Lifetime Stars Who Died

The following article contains references to sexual abuse and murder

Love it or hate it, the Lifetime network is certainly adept at tugging the heartstrings. Whether it's a bittersweet Christmas weepie or a heartbreaking biopic, Lifetime has almost become a byword for emotive storytelling. Although oft parodied, with the likes of "Family Guy" suggesting that Lifetime amounts to little more than "television for idiots," the network has entertained audiences with its flair for melodrama and undeniably idiosyncratic characterization. As Lifetime's Ashley Williams told Nicki Swift in 2021, the channel's numerous TV movies have helped humanize potentially sensationalistic true crime stories. "We can watch the news and we can get the story and kind of gawk, but getting to sit down for a feature film, [we] essentially [get to understand] the motivations behind the characters' actions," she said.

Lifetime has also been a launchpad for myriad Hollywood stars, with the A-list likes of Kristen Stewart and Mark Ruffalo getting a headstart in the industry thanks to appearing in emotionally charged TV movies. Additionally, the network has served as a career lifeboat for actors who have otherwise failed to secure mainstream roles. But much like the narratives on offer are frequently harrowing, there has been considerable behind the scenes drama. Subsequently, the onscreen tragedies of Lifetime have on occasion been replicated by the actors themselves.

Sadly, we have lost far too many Lifetime stars, many of whom have met tragic ends in the prime of their careers. Get the Kleenex ready as we give the rundown on Lifetime stars who died.

Anne Heche's death came as a shock

Anne Heche's untimely demise was undoubtedly one of the most shocking celebrity deaths of 2022. In August that year, the 53-year-old was involved in two car accidents, the second of which ended in Heche crashing into someone's house, causing her car to burst into flames. In her haunting last moments, she was filmed emerging from a stretcher after being rescued from her burning vehicle, in which she had been trapped for 45 minutes. She suffered catastrophic injuries, including smoke inhalation and severe brain damage. Accordingly, she was declared brain dead days after the crash and was taken off life support. An organ donor, in death she was able to save the lives of others.

At the time of her passing, she had completed filming on the Lifetime movie "Girl in Room 13," which deals with sex trafficking. Following her death, there was speculation as to whether the network would go ahead with airing the film. However, Lifetime vice president Amy Winter confirmed that Heche would have wanted people to see the movie, as the project was important to her (the actor herself was a survivor of child sexual abuse). 

"We all started to make a film that would bring attention to the appalling issue of human sex trafficking," Winter said during a discussion panel, per Variety. "We hope that this film moves you and that you are just as inspired as Anne was to help us with our mission to stop violence against women."

Suzzanne Douglas died after a lengthy illness

With a career spanning almost 40 years, Suzzanne Douglas received praise and plaudits for her eclectic acting roles. She was lauded for her performance as Whitney Houston's mom, Cissy, in the 2015 Lifetime biopic, "Whitney." Discussing the project with, Douglas said that the tragic role resonated with her as a mother. But the complexity of the part was compounded by her own chance encounter with Cissy, who had previously voiced opposition to any biopics about her late daughter. "Just as a mother, I'm thinking to myself, if I had lost my most precious gift, my daughter, how would that make me feel?," she admitted. "So I wanted, out of respect, her just to see me as a fan. As I extended my hand, I simply said, 'Thank you for your work.'"

Sadly, Douglas' own life was cut short when she was in her prime. A few months before she died, she discussed her health problems on Facebook, revealing that she had been diagnosed with cancer twice and was subsequently hosting a wellness event. She died of cancer in July 2021, aged 64. 

On Facebook, her cousin, Angie Tee, paid tribute to her and discussed the lasting influence she had on Black actors. "I can remember growing up, there weren't very many Black actresses who had starring roles," Tee wrote, "but there was my cousin with the lead role in 'Tap' starring alongside great dancers such as Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr."

Eddie Hassell's life was cut tragically short

In addition to starring in Lifetime's dramedy "Devious Maids," Eddie Hassell appeared in Hollywood films such as "The Kids Are All Right" and "Jobs." Unfortunately, the promising young performer's life and career came to an abrupt end when he was shot dead in 2020.

The actor was visiting his girlfriend in Texas when he was fatally shot in a suspected carjacking. He was 30. Police later confirmed that he was killed in a random robbery. In 2021, 18-year-old D'Jon Antone, who is believed to have shot Hassell before stealing his car, was arrested on suspicion of murder and is currently awaiting trial. 

Hassell and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Martin, were known for their interest in creepy and gothic aesthetics. On Instagram, Martin paid a heartbreaking tribute to her late partner, accompanied by bittersweet photos of the couple engaging in some quirky paintball art in the forest. "I loved you more than the sky in Texas," she wrote. "You made me more mad than anyone I've ever met, and I loved every ounce of you for it." In an interview with CBS News, the actor's parents, Sandi and David, expressed their disbelief at their son's sudden and violent death. "I believe they said he got shot at 1:50 a.m. I talked to him at 12:45 a.m. and the last thing he told me was 'Happy Halloween, Mama. I love you,'" Sandi said. "My life changed forever because somebody did a stupid thing. For nothing and took his life."

Cicely Tyson died after an illustrious career

A veteran of stage and screen, Cicely Tyson was renowned for her enigmatic presence. Famed for her roles in acclaimed series such as "Roots" and, later in her career, "How to Get Away With Murder," she also appeared on the Lifetime network, starring in an adaptation of "The Trip to Bountiful" in 2014. Tyson had also appeared in the Broadway production of Horton Foote's classic play, portraying protagonist Carrie Watts.

Chatting about the project at the TV Academy (via Gold Derby), Tyson said that she was initially hesitant regarding a Lifetime adaptation of the play, for which she won a Tony Award. "I mean, look at this theater," she said. "How can you go from this expansive, broad character that reaches to the last row in the balcony, to just a miniature screen? How do you do that?" In time, however, she came to embrace director Michael Wilson's artistic vision. The Hollywood Reporter gave the adaptation a positive review, pinpointing Tyson's majestic performance.

Sadly, the actor, who was famed for her apparent Benjamin Button-esque agelessness, died in 2021. She was 96. Tributes poured in throughout the spectrum of the entertainment world, exemplifying her transcendent nature. Vanessa Williams, who co-starred with Tyson in both the Broadway and Lifetime adaptations of "The Trip to Bountiful," penned a moving tribute to her in The Guardian. "Cicely was our Meryl Streep – a consummate actor in iconic films," she wrote, adding that acting alongside Tyson was one of the greatest joys of her career.

Raquel Welch was a film and TV icon

By far one of the most iconic and charismatic actors, Raquel Welch rose to fame in the 1966 Hammer Production "One Million Years B.C.," in which she famously donned a fur bikini. Later in her career, she proved her acting chops when she began doing more TV work as opposed to being reduced to a bombshell pin-up on the big screen. In 2013, she starred in the Lifetime movie "House of Versace," long before Ryan Murphy adapted the Versace story for television. Welch played Donatella Versace's aunt, Lucia. 

Although the famously vivacious actor was initially hesitant about taking on the role of the understated Lucia, she told the New York Post that she was inspired by co-star Gina Gershon, who played Donatella, to take on the challenge. Regarding her devotion to her craft, the then 73-year-old said that she had no intention of slowing down in her golden years, viewing performance as the perfect respite from reality. "I just have a lot of energy and I knew I had to use it," she said. "I wanted to be in the performing arts. I didn't think that reality was all that interesting. The real world was fraught with disappointment. I thought it would be so much more fun if you could be dancing and singing."

Following her final acting role in 2017, Welch retired from the public eye and died in 2023, aged 82. She had been living with Alzheimer's, a diagnosis that she kept a secret.

Shakira Gatlin died tragically

Lifetime reality series "Bring It!" focused on the trials and tribulations of Mississippi dance troupe the Dancing Dolls, coached by the formidable Diana "Miss D" Williams. 19-year-old Shakira Gatlin was one such member of the talented troupe. But the teenager's life came to a devastating end.

In September 2021, Gatlin's 40-year-old father was gunned down as he sat in his truck. And just five months later, she met the same fate, having been shot dead by a young boy in Jackson. Investigators confirmed that Gatlin was not targeted and was sadly the victim of an accidental shooting, the result of the boy mishandling a gun. In an eerie instance of foreshadowing, Gatlin paid tribute to her late father on Facebook mere days before her death, poignantly declaring that she knew he was looking down on her. On her own Facebook account, Gatlin's mom, Erica Robinson, expressed her sorrow and disbelief at losing both her husband and daughter within a matter of months, making an impassioned plea to end gun violence. "I just can't catch a break ... They deserved to live," she wrote. "PLEASE PUT THEM DAMN GUNS DOWN!"

A GoFundMe was set up to help pay for Gatlin's funeral expenses, with donations reaching $15,458. Williams attended the memorial service and paid tribute to the sadly departed dancer on Instagram. "I promise that every time we perform from here on out I will always remember that IT'S SHOWTYME! I named you that because baby you knew how to put on a show," she wrote.

Dyseha Upshaw was another Bring It star who left us too soon

Sadly, Shakira Gatlin wasn't the only "Bring It!" star to meet an untimely end. Just months after Gatlin's death, fellow Dancing Dolls member Dyshea Upshaw was shot dead. The 16-year-old, who was also known as Dyshea Hall, was at a shopping mall when she was killed. A 17-year-old was also shot and taken to hospital in critical condition. On Facebook, coach Diana Williams said that she was shocked to have lost two of her dancers to gun violence. "This child had an effect on all of us and left something with us all that we will never forget," she wrote. "These girls are not just our dancers, they are family, they are our kids, they are our students, they are a part of us forever."

As with Gatlin, Upshaw's death was not a targeted attack. Police confirmed to Fox5 Atlanta that she was an innocent bystander who sadly got caught up in a minor dispute. Her family made a plea for the suspect, who had fled the scene, to face the consequences of their actions. "You took our joy away from us," her uncle, Ron James, said. Several days later, DeAnthony Cullins was arrested and charged with the reality star's murder.

Speaking to The Sun, Upshaw's mom, Dionna, reflected on the pain of losing her young child. "It really hits you when you're at home and knowing that you won't get any more calls, Facetimes, or text messages from your kid," she conceded.

Kirstie Alley's last role was in a Lifetime movie

With a career spanning over four decades, Kirstie Alley was a staple of both the small and big screen. The acting vet was best known for her role as ambitious girlboss Rebecca Howe in "Cheers," and for starring alongside fellow Scientologist John Travolta in the "Looks Who's Talking" films. Although she was famed for taking on comedic parts, her final role was a decidedly more serious and somber affair.

In 2020, she appeared on our screens for the last time, starring in the Lifetime movie "You Can't Take My Daughter." The film is based on the true story of Analyn Megison, who fought against her rapist gaining custody of her child. Discussing the project with People, Alley said that she hoped the film would raise awareness of the important issue and, ultimately, help rectify antiquated custody laws. "I didn't even think it was true," she admitted. "It was so outlandish and so horrific. And then I talked to the director and I found out that it was true and I thought it was an important story."

In December 2022, Alley died, aged 71. She had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, something she opted to conceal from the public. Travolta, who also lost his wife Kelly Preston to cancer, paid tribute to his late friend and co-star on Instagram. "Kirstie was one of the most special relationships I've ever had," he wrote. "I love you Kirstie. I know we will see each other again."

Ruby Dee appeared in several Lifetime movies before she sadly died

Acting great Ruby Dee was much loved for her roles on screen and stage. She starred in two films by veteran director Spike Lee, "Jungle Fever" and "Do the Right Thing," acting alongside her husband of almost 60 years, Ossie Davis.

She appeared in a number of Lifetime productions, including 2001's "Taking Back Our Town" and the harrowing "America" (2009), penned by Rosie O'Donnell. Her penultimate work was in the 2013 Lifetime movie "Betty and Coretta," about the relationship between the widows of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Taking a step back from the cameras, the then 90-year-old actor narrated the story. Essence gave the film a positive review, in particular praising the skillful and soulful narration of Dee, herself a longtime civil rights activist.

Speaking to The Crisis (via Curtis Stephen) in 2007, Dee addressed her longevity: "The impulse still lives. It's so strong. It's so strong that when the body dies, the impulse to live escapes... As long as the life force has something that can accommodate it." In 2014, she died peacefully, aged 91. On Instagram, Spike Lee paid tribute to both Dee and her husband, who preceded her in death by almost a decade. "Ruby and Ossie served as a living example that one could be an artist and an activist too, that one could be an artist and still deal with what it means to be a Black woman and a Black man in these United States," he wrote.

Ashley Ross was killed in a car crash

Ashley Ross, also known by her nickname Minnie, was the star of Lifetime reality series "Little Women: Atlanta." Chatting to Madamenoire, Ross said that she hoped the series would highlight the struggles and prejudice faced by those with dwarfism. As a youngster growing up in Atlanta, Ross explained, she was subjected to cruel, ableist taunts. "I would try to get a job, and they wouldn't hire me because I was a little person," she said. "They thought that it was a disability and that I couldn't do the job. But I was like, 'Yes, I can!' I can do anything that a normal-sized person can do." However, the TV star, who was a talented hairstylist, stated that she also wanted to emphasize the fun and joyful moments of her life.

In 2020, Ross sadly died in what her management team termed a hit and run car accident. She was 34. Police later confirmed that the crash was caused by Ross swerving off the road and colliding with another vehicle, with the reality star succumbing to blunt force trauma.

Later that year, she was honored by her "Little Women: Atlanta" co-stars. In a Season 6 preview obtained by People, a tearful Monie ponders, "Have you thought about how it's going to be without Minnie now?" Meanwhile, Abira paid a poignant tribute to the late star, stating, "Our friendship meant a lot to me because we started in the fire, but we walked through it together."

Patricia Neal continued working despite her illness

A celebrated character actor, Patricia Neal's career began in the golden age of Hollywood, starring in classics such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) and "A Face in the Crowd" (1957). However, she was best known for starring alongside Paul Newman in Martin Ritt's 1963 Western "Hud," for which she received the Oscar for Best Actress.

Despite a glittering career, Neal's life was beset by illness and tragedy. Having wed author Roald Dahl in 1953, the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, died of measles in 1962. Three years later, a pregnant Neal suffered multiple strokes, leaving her in a coma and ultimately affecting her ability to work due to ensuing speech and memory issues. Eventually, she recovered, though her doctor once darkly remarked, "I'm not sure whether or not I've done her a favor," per The New York Times.

In a 1971 interview with The Guardian, Neal reflected on her illness and her daughter's death, revealing that these harrowing experiences had shifted her views on religion. "I used to believe in God completely ... But not now, not completely anyway do I believe; not since Olivia's death and my stroke," she said. "I believe in life, all right. I believe that the country is wonderful and friends and trees and everything. I'm not sure about God." In 2009, she made her final acting appearance, in the Lifetime film "Flying By," alongside Billy Ray Cyrus. She died of lung cancer the following year, aged 84.

Markie Post's Lifetime Christmas movies brought joy to many

Markie Post was best known for her role as Christine Sullivan on '80s sitcom "Night Court," playing the longtime frenemy of prosecutor Dan Fielding. A TV mainstay, she also starred in "The Fall Guy," "Scrubs," and "Chicago P.D."

The actor appeared in two Lifetime Christmas films, 2017's "Four Christmases and a Wedding," and 2019's "Christmas Reservations," which was her final acting appearance. The second festive film was directed by none other than "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" alum Melissa Joan Hart. In an interview with TV Insider, Hart said that she was dead set on casting Post, due to her striking resemblance to fellow TV star Gigi Rice, who plays her sister in the movie. "I had really wanted to work with Markie Post again," she declared. "She had played my mom in 'Holidays in Handcuffs.' There were roles for two sisters in this and I thought Markie and Gigi look identical." At the time of filming, Post was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, having been diagnosed with cancer several years earlier. 

She died in 2021, aged 70. Hart was devastated by the demise of her erstwhile co-star and festive collaborator, penning a poignant eulogy to Post on Instagram. "I'm heartbroken to lose an angel here on earth!" she wrote. "My dear friend and TV mother #MarkiePost is finally at rest ... I can't describe what she meant to me, the friendship we had and the kindness she demonstrated for me."

Martin Landau was a film and TV veteran

A Hollywood veteran, Martin Landau made a name for himself as a multifaceted character actor. With a career spanning a whopping seven decades, his roles were diverse and disparate. Often depicting mysterious and enigmatic characters, he played everyone from the villainous Leonard of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest" to the elusive yet tragic Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" biopic, for which he won an Oscar.

Testament to his versatility as a performer, he even made the transition to Lifetime movies in his late 80s. In 2013, he starred in "The Anna Nicole Story," depicting the titular tragic model's elderly billionaire husband, J. Howard Marshall. In an interview with Reuters, the actor said that, as an older person himself, the role resonated with him. Subsequently, he discussed taking on the challenge of humanizing a man who was often the butt of the joke in the media. "Everyone thinks of Marshall as an old geezer who just picked up Anna Nicole Smith in a strip club," he explained, "but nobody knows that much about him ... I wanted to portray the fact that she actually gave him life. He was ready to die before he met her and then she rejuvenated him, until she started going downhill." The following year, he appeared in yet another movie for the network, playing the father of a bigamous Mormon on the run in "Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs."

Sadly, Landau died in 2017 after succumbing to severe internal bleeding. He was 89.

Olympia Dukakis had an eclectic and illustrious career

Olympia Dukakis was famed for her eclectic roles, appearing in weepies such as "Steel Magnolias" and "Mr. Holland's Opus." A lifelong ally of the LGBTQ community, she starred in the '90s adaptation of Armistead Maupin's queer classic "Tales of the City," as well as its 2019 Netflix reboot, playing trans woman Anna Madrigal.

But not all her roles were heartwarming and wholesome. In 2014, she took on a decidedly different project, starring in the Lifetime thriller "Big Driver." An adaptation of Stephen King's book of the same name, Variety lamented that the arguably seedy and exploitative film did a disservice to a performer of Dukakis' gravitas. Despite the poor reviews, the acting legend had no intention of slowing down, that year telling "Strombo" that she was riding high on an unwavering lust for life.

After several months of ill health, Dukakis died in 2021, aged 89. In 2023, the Strand Theater paid homage to the late stage and screen star with "Remembering Olympia." Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter, Dukakis' brother, Apollo, reflected on the impact she had on the LGBTQ community that she had long supported. "She often said that Anna Madrigal was her favorite of all her screen and TV roles," Apollo said. "The unconditionally and non-judgmental way Anna had with her friends and the world was a validation to the LGBTQ community. It was maybe the first time they saw someone who reflected their lives on mainstream television in a positive and life affirming way."