6 Unusual TV Deaths

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TV's most unusual deaths only happen to tertiary characters as a rule. Producers don't want viewers to feel guilty for laughing at what should be a somber situation. So the sitcom rule of thumb has always been save the wacky deaths for non-regular cast members. Henry Blake perishing in a plane crash? Tragic. Chuckles the Clown getting shelled to death while dressed as a giant peanut? Comedy gold.

1. Mary Tyler Moore Show — Chuckles Bites the Dust

The reigning heavyweight champion in the category of "weird deaths" is still "Chuckles Bites the Dust." Chuckles the Clown was an oft-mentioned member of the WJM family, though he was only seen onscreen twice in the context of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In this classic episode, anchorman Ted Baxter was asked to be the grand marshal of a circus parade but was forced to turn the offer down by Lou Grant "“ appearing in a parade was conduct unbecoming when it came to the news business. He was replaced by Chuckles the Clown, who dressed as Peter Peanut for the occasion. Sadly, a rogue elephant attacked him and tried to shell him. The circumstances of Chuckles' death led to a slew of jokes in the WJM newsroom, much to Mary's disgust. She was appalled that anyone could laugh when someone had died. But the absurdity of the situation finally struck her during Chuckles' funeral:

2. The Bob Newhart Show — Death by Zucchini

Dr. Bob Hartley had a recurring group of regular patients in his all-encompassing "group" "“ Mr. Peterson the henpecked milquetoast, Mrs. Bakerman the elderly supermarket cashier who always seemed to be knitting, Michelle the slightly overweight Daddy's girl, and Mr. Carlin the name-the-neurosis-and-he-has-it man. Even though Mr. Carlin was known to occasionally lash out with a biting comment at other group members, he was not nearly as nasty as Mr. Gianelli, who had definite anger management issues. In the episode entitled "Death of a Fruitman," Dr. Hartley's group has arranged for a surprise party for their favorite shrink to celebrate four years together. As the patients begin to recite a special poem in tribute to Bob, Carol the receptionist learns that Mr. Gianelli, a produce wholesaler, was crushed to death earlier that day when a truckload of zucchini fell on him.

Mr. Peterson: You helped us all in every way.
Mr. Carlin: You got inside our head.
Michelle: And that is why we'd like to say...
Carol (bursting into the office): Mr. Gianelli's dead!
Mrs. Bakerman: Well, that rhymes.

Noam Pitlik, who played Mr. Gianelli, had decided to leave the show in order to concentrate on producing and directing another sitcom, Barney Miller.

3. Seinfeld — The Invitations

Susan Biddle Ross' on-again, off-again romance with George Costanza finally resulted in the couple getting engaged at the end of season seven. Typically, George got cold feet almost immediately after popping the question and tried his best to be extra-obnoxious in an effort to get Susan to call the whole thing off. Susan probably should've twigged on to her fiancé's reluctance when he chose the cheapest wedding invitations available. No wonder they'd been discontinued "“ the glue on the envelopes was toxic, and Susan fell ill and died after licking one too many. "The Invitations" originally aired in 1996 and was temporarily pulled from the syndication package after the 2001 anthrax attacks in the U.S.

4. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman — Killer Soup

Fernwood, Ohio, the setting for Norman Lear's soap parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was a veritable death trap. Not only was there a serial killer terrorizing the locals, several Fernwood residents met their demise in bizarre ways. Jimmy Joe Jeeter, an eight-year-old evangelist, was electrocuted when a TV set fell into his bathtub. Garth Gimble, a notorious wife-beater portrayed by Martin Mull, accidentally impaled himself on the pointy end of an aluminum Christmas tree in his closet. The odd circumstances of Coach Leroy Fedders' death were conjured up not by the show's writers but by Norman Lear himself. Leroy, miserably sick with the flu and unable to sleep, is sitting at the kitchen table alternately sipping bourbon and popping Seconals. Ever-helpful Mary Hartman drops by with a huge bowl of her homemade chicken soup. While Mary and Leroy's wife go off to chat, the coach grows drowsy, falls face-first into the broth and slowly drowns.

5. Cheers — The Zamboni Accident

When Carla Tortelli married Eddie LeBec, he earned a living by playing goalie for the Boston Bruins. But then his game started going downhill, so he retired and joined a touring show called "The Wonderful World of Ice." Eddie played a penguin in the show and died a noble death when he was run over by a Zamboni while pushing a fellow cast member out of the machine's path. It was later revealed that Eddie probably wouldn't have been killed off had actor Jay Thomas not, during a radio interview, responded to a caller's question about life on the Cheers set by saying: "It's brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman."

6. Will and Grace — Blown Away

Diminutive (4'11") actor Leslie Jordan received an Emmy Award for his portrayal of perpetual-thorn-in-Karen's-side Beverley Leslie on Will and Grace. He was wealthy and traveled in the same social circles as Karen and delighted in publicly taking her down a peg or two. Even though Beverley was ostensibly married, the other characters viewed him as a closeted gay man. And their assumption may well have been true, since in the final episode it was revealed that Karen had encouraged a reluctant Jack to cozy up to Beverley. When the tiny Beverley was blown off of a balcony by a strong gust of wind and fell to his death, Jack was the beneficiary of his estate, which allowed him and Karen to continue their bacchanalian friendship. Interestingly enough, the writers had originally intended for the Beverley Leslie character to be a female portrayed by Joan Collins. But Ms. Collins pulled out of the project after reading a script that involved a catfight between Beverley and Karen, during which Bev's wig would be pulled off.

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May 11, 2010 - 12:04pm
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