Sitcoms have been around for many decades. However, many would argue that the genre really came into its own in the 1980s. These years had an explosion of comedy series that changed television forever.
Consider titles like Growing Pains, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and The Facts of Life. Some of these shows are considered among the best sitcoms ever made.
While the laughs may still be fondly in your memory, you may have forgotten about some of the stars,
Unfortunately, some of the actors and actresses who shined in these sitcoms have passed away.
Though they are gone, their series’ will always available. As long as these shows are still held in such high regard in the comedy world, their legacies will live on.
Keep watching to discover tv and sitcom stars who died without you knowing.
Alan Thicke – Growing Pains
Alan Thicke started out doing comedy in Canada where he was born. He was the host of a talk show called The Alan Thicke Show.
His comedy skills instantly recognized. He was so popular in Canada that TV execs thought he should make the transfer to United States screens.
Thicke agreed and he set up with the late-night talk show Thicke of Night. Though the product was similar to his Canadian series, Audiences still favored the wildly popular Johnny Carson Show.
The failure to grasp attention led to Thicke’s series only lasting one season.
However, he’s not finished making waves on television. Thicke was about to make his big break.
In 1985, he cast as the lead in the ABC comedy Growing Pains. The show tells the adventures of a doctor and a journalist who are raising three kids.
The family comedy was wildly popular and ran for 7 seasons. The traction was due, in part, to Thicke’s memorable character Dr. Jason Seaver for which he nominated for a golden globe.
Alan Thicke had a fatal heart attack at the age of 69 in 2016. He is survived by his three sons – one of which is musician Robin Thicke.
Alan Thicke’s sitcom work led to his induction into Canada’s walk of fame
Harry Anderson – Night Court
1984’s Night Court was a funny idea for a series. A fun-loving judge keeps an eye on and plays a part in the hilarious hijinks that occur in hearings of his night court.
No one could have played Judge Harry T. Stone as well as Harry Anderson.
Anderson began his career on Saturday Night Live and The Mike Douglas Show. He paired his stand-up comedy with his skills as a sleight of hand magician.
As it turns out, Anderson was ready-made for a sitcom as a stars. He had such a unique and magnetic personality that his character on Night Court didn’t require him to change too much. Even his penchant for magic was written into his character.
The series was a smash hit. It ran for 9 seasons and almost 200 episodes.
Anderson’s character was a riot, too. He has received Emmy nominations three years in a row for his portrayal of Judge Stone.
In 2018, Harry Anderson was hospitalized with influenza. After battling the illness for several months, he died at the young age of 65.
Garry Shandling – It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
Garry Shandling bounced around the comedy scene in the 1970s and 80s. He was on daytime tv, did stand-up shows, and was a regular guest on the Johnny Carson show.
Shandling was such a force of comedy that it was only a matter of time before he got his own show.
However, Shandling’s comedy was so progressive that his show was not going to be a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Working with Showtime, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show makes fun of all the conventional tropes in TV comedy.
The series focuses on a tv and sitcom stars and it’s filmed on a purposely fake-looking set. Yet the most memorable trope was the series breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience.
This innovation and meta-humor created by Garry Shandling made him a household name of comedy through the 1990s.
One of his last roles was a very funny cameo playing a villain to Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.
In 2016, Shandling suffered from a blood clot in his heart. He died at age 66.
Although his death is tragic, he will always be remembered for changing sitcoms with “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”
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Charlotte Rae – The Facts of Life
Although she started on Diff’rent Strokes, it was the spin-off Series The Facts of Life that galvanized Charlotte Rae’s career.
Rae’s character Edna Garret began as a maid, but she was developed into a housemother to an all-girls boarding school.
The Facts of Life ran from 1979 to 1988. In a 200 plus episode span, it became one of the longest-running comedy series of the decade.
The Facts of Life is probably Charlotte Rae’s most famous role. In fact, in 1982, she took home the Emmy for best actress in a Comedy Series.
In 2017, after a seven-year battle with pancreatic cancer, she died at age 92.
However, this sitcom is not all that defines her career as a sitcom star. In six decades in the industry, she has two Tony nominations for her work on stage, acted in dozens of films, and was a staple of comedy television.
Leslie Nielsen – Police Squad!
If slapstick comedy has a name, it must be Leslie Nielsen.
The film Airplane! is more than enough to make this actor a comedic legend.
Yet, Nielsen also brought his iconic comedy to television. In 1982, ABC debuted Police Squad! The show, starring Nielsen, is a spoof on the dozens of cop procedurals that were popular at the time. Police Squad! was rife with gags, wordplay, slapstick, and non-sequiturs.
Unfortunately, this show didn’t catch on with audiences fast enough. After only 6 episodes, they pulled the plug.
In its short run, the show did have a cult following. Police Squad! Is ranked by TV guide as a top 10 show that was canceled too soon.
It was not all bad. Police Squad did have a legacy. The sitcom was directly responsible for inspiring Nielsen’s Naked Gun comedy films.
Nielsen died from complications of pneumonia at 84 in 2010.
Though it’s sad to think about, every fan will remember him saying “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”
Dixie Carter – Designing Women
Like Charlotte Rae, Dixie Carter also made a name for herself on Diff’rent Strokes.
She joined the series in the later season but quickly became a fan favorite. In this capacity, Carter proved she had the chops to play the leading role in a sitcom.
She was approached to be in 1986’s Designing Women. The show focuses on the lives of women who work at an interior design company in Atlanta. Though Designing Women featured an ensemble cast, it was Dixie Carter who emerged as the star.
In 2010 Carter passed away from complications of cancer.
However, Carter will be fondly remembered for her part in Designing Women which was progressive in its portrayal of women on television.
Robert Guillaume – Benson
One of the more unique sitcom ideas was Soap. The show, airing on ABC, was a parody of all the daytime soap operas. It followed the antics of two families. Along the way were tongue-in-cheek stories of murder, kidnapping, and affairs.
Among the favorite characters on the show was Robert Guillaume’s Benson Dubois as one of the sitcom star. Benson was the cook and the butler for one of the families. Guillaume won the Emmy for best supporting actor in 1979.
His character was so popular, Guillaume starred in a spin-off series called Benson. In 1985, he would take home another Emmy, this time for leading actor.
In 2017, he was diagnosed with cancer and died at the age of 89.
Although he will be best known for his portrayal of Benson DuBois, Guillaume had some other noteworthy parts.
He voiced Rafiki in The Lion King and was a series regular on Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night.
Christopher Hewett Mr. Belvedere
Christopher Hewett played the snarky and refined English butler who winds up serving a middle-class American family of five in Pittsburgh.
Hewett didn’t have much of a television presence before joining Mr. Belvedere. He had spent most of his career to this point on stage projects.
However, the producers believed he was perfect for the role of Mr. Belvedere. They must have known what they were doing because the series ran for an impressive 5 years and 118 episodes.
Hewett passed away in his home in 2001. The sitcom actor was 80 years old.
It’s sad to think about these shining stars of television comedy being gone. What’s worse is many of them died without receiving much media attention. As such, you may not have even realized they passed away.
Though some of them died too young, they will be immortalized by their sitcom stardom. So, what do you think? Which of these comedy legends will you miss the most? Do these 80s sitcoms hold up today? Sound off the comments below.
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