Friday, 30 October 2015

When an Actor Dies, so Does his Character

Here it is, October, 2015. Last night I watched an episode of the television show Rizzoli and Isles where one of their squad had died and they suffer the loss of one of their own.

This was not the case of a character being ‘killed off’, as often happens given story lines or actors who want to move on from a certain role. The actor, in this role, died suddenly. This is shocking, and affects the actors in the show both personally and professionally.


I’m sure many of you remember when John Ritter died so suddenly in 2003,while starring in his hit television sitcom. It changed everything about that show, as he was in the pivotal role.

Ralph Waite
Strangely enough, Sasha Alexander, who plays the part of Maura Isles, was once a character on NCIS named Kate Todd She was killed by a terrorist wanting to cause Gibbs pain and torment by killing his team of investigators. I remember the episode as I had not heard any chatter that this character was being written out, and the death was shocking with the surprise.

They also suffered a real loss on that show, when Ralph Waite, the actor, died. He played Gibbs father in a recurring role. I liked that they waited until the final show that season to say goodbye and ended with his funeral. It was tastefully done, and was a fitting goodbye, to the man many of us remember as being the father from Walton’s Mountain.

Back to Rizzoli and Isles. It is very sad that the 29 year old actor, Lee Thompson Young, committed suicide in August 2013. He played Detective Barry Frost in this very successful television drama.

As the show airs on TNT, what I watch is always a year out of date. So Season 4 ended with his character off on vacation, and his character was not dealt with until the first 2 episodes of Season 5. It gets very confusing as a new 6th season aired on TNT in June and the come-from-behind 5th season on regular television this fall. And then there are all the episodes in syndication.

I have found it disconcerting to watch episodes with this young actor, knowing he is no longer with us, and knowing he hid his troubles and felt so despondent that he ended his own life.

His character, while off on vacation, was fatally killed in a car accident. The episode I just watched showed the squad reeling from the loss, and planning his funeral. I was getting some of the dates and such from various web sites and read some comments on this show. There was some discussion that the by having the character die in this manner, the show lost an opportunity to deal with the issue of suicide.

That may be correct, but as the show was airing after a time lag, it would have lost some of the impact. If they wanted to address the pain of suicide, it might better be done with a different story line, and not one of the regular cast.

The grief the actors portrayed would have been real, and I can’t imagine the strength it required to 'act out' their loss. For myself, I’m glad it’s now out in the open, so to speak. I hated watching each episode, waiting to see when it would be written it and over.

But it will never be over. Suicide leaves the survivors with too many questions, never to be answered, and a lifetime of guilt and regret.

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