9 Television Stars Who Left Us in 2023

Posted on February 7, 2024

by Eric P

TV people aren’t like normal famous people. Famous musicians and movie stars exist on pedestals. There’s a distance there. But TV stars show up in your living room – or on your laptop or your phone – on the regular. Especially since the advent of reruns and bingeing. Maybe you adore these people, maybe you can’t stand them, but they’re there, all the time, like family. It feels like you know them. Rihanna or Denzel, they’re glorious, they’re celestial, and you can’t really say you know them. But that one guy on that one sitcom that ran for eleven seasons? Totally knowable.

So when a TV star dies, it feels like a different kind of loss – more palpable, maybe. Closer to home. We sustained multiple such losses in 2023 – performers and personalities who brought their distinctive visions to the small screen and profoundly shaped American culture for years thereafter. Here are nine of them, presented now with no commercial interruptions.

Shirley, I Jest!

by Cindy Williams

eBook | hoopla

Laverne, played by the late Penny Marshall, was arguably more attention-grabbing, with her monogrammed wardrobe, Brooklyn accent, and milk-and-Pepsi habit. But Cindy Williams’s Shirley was every bit Laverne’s comic equal, mugging and wheedling and throwing herself into slapstick set pieces that invited comparisons to I Love Lucy. In a just world, Williams’s disarming charm and comedy chops would have led to prominent clowning in blockbuster shows and movies after Laverne and Shirley wrapped. But that’s how the schlimazel crumbles.


by Jerry Springer

hoopla video

For most people, having run one of Ohio’s biggest cities would be the headline in their bio. But former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer’s political career was eclipsed by his 27-year run as a daytime talk show host, dominatrix wrangler, and zeitgeist-shaper. At the time, some thought Springer’s lurid, exploitive, and sometimes combative talk show heralded the end of civilization; now it just seems ahead of its time.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

As his most famous creation Pee-Wee Herman, Paul Reubens got his start doing live comedy performances that were ironically over-the-top pastiches of a Saturday morning children’s television show; later, he did the exact same shtick on TV as an actual, earnest Saturday morning children’s television show. Equally beloved by kids and adults and squares and hipsters, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was brightly colored, convulsively kinetic, innocent and knowing, and joyously self-referential – TV about TV, in the best possible way.

Priceless Memories

by Bob Barker

eBook | eAudio | hoopla audio

There’s a certain subset of a certain generation of Americans, raised before the invention of TikTok or texting or Baldur’s Gate, for whom staying home sick meant watching The Price is Right. Everything about the game show was a little bizarre: it revolved not around trivia or puzzle-solving but rather one of the most quotidian, mundane, and necessary details of daily life: how much is that box of Rice-a-Roni? Atop that relentlessly narrow concept, The Price is Right built a full hour of daily programming – an audaciously epic length for a daytime game show, borderline Homeric, twice as long as Family Feud or Jokers Wild. It never seemed like it should work at all. But under the smooth and coolly avuncular leadership of Bob Barker the show thrived for fifty years, becoming an American institution and introducing a showcase showdown’s worth of phrases into the lexicon: Come on down. The big wheel. Plinko. Have your pets spayed or neutered.


Most actors would be grateful to star in just one successful TV series. Then there’s Scottish actor David McCallum, who not only made his mark in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 1960s and NCIS in the 21st century but was also a classically trained musician whose 1967 song “The Edge” is one of the most often sampled compositions in hip hop. I mean, there’s multitasking, and then there’s just showing off.

Two’s Company

by Suzanne Somers

Even though it was a massive hit, the cheerfully sophomoric sitcom Three’s Company never got any respect; critical observers tagged it as everything from the worst show on television to the downfall of Western civilization. And among its performers, nobody was underestimated worse than Suzanne Somers, playing the IQ-impaired Chrissy Snow. Penalized by critics for the sins of her writers – who gave Chrissy the dumbest punchlines – and her costumers – who gave her the tightest shirts – Chrissy nevertheless propped up her third of the show with deft comic timing, inexhaustible charisma, and elaborately ponytailed hairdos whose architecture would confound M.C. Escher. Her tenure with Three’s Company ended prematurely when she had the audacity to want to be paid what she was worth, and her post-sitcom career was characterized by low-hanging fruit like Thighmaster infomercials and books promoting dubious scientific theories. But her proudest legacy came on the small screen, killing it with lines like “Eat your salad before it gets cold” on the show that Molière would have been writing if he’d lived in Burbank in the 1970s.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing

by Matthew Perry

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Playing Chandler, Matthew Perry was one of comedy’s greatest – and most relatable – zinger machines, a beloved favorite for everyone from your parents taping Friends on a VCR in their studio apartment in 1994 to your niece who borrowed your password last night to stream “The One Where No One’s Ready.” His comic timing was second to none and he injected Chandler’s wisecracks with a restless sadness and a defensive anger that made everything he did on the small screen vastly more interesting than it needed to be.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

For those of us who first knew Andre Braugher as the tightly coiled interrogation-room virtuoso on the cop show Homicide: Life on the Street, the fact that he could bring the same focused intensity and actorly immersion to the task of being funny on Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a revelation. As the no-nonsense stoic Captain Holt, Braugher found previously undiscovered reservoirs of humor in acting humorless. His career extended well beyond the small screen – he played a pivotal role in the movie Glory, and did Shakespeare at New York’s Public Theatre – but series television, with its close-up intimacy and layered accretion of character details over time, proved to be the perfect showcase for his particular blend of ferocity and nuance.

Dangerously Funny

by David Bianculli

eAudio | hoopla audio

For a couple of guys who looked like insurance agents, the Smothers Brothers sure caused a lot of trouble. The duo got popular doing their music-and-comedy act in clubs and on records, so in 1967 CBS – eager to attract younger viewers – gave the brothers a prime-time variety show, as was popular at the time. But Sonny and Cher they weren’t – the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour became a showcase for highly opinionated material about the war in Vietnam and racism, as well as provocative musical guests like Pete Seeger. The show’s struggles with network suits’ efforts to micromanage, bowdlerize, and suppress their work finally ended in the program’s vindictive cancellation and cemented Tom and Dick Smothers’ legacies in the pantheon of defiant comedy truth-tellers.

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