According to “Still Friends” author Saul Austerlitz, NBC decided to take a chance on “Friends” because of the success of “Seinfeld.” What the network couldn’t possibly have predicted is that David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s sitcom would surpass “Seinfeld” on its way to becoming a genuine phenomenon, a series that encapsulated the late ’90s/early ’00s period like no other.
Fans fell in love with 20-somethings Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), who have each other’s backs as they traverse life in New York City. While the success of “Friends” made the cast undoubtedly rich, the show has also been said to have “changed our idea of family” by the BBC, and there’s nothing quite as painful as losing a family member.
It still seems too soon to be talking about “Friends” actors we’ve lost, but the show celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019 and several cast members weren’t around to help mark the milestone. From prolific character actors and cult B-movie stars to Oscar-winning Hollywood icons, the following “Friends” actors left us way too soon.
Ron Leibman was Rachel's overbearing father
Award-winning actor Ron Leibman, who appeared as Rachel’s cardiologist father, Dr. Leonard Green, in four memorable episodes of “Friends,” died in 2019, his agent told the Associated Press. The cause of death was pneumonia, a family insider confirmed. He was 82.
A native of New York, Leibman was 3 years old when he saw his first ever Broadway show. He went on to a distinguished career on the stage, but made his mark in television first, earning a leading actor Emmy for his performance in 1979’s “Kaz.” He received a Golden Globe nomination for the 1986 TV movie “Christmas Eve,” and, in 1993, he won a Tony Award for his turn as McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” which was Leibman’s tenth performance on the Great White Way. Three years later, he made his debut as Rachel’s overbearing dad.
Dr. Green first shows up in the Season 2 episode, “The One with the Two Parties,” surprising Rachel on her birthday. He reappeared in Season 3, and popped up again in Seasons 8 and 10, when the heart doctor suffers a heart attack. Ross is by his side when he wakes up in hospital, but that doesn’t soften his opinion of him one bit. “So what’s new with you, Geller?” he asks. “Knocked up any more of my daughters lately?”
Ron Glass was Ross' busy divorce attorney on Friends
Emmy-nominated actor and devout Buddhist Ron Glass, who was kept busy as Ross’ divorce attorney on “Friends,” died of respiratory failure in 2016. “Ron was a private, gentle and caring man,” his agent, Jeffrey Leavitt, confirmed to NBC. “He was an absolute delight to watch on screen. Words cannot adequately express my sorrow.” He was 71.
The Indiana native played perpetually exasperated lawyer Russell in two Season 6 episodes of “Friends,” debuting in “The One Where Ross Hugs Rachel” and showing up again in “The One Where Joey Loses His Insurance.” He’s called into action when Ross promises Rachel that he’ll get their impromptu Vegas nuptials annulled, only to secretly change his mind when the reality of another failed marriage hits home. When Russell later informs Rachel that she and Ross are still married, she storms into one of his lectures and calls the paleontologist out in front of his students.
Away from “Friends,” Glass had a long and distinguished career. He was nominated for a supporting actor Emmy for his turn as New York detective Ron Harris in “Barney Miller,” and later became known for his part in “Firefly.” He played spiritual guide Shepherd Derrial Book in all 14 episodes of the Joss Whedon show, and would reprise the role in the sequel movie “Serenity,” released in 2005.
Conchata Ferrell denied Ross and Rachel their annulment
Beloved character actress Conchata Ferrell, who played the unimpressed judge presiding over Ross and Rachel’s annulment case, died at the age of 77 “of complications following a cardiac arrest” in 2020, Deadline confirmed.
In “Friends,” it was Ferrell who had to decide whether or not to void Ross and Rachel’s shotgun wedding. She appears in the Season 6 episode, “The One with Joey’s Porsche” and, after discovering that everything in their application is a total lie, tells them that their only option is divorce. An irate Ross and Rachel tell Ferrell’s judge that they won’t leave until she annuls their marriage, but they quickly change their stance when she fires back with: “Would you like to spend the night in jail?”
Ferrell already had around a hundred credits to her name by the time she popped up on “Friends” in 1999. She was nominated for an Emmy for her 20-episode stint on “L.A. Law” in 1992, but it took another decade before she achieved mainstream recognition. In her most famous role, the West Virginia native played Berta the housekeeper on Chuck Lorre’s sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” appearing in over 200 episodes and picking up a further two Emmy nods along the way. “Through it all she was a rock,” Lorre said in a statement (via Deadline). “One of the greats. I was privileged to call her a friend.”
Max Wright was the original boss of this iconic Friends hangout
Detroit born actor Max Wright, who was the manager at Central Perk during the first two seasons of “Friends,” died at age 75 in 2019. “We’re told Max had battled cancer for years,” TMZ, which broke the news, reported.
Born George Edward Wright, he studied acting at the National Theater School of Canada and then returned to the States to launch a Broadway career, according to his obituary in The New York Times. He shared the stage with Al Pacino in 1979’s “King Richard III” and was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the 1997 adaptation of the classic Russian play “Ivanov.” By this point in time, he was known to “Friends” fans as Terry, the original boss of the iconic Central Perk.
We first meet Terry in the Season 1 episode, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away.” He returns with a bang in Season 2’s “The One with the Baby On The Bus,” firing Phoebe from her singing job at the coffee house. “It’s not that your friend is bad,” he tells Rachel, “it’s that she’s so bad, she makes me want to put my finger through my eye into my brain and swirl it around.” The latter episode is notable for being the debut of Phoebe’s song “Smelly Cat.”
Wright appeared in dozens of well-known shows outside of “Friends,” most notably “ALF.” He played suburban dad Willie Tanner in all four seasons of the quirky ’80s sitcom.
Joel Beeson was Joey's cowboy rival on Friends
North Carolina native Joel Beeson, who played Todd the Hombre Man in a standout Season 2 episode of “Friends,” reportedly died while waiting for a liver transplant in 2017. His obituary, originally published in Virginia newspaper “The Carroll News,” revealed that he left Hollywood in the mid-90s “following a medical diagnosis of Type III Severe Von Willebrand’s disease.” He was 51.
Beeson made his first television appearances in the late 1980s when he was a contestant on “The New Hollywood Squares.” His acting career began in 1992 when he played the part of Lisle’s bodyguard in Robert Zemeckis’ black comedy “Death Becomes Her.” He went on to land roles in rom-com “The Favour” and action flick “Ballistic” (also known as “Fist of Justice”), but Beeson was always best known as Todd, Joey’s rival cologne spritzer in “The One with the Breast Milk.”
To help pay the bills, soap actor Joey gets a job in a department store fragrance section. Things are going well until the hunky Todd, dressed as a cowboy and offering a manly cologne known as “Hombre,” starts encroaching on his territory. Not to be outdone in front of co-worker Annabel (Emily Procter), Joey gets himself a white cowboy costume and triggers an impromptu spritzing duel, which he wins by default — Todd loses his cool sprays a customer directly in the eyes.
Stan Kirsch brought the ick factor to Friends
Actor and respected teacher Stan Kirsch, who lied to Monica about his age in Season 1 of “Friends,” died by suicide at age 51 in 2020, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed (via Deadline).
Kirsch got his first taste of the industry when he appeared in commercials as a kid. He returned to acting as an adult and became known for his role on the “Highlander” TV series, playing street kid-turned-Immortal Richie Ryan in over 100 episodes of the popular ’90s show. He went on to appear in two episodes of the legal drama “JAG,” and later featured in the low budget horror film “Shallow Ground” as well as the sci-fi thriller “Deep Rescue,” but he was popularly known for playing high schooler Ethan in an episode of “Friends” that makes us cringe today. In the appropriately named “The One with the Ick Factor,” Ethan tells Monica that he’s “a senior,” leading her to believe he’s in his last year of college. After they sleep together, he reveals that he’s actually a senior in high school. Needless to say, she calls the whole thing off.
Kirsch went on to establish himself as an acting coach, founding Stan Kirsch Studios with his wife, Kristyn Green.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Robin Williams made a guest appearance on Friends alongside Billy Crystal
Comedic juggernaut Robin Williams, who appeared alongside Billy Crystal in a “Friends” Season 3 guest spot, died by suicide in 2014. In the last years of Williams’ life, he had unknowingly been living with Lewy body disease, a degenerative condition that affects both physical and mental health. “I saw the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life,” his widow, Susan Schneider Williams, told Neurology of her late husband, who died was 63.
The Chicago-born, Juilliard-trained Williams rose through the stand-up comedy ranks before transitioning into one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors. He voiced the Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin,” fooled his family in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” outran stampedes in “Jumanji” and played Theodore Roosevelt in the “Night at the Museum” films, though he deftly handled a number of serious roles, too. He was thrice nominated for Best Actor for his stellar work in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society” and “The Fisher King,” and he later won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable turn opposite Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.”
In his singular “Friends” appearance, “The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion,” Williams appears alongside Crystal in the opening scene as Tomas and Tim, a pair of Central Perk customers that squeeze onto the gang’s regular sofa. Monica abandons her story and they all begin to eavesdrop when Tim reveals he’s sleeping with Tomas’ wife.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Shelley Berman appeared on Friends as Rachel's gassy boss
Comedian and actor Shelley Berman, who played Rachel’s boss at Fortuna Fashions in two consecutive episodes of “Friends,” died in 2017. The cause of death was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, Variety confirmed through Berman’s publicist. He was 92.
Berman was a comedy star on the nightclub circuit during the 1960s, but the former Navy man almost lost it all when a documentary crew filmed him on an explosive rant backstage. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he threatened to “pull the damn phones out of the wall” when his routine was interrupted by a call. “I got a reputation for causing trouble, maybe because I am passionate about things,” he admitted during an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I did not deserve the things that were said about me. I was never just a troublemaker.” Berman proved just that, pivoting to acting and enjoying a long career onscreen.
He’s perhaps best known for his Emmy-nominated turn as Nat David, Larry David’s father on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but “Friends” fans will remember him as Mr. Kaplan Jr., Rachel’s boss for a short spell during Season 3. She soon realizes that she’s only there to untangle coat hangers and make coffee (which, to make matters worse, gives Berman’s character bad gas), though luckily she’s tipped off about an opening at upscale department store Bloomingdales, where she becomes a personal shopper.
Audra Lindley was Phoebe's grandmother and flatmate on Friends
Two-time Golden Globe nominee Audra Lindley, who played Phoebe’s adoptive grandmother and longtime flatmate, Frances, died at age 79 due to complications from leukemia in 1997, the Los Angeles Times confirmed. Speaking to the newspaper a decade earlier, Lindley revealed that she had always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her actor parents. “From the first time I can remember, maybe 4 years old, I dreamed of being a movie star,” she said.
After appearing in a number of uncredited film roles in the early 1940s, Lindley’s onscreen career began in earnest the following decade when she became a regular on American television screens. She attained TV stardom in the 1970s when she played wealthy mother Amy Fitzgerald on “Bridget Loves Bernie” and then landlady Helen Roper on “Three’s Company,” her most famous role. She was nominated in the supporting comedy actress category at the Golden Globes for her work on both of those shows, the latter of which spawned a spin-off series, “The Ropers.”
Her role in the “Friends” Season 2 episode, “The One with Phoebe’s Dad,” was one of her last, airing two years before her death. Frances only appeared in a single episode, but she continued to live with Phoebe until her offscreen death in Season 5.
Kellie Waymire's Friends character took Chandler to task
Ohio native Kellie Waymire, who played an adoptive mother in a memorable Season 10 episode of “Friends,” died suddenly in 2003. “She collapsed in her home from an undiagnosed cardiac arrhythmia likely related to mitral valve prolapse, a condition she was diagnosed with as a teenager,” the official website of “Star Trek,” in which she also featured, confirmed. She was just 36 years old.
Despite her life being cut so tragically short, Waymire had almost 40 onscreen credits on her resume. She made her TV debut in a mid-90s episode of ABC’s long running soap “One Life to Live,” and she had scored parts on both “Seinfeld” and “Ally McBeal” before the decade was done. She joined the “Star Trek” family in 2000 when she played alien actress Layna in an episode of “Voyager,” but Trekkies know her best as exobiologist Elizabeth Cutler, a crewman on “Enterprise.” She made her final appearance as Cutler in 2002, and appeared on “Friends” the following year.
In “The One Where Ross Is Fine,” Phoebe introduces Monica and Chandler to Waymire’s Colleen, a friend of hers who has an adopted son. As they’re considering adoption themselves, Monica and Chandler take the opportunity to quiz Colleen and her husband about the process. It’s all running smoothly until Chandler runs into little Owen and mentions that he’s adopted, which is news to him.
Beverly Garland taught the Friends girls how to play poker
B-movie star Beverly Garland, who played Monica’s aunt Iris in the Season 1 episode, “The One with All The Poker,” died in 2008 at the age of 82. Her career took off in the 1950s when she starred in a string of low-budget films, five of them directed by Roger Corman. Garland appeared in “Gunslinger,” “It Conquered the World,” “Naked Paradise,” “Not of This Earth” and “Swamp Women,” which went on to earn cult status. “Swamp Women” co-star Mike Connors called her “a terrific actress” when he spoke with the Los Angeles Times, adding, “She was one of those special gals who was fun to work with.”
Garland found mainstream success in the late ’60s when she debuted as Barbara Harper Douglas on the sitcom “My Three Sons,” though she wasn’t exactly fond of the overnight attention. “The only thing that bothers me is that everybody loves this character so much,” Garland said at the time. “I don’t remember anybody loving me all that much.” She played Douglas in 74 episodes of the long-running show and would take on a wide variety of roles in the decades that followed, including professional poker player.
In her “Friends” appearance, Garland teaches the girls how to play poker so they can have a better chance against the boys. It comes down to a head-to-head between Ross and Rachel at the end of the night, with the latter coming out on top.
Taylor Negron gave Monica a job after she criticized his restaurant
Veteran comedian and actor Taylor Negron, who showed up at Monica’s place to shout at her after she wrote a scathing review of his restaurant, Allesandro’s, died in 2015. The cause of death was liver cancer, his mother told the Los Angeles Times. He was 57.
Born in California, Negron made a name for himself on the comedy circuit before transitioning to the screen. At the age of 19, he became an assistant to Lucille Ball, who taught him “that you never get what you really want and you have to be flexible” in Hollywood (per Deadline). He made his movie debut in 1982, appearing in the comedy “Young Doctors in Love,” and, later that year, he showed up as the pizza guy in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” He went on to play the blond-haired villain, Milo, in Bruce Willis’ 1991 actioner “The Last Boy Scout,” though he soon become best known for his TV work.
Negron played Gwillem on NBC’s “Hope & Gloria” between 1995 and 1996, and he was cast as Allesandro on “Friends” the following year. In the Season 4 episode, “The One Where They’re Going To Party,” he ends up offering Monica the role of chef at his restaurant when his angry visit to her apartment turns into a taste test. Monica takes the job, and remains at Allesandro’s until Season 9.
Mary Pat Gleason played a scary ER nurse on Friends
TV stalwart Mary Pat Gleason, who played obnoxious ER receptionist Nurse Sizemore in the Season 1 episode, “The One with George Stephanopoulos,” died of cancer in 2020 at age 70, her family confirmed (via The New York Times).
A veteran of the industry with almost 200 credits to her name by the time of her death, Gleason played small roles in films, including “The Crucible,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” “A Cinderella Story,” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” but she was usually found on television. She made her debut on NBC’s “Texas,” playing the character Doris Hodges in the episode of the same name, and then joined the cast of long-running soap “Guiding Light” as Jane Hogan. The ever-reliable character actress went on to appear in everything from “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Sex and the City,” “Shameless” and “Desperate Housewives,” on which she recurred as school teacher Elenora Butters.
Gleason could do both scary and funny, and she brought both to her “Friends” character. Ross comes to her emergency room after being struck in the face with a puck at a hockey game and has to wait while she finishes up an important call — a complaint to a candy bar company. He gets his own back when he has to wrestle the puck away from a kid and accidentally sends it flying in the nurse’s direction.
Fred Willard lied to Ross about his monkey
Five-time Emmy nominee Fred Willard, who played San Diego Zoo administrator Dean Lipson in a Season 2 episode of “Friends,” died of natural causes in 2020, his daughter confirmed (per Variety). “He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end,” Hope Mulbarger said. “We loved him so very much.” He was 86.
After fine-tuning his skills with Chicago improv group The Second City, Willard made a career out of playing dense but endearing types. He worked with mockumentary filmmaker Christopher Guest on numerous occasions (most notably on the critically-acclaimed “Best in Show,” in which he played color commentator Buck Laughlin), but that was just one facet of his fascinating career. Willard accumulated an incredible 312 acting credits during his five decades in show business, and he made many famous fans along the way. Steve Carell, who starred with Willard in the “Anchorman” films, called him “the funniest person that [he’s] ever worked with” in a tribute tweet, adding, “He was a sweet, wonderful man.”
Willard brought his patented brand of comedy to “Friends” when he appeared in “The One After The Superbowl, Part 1,” telling Ross in rather blunt fashion that his former pet monkey, Marcel, is dead. It turns out he didn’t die, but was stolen “along with a snowy egret, a two-toed sloth, and three hooded sweatshirts from the zoo gift shop,” a disgruntled employee later reveals.
Paul Gleason played Phoebe's boss in an alternate reality
Miami-born actor Paul Gleason, who played Phoebe’s boss in a two-part alternate universe episode titled, “The One That Could Have Been,” died from a rare type of lung cancer at age 67 in 2006, his wife told The New York Times.
Gleason was a minor league baseball player before he turned his attention to acting. He started training with world-renowned coach Lee Strasberg in the 1960s, and by the end of that decade had made appearances on “The Green Hornet” and “The F.B.I,” an ABC police procedural that ran until the mid 1970s. He became best known for playing irate high school principal Richard Vernon in John Hughes ’80s classic “The Breakfast Club,” but keen-eyed fans of “Friends” will no doubt recognize him as Jack, who fires Phoebe from her job as an investment banker after she loses his company millions of dollars. This triggers her second heart attack of the episode (in this version of reality, Phoebe is a chain-smoking workaholic).
While he did the majority of his notable feature length work in the ’80s — on top of “The Breakfast Club” he appeared in “Trading Places” and “Die Hard,” in which he played stubborn LAPD deputy Dwayne T. Robinson — Gleason remained active into the ’00s, popping up in comedies including “Not Another Teen Movie” and Ryan Reynolds’ “Van Wilder: Party Liaison.”
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