The following article contains references to suicide.
For a show seemingly "about nothing," "Seinfeld" managed to find a great deal of mirth in the mundane, drawing laughter from the everyday grievances and annoyances that can plague each and every one of us. Sadly, real life is not always so kind, and the cast of "Seinfeld" has experienced its fair share of tragedy behind the laughter.
Running from 1989 to 1998, "Seinfeld" was a smash hit which attracted a celebrated swarm of comedians to depict what would become beloved characters. Arguably one of the funniest shows of all time, it made superstars out of its main cast and gave a number of actors iconic guest spot roles. And some of the actors who graced "Seinfeld" have faced varying degrees of tragedy.
Many of the unfortunate events that have hit the "Seinfeld" cast are heartbreaking and horrifying, but a fair few are also the sort of strange, avoidable, and cringe-laden acts of mundane bad luck that could have come straight out of a lost "Seinfeld" script. Either way, these tough details about the cast of "Seinfeld" point a dark shadow against what remains one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time.
A supporting Seinfeld cast member died in a tragic accident
In July 2019, the body of Charles Levin — known for playing the mohel on "The Bris" episode of "Seinfeld" — was found in a remote area of Oregon after being reported missing a week earlier. According to USA Today, reports from Oregon’s Grants Pass Department of Public Safety suggest that Levin got lost in the mountains whilst driving, and his car ended up "about four miles off the nearest asphalt road." When officers finally located his car, they discovered the remains of his pet dog inside. According to the outlet, the search team found Levin’s "decomposed remains at the bottom of a treacherously steep ravine" five days after he went missing.
The police report also stated that officers had to walk ¼ mile from their own vehicle to get to Levin’s car, which was said to be stuck in "mounds of earthen material." The area around the front tires "appeared to have been disturbed in an apparent attempt to free the vehicle." Levin’s death was officially ruled as an accident.
Speaking to The New York Times about his father’s life and career, Jesse Levin said Charles Levin became "the team mascot" for mohels following his short but memorable stint on "Seinfeld." "My dad was so over the top and ridiculous that he told me that Jerry Seinfeld fell out of a chair laughing at how ridiculous he was," he shared.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed with cancer after she made Emmy history
Just a couple of weeks after making history at the 2017 Emmys for picking up her sixth award for depicting Selina Meyer on "Veep," Julia Louis-Dreyfus shared some difficult news on social media. In a photo post on Twitter and Instagram, the actor known for playing Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" shared, "1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one."
Per a 2019 Vanity Fair profile, Louis-Dreyfus took about a year off before the final season of "Veep" to receive treatment. All the while, the actor continued to share some of her cancer journey on social media. Speaking to "Good Morning America," Louis-Dreyfus shared that ordinarily she would "never have made this a public journey" but had to due to "Veep" production being closed for a period of time, a decision that provided her an opportunity to help other women. "It sounds kind of corny, but there’s something about after you’ve walked through something like this, which is such a crisis, to be able to help someone who’s then going through," she said. "It’s very, sort of, comforting to yourself in a weird way."
After undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, Louis-Dreyfus shared she was cancer free. When asked about her health on a 2018 episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," she said, "I feel very strong and I’ve got red lips so I mean, what could go wrong?"
Jason Alexander accidentally provoked fans to harass a cast member online
Every "Seinfeld" fan worth their salt will remember just how vehemently the character of Susan — George’s long suffering on-off girlfriend — was tortured across the course of the series. Her final swan song? Death by wedding invitation. Licking too much inexpensive glue while sealing envelopes — and all because George chose the cheap option — literally killed her.
In 2015, Jason Alexander told "The Howard Stern Show" that Susan was killed off because the cast found it "impossible" to work with Heidi Swedberg, the actor who played the character. He said that while he does "love" Swedberg, he "couldn’t figure out how to play off of her" in scenes. He said that after Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ended up in "a lot of material with her," the latter joked, "Don’t you want to just kill her?" And thus, the death knell tolled for poor Susan. Unfortunately, Alexander’s account prompted some less than favourable conversation surrounding Swedberg online, spurring Alexander to tweet a long apology which urged fans to "leave Heidi alone."
"I feel officially awful," Alexander wrote, "The impetus for telling this story was that Howard said, ‘Julia Louis-Dreyfus told me you all wanted to kill her.’ So I told the story to try and clarify that no one wanted to kill Heidi." He further added that they wanted to kill the character, not the actor, and that Swedberg was "generous and gracious, and I am so mad at myself for retelling this story in any way that would diminish her."
The Seinfeld Curse hovered over the stars’ heads
When the final episode of "Seinfeld" aired in 1998, the world wondered what was next for the main cast of the (former) most popular show on television. The answer was not a whole lot of anything — at least for a while. Whilst Jerry Seinfeld seemed happy enough to sit back and channel Scrooge McDuck with the megabucks he made from "Seinfeld" and Larry David struck gold with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in 2000, the rest of the cast floundered for a bit, bouncing between brief appearances and shows cancelled in their infancy.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus led the short-lived "Watching Ellie" which started in 2002 and ended in 2003 before enjoying a short run as Maggie Lizer on "Arrested Development." Jason Alexander likewise starred in "Listen Up," a show which started in 2004 and ended in 2005 whilst Michael Richards led the one and only season of the creatively named "The Michael Richards Show" in 2000. A saving grace during this period was David’s decision to cast them all as themselves for various episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," or for the odd cameo or guest appearance in other shows.
The "Seinfeld" Curse became so notorious that the cast actually became accustomed to addressing it in public. When Louis-Dreyfus finally broke the "Seinfeld" Curse by winning an outstanding Lead Actress Emmy with "The New Adventures of Old Christine" in 2006 she said in her acceptance speech, "I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!" And when the heavily decorated series "Veep" rolled into the picture, any sort of curse was smashed into smithereens.
Michael Richards bombed his career with a racist rant
There’s having a curse thrust upon you, and then there’s cursing yourself with bad decisions. Michael Richards most definitely landed himself in the latter category when he unleashed a racist rant against a couple of hecklers at The Laugh Factory in 2006. Videos of Richards’ tirade show him using inappropriate, racist language and references in a bid for laughs. Understandably, the viral footage didn’t do the "Seinfeld" alum’s career much good.
Soon after the incident, the comedian tried to smooth things out on "The Late Show with David Letterman." He told the legendary chat show host, "For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry." However, the interview only raised further eyebrows and Richards has struggled to maintain solid footing in the industry ever since. However, at least one person has continued to have his back. In 2012 during an episode of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" (via E! News), Richards thanked Seinfeld for "sticking by" him following the event, and once again reflected on his poor response to the hecklers. He said, "I took it too personally, and I should have just said, ‘Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m not funny. I think I’ll go home and work on my material and I’ll see you tomorrow night.’"
Wayne Knight was at the center of a death hoax
Unfortunately for everyone, death hoaxes are big business online. And one "Seinfeld" actor who knows that all too well is Wayne Knight, the actor who played Newman — Jerry’s insufferable arch-nemesis. In 2014, a fake news report circulated which suggested that Knight was killed in a car accident which left two others critically injured.
According to the International Business Times, the report was circulated by a website called TMZ.Today — "a website modelled around popular entertainment news site" TMZ but is in no way affiliated with it. Readers were duped by seemingly legitimate details which wouldn’t ordinarily crop up in a false news item, such as the names of the other people involved in the accident and the hospital within which the two other victims were being treated. The fake news item was so convincing that it went viral and fans of the beloved character actor were understandably left heartbroken about it.
But nobody was as shocked as Knight himself who took to Twitter to reassure the world that he was still breathing. He wrote, "Some of you will be glad to hear this, others strangely disappointed, but….I am alive and well!" Knight’s day of reckoning was simply not to be, and everyone sighed a breath of relief.
Liz Sheridan enjoyed an ill-fated romance with James Dean
It might be hard to imagine Jerry’s mom getting hot and heavy with one of the dreamiest actors who ever lived, but Liz Sheridan’s 2000 memoir "Dizzy & Jimmy: My Life With James Dean: A Love Story" suggests that’s exactly the case. The "Seinfeld" actor and former dancer writes that Dean became her "first love" after they met in 1952 — just before he became a Hollywood superstar. Apparently, the pressures of young fame and success ultimately tore them apart and they went their separate ways just a couple of years before Dean’s sudden death in a car accident in 1955.
In an interview with Larevista, Sheridan recalled the start and end of their courtship. "We got to be friends. Then we got to be even better friends and then we decided to live together, which you sort of didn’t do in those days," she said, "Jimmy and I kind of went our own ways because he was asked out here to Hollywood and I didn’t want to go follow him." Sheridan last saw Dean at a party in 1954 where she describes him as playfully holding onto a long pigtail she had in her hair "all night long." Understandably, his death dealt an immeasurable blow to the star, one that she’s still yet to get over. "I was numb," she told People in 1996. "I didn’t believe it. I still don’t—I keep thinking he’s going to call."
Daniel von Bargen suffered a troubled life in later years
Though esteemed character actor Daniel von Bargen was celebrated for his work in projects like "Malcolm in the Middle," "Super Troopers," and "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?," he was known by many "Seinfeld" fans as George’s bumbling boss, Mr. Kruger. In the years following the series, von Bargen lived with diabetes, and in 2012 he was due to undergo an operation to treat his condition. But before he was admitted, TMZ reported von Bargen attempted suicide but managed to survive a gunshot wound to the head.
According to TMZ, when von Bargen called 911 after his accident, he said, "I was supposed to go to the hospital, and I didn’t want to … they were supposed to amputate at least a few toes." The actor was taken to hospital where he remained in a critical condition, before eventually pulling through. Sadly, von Bargen later died in 2015 after a long undisclosed illness.
Following von Bargen’s death, Alexander opened up about his on-screen boss to People. "He did a lovely job on the show and seemed like just a sweetheart of a man," Alexander said. "It’s sad. It’s just sad."
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Phil Hartman was murdered
Phil Hartman is another incredible character actor who delivered memorable performances in absolutely every project he graced the screen to be a part of. In addition to memorable turns in projects like "Jingle All the Way" and "NewsRadio," he was renowned for his voice work in classic shows like "The Simpsons," "Darkwing Duck," and "The Ren & Stimpy Show." In "Seinfeld," he likewise lent his iconic voice for a cameo appearance in the 1996 episode "The Package." However on May 28 1998, the comedy world was left reeling by the sudden death of Phil Hartman who was shot and killed by his wife Brynn Hartman, who died by suicide shortly afterwards. The couple married in 1987 and had two children, who were reported safe at the scene.
According to CNN, a police spokesperson attributed the tragedy to "domestic discord" but also suggested that this was not an open-and-shut case. "It’s quite a complex investigation, and it’s going to take quite a while," Cmdr. David Kalish said after the murder-suicide. Friend and actor Steve Guttenberg shared his shock regarding the Hartmans with CNN, calling them "a very happy couple" who "had the appearance of being well-balanced." Further opening up to the AP about his late friend, Guttenberg said, "It shows when you see people you don’t know the complications behind their lives."
Phil leaves behind an incredible comedic legacy which fans continue to enjoy.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The real life George Constanza sued the show and lost
It isn’t easy being a muse to the most popular show on television — and especially not if one of the most laugh-worthy characters so very clearly seems to share your name and likeness. According to Time, a man by the oddly familiar name of Michael Constanza sued his former friend Seinfeld for $100 million, accusing the "Seinfeld" star of "slander, libel, and unauthorized use of his name, likeness and persona for the character George Costanza" in 1998. As part of the lawsuit (via ABC News), Constanza claimed that the comparisons between himself and his alleged sitcom equivalent were obvious and negatively affecting his life. "George is bald. I am bald," he said, "George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. George’s high-school teacher nicknamed him ‘Can’t stand ya.’ So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I."
According to ABC News, the lawsuit was eventually dismissed because the show didn’t use the real Costanza’s "name, portrait, or picture." And just to drive the decision home, "The judges added that the statute of limitations on the case had run out, as Costanza did not sue within one year of the show’s debut in 1989." Not to add salt to the pretzel, er, wound, but this whole scenario sure sounds like something that would happen to a certain character on a certain sitcom.