Stars From Blossom You Didn't Know Died

The following article contains mentions of suicide.

It may not have been the biggest American sitcom of the 1990s, but NBC's "Blossom" (the story of Italian-American teen Blossom Russo, played by Mayim Bialik in her breakout role) definitely made an impact on popular culture at the time. "Saturday Night Live" parodied the show in 1994 ("In terms of the 'SNL' skit, that's one of the highest compliments that one can be paid," Bialik later told Retroality), and Milhouse told Lisa that she looked like Blossom after she made some cool new friends and changed her style in a 1996 episode of "The Simpsons." 

Numerous big-name guest stars appeared before Blossom in fantasy sequences, with the likes of Hugh Hefner, Don King, Mr. T, Sonny Bono, and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck all popping up over the years. Fellow sitcom stars Will Smith ("The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") and Mark-Paul Gosselaar ("Saved by the Bell") also made appearances opposite Bialik, who would go on to become better known for "The Big Bang Theory."

It's Bialik that we think of when "Blossom" comes to mind, but the show featured many other rising stars of the day. Some of them went on to bigger and better things (David Schwimmer, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tobey Maguire being prime examples), but others had their careers cut tragically short. The final episode aired in 1995, and we've lost several cast members in the years since. These are the stars from "Blossom" that you might not know died.

Jonathan Brandis

Those who grew up in the 1990s will no doubt recognize Jonathan Brandis, who became a teen idol after a string of heartthrob roles. Brandis was six when he made his onscreen debut, appearing in a 1982 episode of long-running soap opera "One Life to Live." 1990 was huge for the Connecticut native: he played Bastion in "The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter" and the young Bill Denbrough in the cult classic TV adaptation of Stephen King's "It." The following year, he appeared on "Blossom" as Stevie, a boy that both Blossom and her best friend Six (Jenna von Oÿ) take a shining to.

Brandis was perhaps best known for playing Lucas Wolenczek in the Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi series "SeaQuest DSV." He appeared in all 57 episodes of the show, which ran for three seasons between 1993 and 1996. It was "SeaQuest DSV" "that garnered him a Young Artists Award in 1993 and helped turn him into a teen idol," CBS News noted. "At one point, he was getting 4,000 fan letters a week." 

Brandis landed a role in Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil" a few years later, though his career began to slow down when the '00s arrived. He was cast as Pvt. Lewis P. Wakely in 2002's "Hart's War" (a Bruce Willis-led wartime drama), but his scenes got cut from the film. In November 2003, reports that the actor had died by suicide emerged. Police later confirmed that this was indeed the case, devastating his fans. He was 27.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Mary Pat Gleason

Tributes to the veteran TV actor Mary Pat Gleason began to pour in after her death in 2020. Gleason, who made memorable appearances on shows like "Friends," "Sex and the City," and "Shameless" as well as "Blossom," died of cancer, Variety confirmed. "She was a fighter to the end," her manager told the Hollywood trade. Gleason was 70.

The actor racked up hundreds of credits during her long and varied career, most of them on television. The Minnesota native's resume is even more impressive when you consider that she didn't make her onscreen debut until she was in her 30s. After debuting in a 1982 episode of NBC's "Texas" (she would go on to play Doris Hodges in 20 episodes of the long-running soap opera), Gleason became an ever-present on American TV screens. Her most notable roles include Jane Hogan on "The Guiding Light" (she won an Emmy as part of the show's writing team) and AA member Mary on the CBS sitcom "Mom."

"She was part of our ['Mom'] family and we loved her so much," star Allison Janney said in a tribute Instagram post. "She was one of our favorite guest stars. Her kind heart and warm smile will be missed." Hilary Duff, who worked with Gleason in "A Cinderella Story" (Gleason's most notable film appearance), called her "a wonderful woman who was such an industry veteran and badass" in an email to USA Today.

Ian Abercrombie

Veteran actor Ian Abercrombie, who appeared as Mr. Winters in the "Blossom" Season 5 episode "Hi Diddly Dee," died of kidney failure in 2012, actor and producer Cathy Lind Hayes confirmed to the Los Angeles Times. He was 77.

Abercrombie was born in England but moved to the U.S. as a teenager. His first appearance on an American stage came in 1955 when he secured a part in "Stalag 17," but his career was put on hold a few years later when he got drafted. He returned to acting after the Army, and the experience likely came in handy during his first film shoot: he appeared as an uncredited POW in the 1965 World War II movie "Von Ryan's Express." He went on to land roles in movies including "Army of Darkness," "Addams Family Values," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," and "Wild Wild West," but he would become best known for his work on the small screen.

Abercrombie appeared in seven episodes of "Seinfeld" as Mr. Pitt, the "pain in the neck" boss of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Elaine Benes. "I have been around as an actor for 40-odd years, and this show knocked me out of the ballpark," he told CNN at the time (via the Los Angeles Times). He subsequently showed up on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Star Trek: Voyager," and The WB's "Birds of Prey," in which he played Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. In his final onscreen role, he played Professor Crumbs in Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place."

Phyllis Diller

Comedian and actor Phyllis Diller, who appeared in three episodes of "Blossom" as Mrs. Peterson, passed away "peacefully in her sleep" in 2012, her manager, Milt Suchin, told CNN. The Emmy and Golden Globe nominee was discovered "with a smile on her face," Suchin added. She was 95.

Born during the First World War, Diller wrote copy for a California newspaper before setting her sights on the comedy world. The flamboyant performer put on her first show in 1955, and she didn't look back. "She was a true pioneer," Hollywood agent Fred Wostbrock told CNN. "She was the first lady of stand-up comedy. ... She paved the way for Joan Rivers, Chelsea Handler, Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, and all the women stand-up comics. She was the first and the best."

Many of the women Diller inspired paid tribute to her when news of her death broke. "The only tragedy is that Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny," Joan Rivers said in a tribute tweet, adding, "If she had started today, Phyllis could have stood there in Dior and Harry Winston and become the major star that she was." She had her own variety show in the 1960s, and she would go on to become a prolific voice actor in later decades. Diller brought her distinctive tone to everything from "A Bug's Life" to "Family Guy," in which she played Peter's mother, Thelma Griffin.

Barnard Hughes

An award-winning character actor who plied his trade on the stage and screen, Barnard Hughes played WWII veteran Buzz Richman on "Blossom," grandfather to the eponymous teen. Hughes died in his native New York in 2006 at the age of 90, his son, director Doug Hughes, told The New York Times. He was well known to the Manhattan-based newspaper, having received rave reviews for his Broadway work. He was showered with praise by veteran theater critic Walter Kerr in 1978 when he took on the lead role in a production of Hugh Leonard's "Da." Hughes was "masterly in the role of a lifetime, working skillfully as a watchmaker with every jewel in place," Kerr wrote. He won the Tony Award for best actor for his work in the play.

Around the same time, Hughes was making headway with his onscreen career (he actually debuted as a teenager, but he wouldn't become a recognized name until he was old enough to play serious and/or fatherly types). He scooped an Emmy for his turn as Judge Felix Rushman in "Lou Grant," and he would pop up in several big films in the decades that followed, including "Tron," "The Lost Boys," "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit," and "Doc Hollywood." To "Blossom" fans, however, he will always be bohemian grandpa Buzz Richman, who loved cigars almost as much as he loved women (he dated Phyllis Diller's character in the Season 4 episode "Sex, Lies and Mrs. Peterson").

Estelle Getty

New York native Estelle Getty, who was an Emmy nominee for seven consecutive years while playing "Sophia Petrillo" on "The Golden Girls," died in 2008. "She had been battling advanced dementia for years," Entertainment Weekly confirmed. "According to her website, she passed away in her own home, surrounded by family." She was 84.

Getty performed in Yiddish theater productions in the early years of her career, which she elected to put on hold after tying the knot. She married Arthur Gettleman in 1946 and took time out to raise a family. Decades would pass before she made a return to acting, though her patience ultimately paid off. In 1982, Getty played meddlesome mother Mrs. Beckoff in the Broadway debut of Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy," and it launched her fledgling onscreen career to all new heights. The success of the show opened the door to "The Golden Girls" and Sophia Petrillo, a career-defining role for her.

She won a Golden Globe for playing Petrillo in 1986 and added an Emmy to her trophy cabinet two years later. Getty reprised the role in numerous other shows at the time, including "Blossom." The sharp-tongued Sophia popped up in the Season 1 episode "I Ain't Got No Buddy," in which Blossom gets jealous when bestie Six makes a new friend. Notable feature film credits include "Mask," Mannequin," and "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot." Getty played Sylvester Stallone's gun-toting mother Tutti in the wacky comedy.

Brittany Murphy

Hollywood history is littered with stories of talented actors we lost too soon, but few are quite as sad as that of Brittany Murphy, who died under seemingly suspicious circumstances in December 2009, aged 32. The Los Angeles County coroner's office said the death was accidental, claiming that a combination of factors (including "community acquired pneumonia" and "multiple drug intoxication," per CNN) was to blame.

Theories that the actor had been poisoned began to spread, and the rumor mill went into overdrive when Murphy's 40-year-old husband (screenwriter Simon Monjack) was found dead under similar circumstances a matter of months later. When a new documentary about Murphy's death was released in 2020, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht told Fox News that he believes it was indeed accidental and that people have to move on. "Now it's all over," he said. "There's no way meaningful scientific studies can be done. But there's no question about the pneumonia. This was shown and proven."

The Atlanta native was best known for her roles in films like "Clueless," "Just Married," "Girl, Interrupted," "Sin City," and "8 Mile," in which she played the love interest of Eminem (Murphy became close to the rapper while making the movie). Before all of that, she played Wendy in the "Blossom" Season 4 opener, in which the titular teen moves to Paris to live with her mom. Other early roles include Molly on "Almost Home," Abby on "Party of Five," and Sarah on "Sister, Sister."

Ann Morgan Guilbert

Ann Morgan Guilbert, who was best known for her turn as next-door neighbor Millie Helper on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," died of cancer in 2016, her daughter (actor and writer Nora Eckstein) confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. "I feel so sad about Annie," Fran Drescher, who played Guilbert's granddaughter on the '90s sitcom "The Nanny," said in a tweet. "She was brilliant [as] my Grandma Yetta. Such a sweet woman too." Guilbert was 87.

The Stanford University graduate plied her trade on numerous sitcoms between 1961 (when she made her onscreen debut in an episode of ABC's "My Three Sons") and 2016. She began her five-year stint on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in October 1961 and would go on to land roles in everything from "The New Andy Griffith Show" and "The Partridge Family" to '90s hits like "Cheers," "Home Improvement," "Seinfeld," and "The Nanny," on which she played the "old Jewish grandmother," Grandma Yetta. "I got together with the wardrobe lady and we decided she should just dress outrageously," she once told Standford Magazine, adding, "I just loved playing the character."

In 1991, Guilbert guest-starred in the "Blossom" Season 2 episode "You Can't Go Home," in which Blossom and Six attempt to play cupid for their divorced parents. It seemed fitting that her final appearance was also in a sitcom: she recurred as Shirley "GiGi" Pirkle, the mother of Diane Wiest's Dr. Joan Short, on the CBS show "Life in Pieces."

Eileen Brennan

Eileen Brennan, who was nominated for an Oscar for her turn opposite Goldie Hawn in the hit 1980 comedy "Private Benjamin," died of bladder cancer in 2013, her publicist confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. She had previously survived breast cancer. "No one ever made me laugh more!" Hawn said in a tribute tweet. "Now I cry. Please keep singing darling from on high. Rest." She was 80.

Speaking to The Associated Press in 1988, Brennan revealed that playing drill captain Doreen Lewis in "Private Benjamin" (a role she reprised in the '80s TV show of the same name, which led to an Emmy win) was a real blast. "I love meanies," she said (via The Monitor). "You know why? Because they have no sense of humor. People who are mean or unkind or rigid — think about it — cannot laugh at themselves." Brennan was also known for playing salt-of-the-earth waitress Genevieve in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," a Best Picture nominee, and brothel madam Billie in the Paul Newman-led crime caper "The Sting," a Best Picture winner. Other notable feature credits include "Daisy Miller," "At Long Last Love," "Murder by Death," and the cult classic board game adaptation, "Clue."

In "Blossom," Brennan played the title character's neighbor and confidante Agnes, appearing in three Season 1 episodes. She also flexed her comedic chops on the likes of "Home Improvement," "7th Heaven," "Lizzie McGuire," and "Will & Grace," on which she recurred as acting coach Zandra.