Stars From Boy Meets World You Didn't Know Died

As far as ABC sitcoms go, "Boy Meets World" is a legend amongst legends. The coming-of-age series, which premiered in 1993, ran for seven seasons and even inspired its own sequel series "Girl Meets World." The show followed Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), his best friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) and girlfriend Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) from middle school to college as they navigated adolescence, family, and growing into who they are. There was also Cory's dopey brother Eric (Will Friedle), their parents (Betsy Randle and William Russ), and of course the most notable mentor in all of television history: their teacher Mr. Feeney, portrayed by William Daniels.

Its colorful cast of characters certainly wormed their way into America's hearts, but a lot has changed since the ABC series went off the air in 2000. The central stars of "Boy Meets World" have grown up and had kids of their own, and we've unfortunately lost a few members of the show's ensemble cast as time has gone on. Thankfully, their legacies are just a few clicks away to stream on Disney+. These are stars from "Boy Meets World" you didn't know died.

Rue McClanahan

One of the best parts of "Boy Meets World" was its glimpse into the Matthews family, and Rue McClanahan certainly made her mark as Cory's grandma in Season 1 episode "Grandma Was a Rolling Stone." McClanahan played the role of spunky grandmother well, although she teaches Cory a lesson about disappointment and love when she's unable to take him to a baseball game after spending quality time with his younger sister Morgan and brother Eric.

The episode marked her only appearance in the show, perhaps because McClanahan herself was so busy. The Oklahoma-born actor started on the stage, but was best known for her role as Blanche Devereaux on '80s sitcom "The Golden Girls." Her flirty character even scored McClanahan an Emmy in 1987 for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Comedy Series, not to mention a solid place in America's heart. She went on to appear in shows like "Safe Harbor," "Touched by an Angel," and "Sordid Lives: The Series." When WOW! asked her about her "tenacity in making it" in showbiz, McClanahan said, "It was do-or-die for me. Life or death."

In 2010, McClanahan sadly passed away at 76 after suffering a massive stroke, according to People.

Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy brought her unique energy to the role of Trini, Topanga's zany best friend, in two episodes of Season 3 of "Boy Meets World." As it turned out, her character was only a pawn in Cory's scheme; he asks out Trini after his best friend nabs a date with Topanga first — but Trini is in on it all along. Murphy's sparkle on the screen was undeniable and her appearance coincided with the premiere of 1995's iconic blockbuster "Clueless." From then on, her career skyrocketed: She went on to voice Luanne in animated series "King of the Hill," as well as star in films like "Girl, Interrupted," "8 Mile," and "Uptown Girls."

Later in her career, Murphy struggled with the superficial standards and media scrutiny placed on the appearance of women in Hollywood in the early aughts — an exec even reportedly told her she was "not f***able" enough, according to Esquire. In 2009, she died at the age of 32. Per ABC News, the coroner ruled it "was caused by a lethal combination of pneumonia and prescription drugs." The out of the blue nature of her passing sparked suspicion that there might have been foul play; HBO Max's 2021 documentary "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?" investigated multiple conspiracy theories. However, there's been no further information about the bright star's tragic death.

Anne Haney

Anne Haney had a short but sweet appearance as Mrs. Nelson in Season 7's "The Honeymooners." Her character befriends Cory and Topanga at a resort on their honeymoon, where they consider permanently moving to. It seems to the two newlyweds that Mrs. Nelson and her husband have made it, retiring in the tropics away from the turmoil of their family. As both couples soon figure out, their personal relationships at home are more important than the allure of paradise. Her role on the "Boy Meets World" was hardly her biggest character, though. She portrayed the family court supervisor who puts Robin Williams to the test in "Mrs. Doubtfire," as well as spots on hit shows like "Cheers" and "Ally McBeal."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Haney "appeared in about 50 motion pictures and television programs" over the course of her career. Given just how vast her filmography happens to be, one might assume she started in show business when she was still a child, when in reality, she didn't begin working in Tinseltown until she was very much an adult. As she said in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Los Angeles Times), "My husband died, my daughter went to college, the dog got fleas, and the maid quit. So I had to come to Hollywood." In 2001, she died of congestive heart failure at the age of 67.

Peter Tork

Peter Tork brought music to "Boy Meets World" as Topanga's father Jedidiah Lawrence in Seasons 2 and 3. In "Career Day," he shows up to Cory's class to speak about being a musical instrument maker for famous rock stars, and in "Rave On," he makes a guitar at the request of Cory's mother Amy in celebration of her and her husband's 20th anniversary. He even performs the couple's favorite track "My Girl" at the end of the episode. Not only was his character quirky enough to explain his daughter's larger than life imagination, but it wasn't too far from the actor's real identity.

Tork was a member of The Monkees, the eponymous rock group behind the 1966 sitcom about a Beatles-esque band who tried to find their own international fame. The show got the chop after just two seasons, but the group was wildly successful record sales-wise, per Billboard. In 2008, Tork was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma. He candidly opened up about his health in an op-ed for The Washington Post, writing, "I don't count myself as being afraid to die, but the news hit me like a fist to the chest." Tork passed away at 77 in 2019.

Paul Gleason

Paul Gleason portrayed Pennbrook University's Dean Borak in Season 5 of "Boy Meets World." As the no-nonsense college official at Eric and Jack's school, he gives the two bumbling freshmen a run for their money in "It's Not You... It's Me," where he refuses their attempts to cozy up to him for an extension on their papers, and in "Fraternity Row," where he busts Eric's fictitious fraternity Magnum Pi — and got a chance to rub elbows with "The Love Boat"'s Bernie Kopell and Ted Lang. An uptight professor was likely a comfort zone for Gleason, who was known for his roles as the police chief in "Die Hard," Vice Principal Vernon in "The Breakfast Club," as well as the hardheaded Professor McDougal in "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." The New Jersey-born actor's screen work also extended to television, where he had a recurring role as Dr. David Thornton on "All My Children."

In 2006, Gleason passed away from mesothelioma at 67 years old, according to The Telegraph. As the outlet noted, mesothelioma is "a form of lung cancer connected with asbestos, which he is thought to have contracted on building sites while working for his father as a teenager."

Julius Carry

Julius Carry had two important roles on "Boy Meets World." In Season 5's "Fraternity Row," he portrayed a college philosophy professor who challenges Shawn to think outside the box — after he sneaks into the class as a high schooler — and ultimately inspires him to take his studies seriously. In Season 7, he took on the role of Angela's father Sgt. Alan Moore, portraying the character in both "Angela's Men" and "Angela's Ashes" as Angela and Shawn navigate changes in their relationship — and Angela ultimately chooses to move to Europe to follow her father.

According to Variety, the "character actor" appeared in over 100 guest roles on television shows like "Two Guys And Girl," "Grown Ups," and "Murphy Brown." He also portrayed Sho'nuff in cult martial arts comedy film "The Last Dragon," a performance ScreenRant calls "a truly delightful villain turn." In 2008, he passed away at 56 from pancreatic cancer. "Girl Meets World" paid tribute to his character Sgt. Alan Moore in its second season, when Angela reveals he died on a fishing trip.

Gisele MacKenzie

Although she wasn't visible, Gisele MacKenzie appeared in two episodes of "Boy Meets World." In Season 1, she was behind the loudspeaker voice in "Killer Bees" and acted as the narrator of an antiquated sex education video in the episode "Boy Meets Girl." Unfortunately, Mr. Feeny's lesson about puberty is wasted on 12-year-old Cory, who is not ready to stop being a kid. To Cory's point, the tape was so outdated, even his father remembered watching it when he was in middle school. Some things never change! 

The singer slash actor had quite the legendary career as well as a remarkable set of pipes. "MacKenzie possessed a crystalline, resonant singing voice, and perfect pitch," remembers Hollywood Walk of Fame. She earned the moniker of Canada's First Lady of Song, according to the Los Angeles Times, and she launched her career on 1950s musical variety show "Your Hit Parade," and went on to host her own series for NBC. 

MacKenzie passed away in 2003 at 76 years after being diagnosed with colon cancer, according to The Times. Her role on "Boy Meets World" turned out to be her last television appearance. Following her death, Sid Caesar, with whom she worked with on "The Sid Caesar Show," said, "She sang, played the violin, worked in the sketches — she did everything."

Dick Van Patten

Dick Van Patten made a short but sweet cameo appearance in the Season 4 episode "You Can Go Home Again." It's all fun and games when Cory and Eric depart on a brotherly road trip, however Eric is distraught after not getting into college and decides to leave his life in Philadelphia behind, leaving Cory stranded in Pottstown — home of the World's Largest Yogurt Cup. Van Patten played a friendly, if not slightly kooky, Amish farmer who runs into Cory and offers to give him a ride in his horse-drawn carriage down to his farmhouse. Thankfully, Cory's able to call his father, who drives into town and is able to talk some sense into his son.

Outside of "Boy Meets World," Dick Van Patten was something of a television legend who started the acting grind when he was still a kid. "I've been working since I was seven years old, and I never turn down a job," he told Johnny Carson in 1980. (He then went on to share that he'd said no to a project for the very first time. Stars, they hit their limits just like us!) Van Patten starred as a father of eight on "Eight Is Enough," and became a go-to actor in Mel Brooks' cadre, working with the director on a number of projects, including "Spaceballs,"and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." He passed away at age 86 in 2015 from complications related to diabetes, according to his spokesperson (via The New York Times).

Phyllis Diller

One of the classic "Boy Meets World" Halloween episodes was Season 2's "Who's Afraid of Cory Wolf." In this particular spooky special, Eric convinces Cory he's turning into a werewolf after a wolf goes missing from a local zoo. ("Teen Wolf" is shaking.) Cory goes to a fortune-teller named Madame Ouspenskaya for help, and the kooky seer was played by none other than comedy icon Phyllis Diller.

Diller paved the way for female comedians with her stand-up, with People deeming her "the wild-haired, self-deprecating queen of comedy." Decades into her career, she remained as serious about bringing the funny as ever: As she told NPR in 2005, "Whatever you wanna do to get a laugh, if it works, do it. Well, short of taking your clothes off." She got her start in stand-up in 37, going on to host her own variety show and appearing in shows and films like "The Bold and the Beautiful," "A Bug's Life," "Family Guy," and "Titus." According to CNN, she died "peacefully in her sleep" and "with a smile on her face" at 95 years old in 2012. The outlet reported that female comedians like Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, and Whoopi Goldberg warmly paid tribute to the icon after her passing.

Dick O'Neill

Dick O'Neill played a small role in "Boy Meets World" Season 4 episode "I Ain't Gonna Spray Lettuce No More," but he set a major plot point into motion for the Matthews family. Cory's father Alan has grown tired with his job as a supermarket manager while Eric is struggling with job opportunities after he wasn't accepted into college. At the suggestion of Mr. Feeny, the family go to check out a local wilderness equipment store owned by O'Neill's character, Ed Kimble. Ed strikes up a conversation with Mrs. Matthews, confiding that he was looking to sell the business. Knowing that her husband and son are looking for a new path — and perhaps need a push — Amy buys the place for them using part of Eric's college funds, making him and his father partners.

O'Neill had always been something of a character actor, and his legendary TV career extended far beyond his appearance on "Boy Meets World." He starred as Chris Cagney's father Charlie on "Cagney & Lacey" and had recurring roles in programs like "M*A*S*H," "Home Improvement," and "Family Matters." On the film side of things, O'Neill's credits include "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" and "The Jerk." He also had an extensive career in Broadway, appearing in shows like "Promises, Promises" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," per The Los Angeles Times. In 1998, just two years after his appearance on "Boy Meets World," he passed away at 70 from heart failure, per The New York Times.

Pat Morita

Wax on, wax off! Pat Morita, best known for his role as Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," portrayed a similarly sage character in Season 3's nineteenth episode, "I Was a Teenage Spy." The "Boy Meets World" episode throws it back to the '50s after Cory, who is working on a term paper about Sputnik, is electrocuted and goes back in time. In this alternate universe — which is eerily similar to the world of "Happy Days" — the Matthews parents are Russian spies and Cory is forced to go on the run. He turns to The Wise Man, portrayed by Morita, for help and eventually wakes up back in the '90s.

It's only fitting that Morita snagged a cameo on the quintessential '90s sitcom considering he portrayed Arnold in "Happy Days" and his "Karate Kid" role — for which he scored an Oscars nod for Best Supporting Actor — had made him a recognizable face in Hollywood. Morita struggled with alcoholism later in life, as his wife Evelyn told People. "He said, 'I tried. I can't do it. I'm an addict,'" she recounted to the outlet following his passing. In 2005, he died at the age of 73. According to Variety, Morita "died of kidney failure at a hospital while awaiting a transplant."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Ray Colcord

Ray Colcord may have never made an appearance on "Boy Meets World," but his mark on the sitcom's history was indelible. The TV and film veteran composed all 158 episodes of the series and penned music for 49 episodes of its spinoff "Girl Meets World." His work as a composer hardly stopped there; he also wrote for shows such as "Big Brother," "Melissa & Joey," "Family Affair," "Promised Land," and "You Wish." 

Colcord, as The Film Music Society put it, "wasn't your average TV composer." In addition to being a president of the Society of Composers & Lyricists and a governor of the Television Academy, he worked at Columbia Records. Among his achievements at the label? He happened to be "the first to hear Aerosmith and convince Clive Davis to sign them," according to a obituary by the Society of Composers & Lyricists.

In 2012, Colcord was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Following his diagnosis, the SCL remembered, he ran several marathons and kept making music. He passed at the age of 66 in 2016.

Buddy Hackett

Buddy Hackett shined in his "Boy Meets World" role in Season 4 episode "Easy Street." It certainly seems like an easy street when Cory nabs a job at a restaurant while Shawn is forced to work the freezing cold morning shift at the docks, especially when Hackett's character Mr. Fontini and his pal start doling out 20-dollar tips to Cory. Of course, nothing is ever as it seems in a sitcom, and when Mr. Fontini starts requesting that Cory begin delivering mysterious unmarked envelopes, Shawn realizes his best friend is running errands for a mob member.

The Brooklyn-born comedian got his start performing stand-up "in cabarets and small clubs in New York," according to The Chicago Tribune, before becoming a mainstay on "The Tonight Show," "The Jackie Gleason Show," appearing in films like "The Music Man" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," and even scoring his own sitcom in the '50s called "Stanley." "Boy Meets World" wasn't his only Disney connection, either. The raunchy joker voiced Scuttle in 1989's animated film "The Little Mermaid," reprising the role for its sequel as well as various video game spinoffs. According to The Tribune, "Hackett cut back professionally in 1996, after experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath onstage." He died at age 78 in 2003 after a history of heart disease, per The New York Times.