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11 Actors Who Asked for Their Characters to Be Killed Off

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AMC Networks

Sometimes an actor’s relationship with a character just runs its course. Here are 11 actors who asked for their characters to be killed off. Though not all of them got their wish (at least not yet), spoiler alerts abound.

1. DEAN NORRIS // “HANK SCHRADER” ON BREAKING BAD

While his character was a fan favorite, Dean Norris wanted Hank Schrader to be killed off in the middle of Breaking Bad’s final season. However, since the final season was split into two parts, Norris had to stay on until the end. As a result, Norris had to turn down the opportunity to star in a sitcom pilot in order to finish filming Breaking Bad’s fifth season.

“I said, ‘Would it be interesting if Hank died in the first eight?'" Norris explained on CBS This Morning. “[AMC] said, ‘No, we kind of need you for the last eight. We’ve been building that up for the last five years’ ... Obviously, I’m glad that they did.”

2. HARRISON FORD // “HAN SOLO” IN STAR WARS

Before making Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford expressed his interest in seeing Han Solo die during the final installment in the original Star Wars trilogy. But George Lucas disagreed with Ford, because the filmmaker "didn't think there was any future in dead Han toys." However, more than 30 years later, Ford finally got to see Han Solo’s end in The Force Awakens. In a fan Q&A for Entertainment Weekly, Ford admitted that the character’s death made for a better movie.

“I think it’s a fitting use of the character. I’ve been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years, not because I was tired of him or because he’s boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight.”

3. SOPHIE TURNER // “SANSA STARK” ON GAME OF THRONES

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Sophie Turner wants her Game of Thrones character Sansa Stark to be killed off before the series ends—because she wants her character to die in a memorable and shocking way. Considering that Game of Thrones will only be on HBO for a few more seasons, and that George R.R. Martin, the creator of the books on which it's based, has yet to complete the saga, there’s a good chance that Turner might get her wish.

“I don’t want to survive,” Turner told The Wall Street Journal. “If you’re on Game of Thrones and you don’t have a cool death scene, then what’s the point?”

4. ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE // “MR. EKO” IN LOST

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje grew more and more unhappy living in Hawaii and working on Lost, and after the death of both of his parents, Akinnuoye-Agbaje wanted to return home to London as soon as possible. Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse weren’t happy to see him leave, but respected Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s wishes and killed off his character at the beginning of season three.

"Our Mr. Eko plans very quickly derailed,” Lindelof explained. “Adewale’s unhappiness was almost instantaneous. On his second episode, he was expressing extreme dissatisfaction. Originally he was going to be someone who challenged Locke for the spiritual leadership of the castaways."

5. JOHN FRANCIS DALEY // “DR. LANCE SWEETS” ON BONES

Although he was a series regular, John Francis Daley’s Dr. Lance Sweets was killed off on Bones at the actor’s request. Daley got a job directing the Vacation reboot, so instead of just leaving the story halfway through season 10, Dr. Sweets was fatally assaulted.

“The directing job was not something that I could walk away from,” Daley told TVLine.com. “It was such a huge opportunity. It feels like a good next step in my career and my life; I always dreamed of being a director. So to be able to do something like this on such a huge scale—it’s a huge studio movie—it’s definitely not something I could turn my back on. It was a sacrifice for sure.”

6. DAN STEVENS // “MATTHEW CRAWLEY” ON DOWNTON ABBEY

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For three years, Dan Stevens played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. But at the end of season three, Stevens wanted to pursue a career on the stage and in movies—so Crawley was killed off in a car accident.

“We were always optioned for three years,” Stevens explained to The Telegraph. “And when that came up, it was a very difficult decision. But it felt like a good time to take stock, to take a moment. From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do other things. It is a very monopolizing job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be.”

7. SIGOURNEY WEAVER // “ELLEN RIPLEY” IN ALIEN

Alien 3 was supposed to mark the end of a trilogy with the death of Ellen Ripley. At the end of the film, Ripley sacrificed her life to save the planet from a Xenomorph. Apparently, Sigourney Weaver wanted to kill off Ripley because she didn’t want to keep playing the character in movies that sounded awful.

When asked if it was her idea to kill off Ripley during a Q&A at the 2015 London Film and Comic Con, Weaver responded, “Well, yes—because I heard that Fox was gonna do Alien vs. Predator. Which really depressed me because I was very proud of the movies.”

8. ISAAC HAYES // “CHEF” ON SOUTH PARK

In 2006, Isaac Hayes wanted to leave South Park after nine years of voicing Chef, as he was deeply offended with its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for criticizing Scientology. Hayes, who has been a Scientologist since 1993, asked to be let out of his contract with South Park. Chef was killed off in the season 10 premiere.

"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," Hayes said in a statement. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

9. KAL PENN // “DR. LAWRENCE KUTNER” ON HOUSE

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In 2009, during his stint on the medical drama House, Kal Penn took a job at the White House working with the Obama administration. In order to dedicate more time to this new political career, Penn requested that his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, be eliminated. The series’ producers and writers obliged and Dr. Kutner committed suicide at the end of season five.

"I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House,” Penn told Entertainment Weekly at the time. “I got to know the president and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison.”

10. T.R. KNIGHT // “DR. GEORGE O’MALLEY” ON GREY’S ANATOMY

Although his character, Dr. George O'Malley, was a fan favorite, the actor who played him, T.R. Knight, found it increasingly difficult to work with Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes. He stated that there was a gradual "breakdown in communication" over the years and that he became frustrated with seeing his screen time dwindle at the beginning of season five. As a result, Knight asked to be written off the TV show, and Dr. O’Malley was subsequently hit by a bus.

"My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about the character George]," Knight explained to Entertainment Weekly. "And with respect, I'm going to leave it at that."

11. JOSH CHARLES // “WILL GARDNER” ON THE GOOD WIFE

In the middle of The Good Wife’s fifth season, Josh Charles’s character, Will Gardner, was fatally shot in the courtroom by his client. While the decision to kill off Gardner was made a year earlier, fans were shocked—and upset. In truth, it was Charles’s decision; he simply decided not to return for season six after his contract was up, as he wanted to pursue other creative projects.

“I had a very short-term deal,” Charles told Deadline. “It was renewed a couple of times over, and at the end of the fourth year my contract was up, and I chose not to renew. It was just a creative decision for me wanting to go and explore new stuff—in my life, in my career.”

In addition, The Good Wife’s creators had to issue an open letter to fans to justify his death: “And when faced with the gut punch of Josh’s decision, made over a year ago, to move on to other creative endeavors, we had a major choice to make,” Robert and Michelle King wrote.

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

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Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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