prior to playing Annie and Hallie’s mother, Elizabeth James, Richardson had a tendency to play more volatile women. The shift to a more lighthearted role is how most of her fans will remember her. Richardson tragically passed away in 2009 after suffering from head injuries due to a ski accident. She was 45 at the time of her death, leaving Oscar-nominee husband Liam Neeson a widower.
21. Michael Jeter
Aspiring doctor turned actor, Michael Jeter is perhaps most well-known for his portrayal of Eduard Delacroix, the convicted felon from The Green Mile. He, along with the rest of the actors in the film, earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for the performance.
But that’s not the only recognition of achievement Jeter received. In 1990, he won a Tony Award for his role in Broadway musical Grand Hotel, and in 1992 he won an Emmy Award for his performance in the sitcom Evening Shade. Jeter unfortunately passed away in 2003 from what his partner said was an epileptic seizure. He was 50 years old at the time.
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22. John Spencer
John Spencer is remembered by West Wing fans for his role as Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff for fictional American President Josiah Bartlet. His performance won him a Primetime Emmy Award in 2002 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Spencer’s career was launched after he appeared in the ABC 1963 sitcom, The Patty Duke Show. From there, he went on to score a number of supporting roles, even portraying Captain Hugh Paulsen in the Wing Commander IV: The Prince of Freedom video game. Spencer’s life was unfortunately cut short after passing away from a heart attack in 2005. He was 58 years old.
23. Gregory Hines
Effervescent dancer and actor Gregory Hines made his film debut in the 1981 comedy film History of the World, Part I, which was written, directed, and produced by legendary funnyman Mel Brooks. His irresistible charm caught critics’ attention, and he went on to land roles in films like The Cotton Club, White Nights, and Waiting to Exhale.
In 1997, Hines starred in his own series, The Gregory Hines Show. He also landed a recurring role in Will and Grace playing Ben Doucette. In 2000, Hines starred as saxophonist Tyrone Pike in the drama film, The Tic Code. Nine years years later, Hines sadly lost his life to liver cancer at age 51.
24. Leonard Nimoy
Though Leonard Nimoy has a long résumé of on-screen roles, directing projects, and even photography gigs, his name is pretty much synonymous with his 1960s Star Trek character, Mr. Spock. Nimoy would go on to portray the pointy-eared USS Enterprise first officer in television and in movies for nearly 50 years.
But he also did much more. Nimoy was the author of seven poetry collections and established a name for himself as a versatile director. He directed a rendition of the 1981 play Vincent, which chronicles the life of iconic painter Vincent Van Gogh, and introduced Three Men and a Baby, which was a box office hit around the world. Nimoy passed away at the age of 83 in 2015 after falling into a coma.
25. Chris Penn
Chris Penn may be the youngest brother of actor Sean Penn, but we’d say he made a name for himself in his own right in the Hollywood acting scene. Perhaps one of his most recognizable roles was as in the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film, Reservoir Dogs, in which he played criminal Eddie Cabot, the “Nice Guy”.
Penn also appeared in a number of other popular movies such as Corky Romano, Mulholland Falls, and Starsky & Hutch. In 1986, he starred alongside his brother in At Close Range. He was also the voice of Eddie Pulaski, the officer in the famous video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In 2006, Penn passed away from heart disease. He was 40 years old at the time of his death.
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