vulture lists

10 Beloved Characters, 10 Ignoble Deaths

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy of Miramax, Universal, Gramercy Pictures, Fox; iStockphoto (reaper)

Usually, our TV and movie heroes, when they die, get dramatic, noble deaths. Think Titanic’s Jack giving his life to save his Rose, or Boromir taking a dozen arrows to the chest to protect the hobbits, or Charlie using his last breath to warn Desmond it’s NOT PENNY’S BOAT. But every once in a while someone audiences have grown to love is dispatched in a disappointing, stupid, or downright ridiculous fashion — as happened to a certain beloved character on a certain beloved HBO drama recently. (Spoilers, obviously!) Vulture takes a look at ten other characters whose ignominious deaths made us shake our heads and think, He deserved better.

10. Dick Hallorann, The Shining (1980)

Toward the end of The Shining, Scatman Crothers’ Dick Hallorann flies from Florida to Colorado, then travels miles and miles through a vicious blizzard in the dead of night, because his extrasensory gifts have warned him that Danny Torrance is in danger at the Overlook Hotel. When he arrives at long last, seconds after stepping in the door, he is killed with an ax by Jack Nicholson. “Hey, thanks for selflessly traveling thousands of miles to save a child’s life,” Stanley Kubrick says. “We’re not gonna need you here, though. Enjoy slowly bleeding to death from a giant gaping chest wound.”

9. Russell Franklin, Deep Blue Sea (1999)

After a bevy of heavy-hitting roles in nineties flicks like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Die Hard With a Vengeance, Samuel L. Jackson had become one of our most cherished badass action-movie conventions. When he appeared as avalanche-surviving corporate executive Russell Franklin in the shoddy yet deeply awesome Deep Blue Sea, audiences expected him to kick some motherfuckin’ shark ass and lead his party of scientists to safety. He even delivers a triumphant, soul-stirring survival speech to his party — only to be interrupted by a super-intelligent shark with a real sense of comic timing. The moment serves as a useful thumbnail for Jackson’s post-nineties career: Sam Jackson, once mighty, now masticated.

8. Goose, Top Gun (1986)

Poor Goose. The good-times, piano-plinking, Jerry Lee Lewis–loving redhead was the ultimate wingman: Not only was he Maverick’s co-pilot and confidant, he was Cruise’s neutered accomplice in the courtship of Kelly McGillis, and one hell of a Jams-wearing volleyball partner. He lost that loving feeling in the danger zone, when he attempted to eject on a daring training mission — awkwardly whacking his head on the cockpit cover.

7. Wash, Serenity (2005)

Joss Whedon’s ragtag crew of smugglers flew from TV to the big screen aboard their ship the Serenity (thanks in part to solid DVD sales for the original series), piloted by the ship’s class clown, the irrepressible Hoban “Wash” Washburne. But he’ll be left out of any sequels — though actor Alan Tudyk enjoys spreading rumors of those sequels anyway — as he takes a grappling hook through the chest, in a scene that would almost be funny if it weren’t such a major bummer. Leave it to ruthless Joss Whedon to repay his rabid fans by killing off their most beloved character just before the climactic final scenes.

6. Curtis Manning, 24

24 kills off its characters with a bloodthirstiness that is positively Transylvanian. But no death in the show’s run has been handled with a clumsiness that compares to the icing of Curtis Manning (Roger Cross), a fan favorite known as “Black Jack” because he was just as cool, competent, and calm as his fellow CTU agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), but black. At the start of the sixth season, Curtis’s third on the show, Jack cuts a deal with a terrorist turned informer. But uh-oh! It turns out that the now-helpful baddie is on Curtis’s shit list for killing his buddies after Desert Storm. So, naturally, by-the-book Curtis holds a gun to the informer’s head and says he has to die, and Jack shoots Curtis in the neck. The end. Note that though the rest of the season takes place in the same day, Curtis’s grisly passing and entirely out-of-character final moments are quickly forgotten, and the poor bastard is hardly mentioned at all.

5. Donny, The Big Lebowski (1998)

Perhaps no character in the blood-soaked Coen Brothers oeuvre has expired in as embarrassingly tame a manner as Steve Buscemi’s dim-witted but genial Theodore Donald “Donny” Kerabatsos, who dies of fright in a bowling-alley parking lot as Walter and the Dude fight off a gang of nihilist blackmailers. (The Dude: “They shot Donnie!” Walter: “No shots were fired, Dude.”) In further, postmortem humiliation, his cremated remains are carried to the ocean in a coffee can, where Walter scatters them after an incoherent speech about Khe Sanh. A stiff breeze blows them back landward into the Dude’s beard.

4. Billy Thomas, Ally McBeal (2002)

Even though we knew that Billy was leaving Ally McBeal somehow (actor Gil Bellows had announced that the third season was his last), he didn’t have to die such a sudden, unsatisfying death. In one mid-season episode, Billy found out he had a benign brain tumor. So, okay, we figured he’d die at the end of the season, after the tumor turned out to be not so benign. But no! The next episode, Billy collapsed in court and died, just like that. Bye-bye, Billy, Ally’s long-term love interest, who fans desperately hoped she’d end up with. After Billy’s death, Ally McBeal, already a weird show (dancing babies, anyone?), kept getting stranger, and eventually went off the air two years later.

3. Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction (1994)

After managing to survive a hail of bullets fired by the roommate of a dead drug dealer named Brett without so much as a scratch, rid his car of a headless body without getting discovered by the police, escape a diner being robbed at gunpoint by Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, and save himself from certain death by reviving Marsellus Wallace’s mistress after she overdoses on his heroin, Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega gets shot to death after finishing up a crap because a toaster startles Bruce Willis. Damn.

2. Scott Scanlon, Beverly Hills, 90210 (1991)

Oh, Scott. David Silver ditched you for the cool crowd (and trophy girlfriend Donna Martin … ew), and then you had to go shoot yourself in the face. In a much-hyped second-season episode of 90210 — commercials ran for weeks warning fans that “ONE OF THE GANG … DIES!”) — Scott threw a tragic, cowboy-themed birthday party, during which he accidentally killed himself with his dad’s gun. The only thing worse than being shamefully booted off a hit TV show? The fact that teenage girls were disappointed that someone more important didn’t die. Scott wasn’t really part of the gang! They could have at least killed off Andrea, for God’s sake! These complicated emotions are reflected in this YouTube clip, in which a twentysomething girl re-watches the episode and laughs all the way through.

1. Jesus, The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Has there ever, in TV or film history, been less honorable death than Jesus’s in The Passion of the Christ? Sure, that’s how he met his end in the Bible, but doesn’t our Lord and savior deserve better than being whipped, spat on, scourged, mocked, and flayed in a semi-offensive, possibly anti-Semitic piece of religious torture porn? Mel Gibson financed Passion with his own $50 million — for that sort of money, he could’ve had Jesus die in a light-saber battle with Pontius Pilate, or be eaten by a Transformer or velociraptor. Now that would’ve been a death for our sins.

Check out some of Vulture’s other lists:
Ten Shows From the Eighties We’d Actually Like Ben Silverman to Revive
Ten Movie Vaginas Even Scarier Than the One in ‘Teeth’
The Ten Best Movie Destructions of New York City
The Ten Most Anti-Christian Movies of All Time

Ten Directors Who Could Make an Even Unsexier Sex Movie Than Quentin Tarantino

10 Beloved Characters, 10 Ignoble Deaths