The killing off of a character is a device in fiction, whereby a character dies but the story continues. The term, frequently applied to television, film and chronological series, often denotes an untimely or unexpected death motivated by factors beyond the storyline. It also implies a critical or cynical attitude towards a work, and is rarely used by authors when discussing their own works.
In productions featuring actors, the unwillingness or inability of an actor to continue with the production, for financial or other reasons (including illness, death, or producers' unwillingness to retain an actor), may lead to that character being "killed off" or removed from the storyline.
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- Until the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood film plots featuring death and danger, such as action or horror, were criticised for killing off secondary black characters prematurely to advance the plot, leading to accusations of tokenism; examples include The Shining and the Alien series. However, with more black actors in starring roles since the 1990s, this trend is thought to have decreased – numerous American films and television series have also made knowing references to the idea as a cliché. One of the first films to notably avoid this cliche at least partially was 1968's Night of the Living Dead, which cast Duane Jones in the lead role and the last of the characters to be killed. However, the fact that he is killed at all is still considered problematic. Director George Romero has been quoted as saying that he cast Jones not because he was African-American, but because he "simply gave the best audition", implying that his character would have been killed regardless of his race.
- Because of the episodic format of Television shows, audience feedback and approval is often a factor in whether or not a character is killed off. Executive Producer of LOST Damon Lindelof has been quoted as saying that despite the wide-spread hate for two abruptly introduced and widely disliked characters, "We had a plan when we introduced them, and we didn't get to fully execute that plan. But when the plan is executed, [they] will be iconic characters on the show". He was referring, of course, to their deaths, which received an extremely positive reaction from fans. Although their lack of popularity was acknowledged even in-universe, Lindelof's insistence that they would serve a purpose within the show seems characteristic of the earlier assertion that creators dislike acknowledging a cynical attitude towards the killing of their own characters. In an example of a character being killed off as a result of an actor leaving the show, Raymond Cruz's character Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad was killed off because he found the part too difficult to play.
- The Palestinian children's character Farfur (a Mickey Mouse lookalike) is an example of a character "killed off" for political reasons in 2007. After the program received criticism from some government ministers in both Palestine and Israel for espousing anti-Israeli sentiments, the Farfur character was killed off. Even his death, at the hands of an "Israeli agent," making Farfur a "martyr," was similarly politicised.
- Because of the ongoing nature of most television series, and the resulting cast changes that result, television characters are typically more prone to being killed off than those in other media. For example, John Ritter's character in 8 Simple Rules was written to have died off screen after Ritter himself died during taping of the show. The British sitcom In Sickness and in Health similarly killed off Else Garnett, one of the leads of the programme, due to the death of the actress who played her, Dandy Nichols.
- In Being Human (TV series) all of the original starting characters were killed off by the end of the fourth season.
- Two and a Half Men's ninth season opened with Charlie Harper's funeral. The character had been killed off due to disagreements between Charlie Sheen and the producers of the show. Similarly, Norman Lear reluctantly killed off Edith Bunker, one of the stars of All in the Family and Archie Bunker's Place, after actress Jean Stapleton decided to quit the series.
- Priceline.com apparently killed off its lead character, the "Priceline Negotiator" (portrayed by longtime company spokesman William Shatner), in an advertisement during Super Bowl XLVI. The killing off, however, turned out to be a hoax, as Shatner returned with his protege (portrayed by Kaley Cuoco) in later commercials.
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- TV Tropes, "Real Life Writes the Plot"
- Feo Amante's Horror Thriller: "Unfair Racial Cliché Alert: 1980s" retrieved 5 December 2008
- theblackactor.com: Do Black Guys Die First? retrieved 5 December 2008
- TV Tropes, "Black Dude Dies First" retrieved 5 December 2008
- George A. Romero, quoted in Jones, Rough Guide to Horror Movies, p. 118.
- Jensen, Jeff & Snierson, Dan, (February 8, 2007) "'Lost' and Found," Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on October 19th 2012.
- Cruz, Raymond (March 17, 2009) "" AMC. retrieved 19 October 2012
- BBC News: "Hamas 'Mickey Mouse' killed off retrieved 5 December 2008
- Warren, Lydia (January 29, 2012). The real Super Bowl battle: Ad giants reveal what to expect during war of the airwaves (and at a cost of $3.5million for 30 seconds, they'd better be good). The Daily Mail. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- Daily Telegraph: "Batman to be killed off after 70 years retrieved 5 December 2008
- UPI Entertainment news: "Batman not killed off in comic", 27 Nov 2008 retrieved 5 December 2008
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