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How TV shows have dealt with the loss of a star

Unknown how ‘West Wing’ will handle death of John Spencer
/ Source: The Associated Press

The death Friday of John Spencer, who played vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on NBC’s “The West Wing,” deprives the series of a key character. Here are some other shows that also lost stars, and the outcome:

—John Ritter, making a TV series comeback 25 years after starring in “Three’s Company,” died of an undetected heart problem in 2003 during production for the second season of ABC’s “8 Simple Rules.” The show introduced new characters and aired two more years.

—Nancy Marchand, mob boss Tony Soprano’s mother on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” died of cancer in 2000. The 2001 premiere episode featured a brief scene with Marchand that used old shots, computer imagery and a body double. Its sixth season starts in March.

—Comedian Redd Foxx, of “Sanford and Son” fame, died of a heart attack in 1991 after making seven episodes of his new CBS sitcom “The Royal Family.” The show returned without him six months after his death but lasted only a few episodes.

—Jim Davis, who played patriarch Jock Ewing on the CBS drama “Dallas,” died in 1981 of cancer. His widow on the series, Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), found a new love and remarried. The series aired through 1991.

—Comedian Freddie Prinze, star of “Chico and the Man,” committed suicide in 1977 in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new, younger Chico but the show was off the air in a year.

—Actor Peter Duel shot and killed himself in 1971 after watching an episode of his ABC Western, “Alias Smith and Jones.” A new actor was hired and the show lasted another season and a half.