The death of Big Bang Theory voice actor Carol Ann Susi has thrown a wrench into long-term plans for the top-rated sitcom.

Susi, 62, lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday. Her character, the mother of Howard Wolowitz, played by Simon Helberg, never appeared on camera and instead bellowed her trademark obtuse lines from offscreen.

Deep Experience

The Brooklyn native had been a Hollywood mainstay for decades, with credits in a diverse range of productions, including Seinfeld, Cheers, the Neil Patrick Harris vehicle Doogie Howser, M.D., Grey’s Anatomy, That ‘70s Show and The King of Queens. She was also experienced in voice acting before she took up with the lovable nerds in Pasadena. She played a character in the CSI: NY video game.

Although she was the only exclusively voice-based member of the cast, her impact was instrumental to the evolution of the other characters. Her onscreen son, Howard, had been living at home with her when the show was first aired by CBS in 2007.

Although he later got married and moved in with Bernadette, played by Melissa Rauch, Mrs. Wolowitz continued to shape his relationships with his new bride as well as with the other main characters, namely Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Penny and Amy, played by Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kunal Nayyar, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, and Mayim Bialik, respectively.

The Show Must Go On

Losing a major voice actor to illness is not unprecedented in television or film. When Marcia Wallace passed away in October 2013 following a three-decade-long battle with breast cancer, The Simpsons was left without its beloved teacher, Mrs. Krabappel. The show’s producers aired a tribute to her at the end of an episode last March. The character is no longer being used.

While Big Bang’s producers haven’t yet publicly commented on how the show will deal with her loss, the options available to them include continuing the character using a voice match, or writing her completely out of the show. As social media increasingly puts all talent – both on-camera as well as voice talent – in the spotlight, even the most casual viewers will be aware of the real-life loss. While Rauch has repeatedly performed almost perfect vocal impressions of the never-seen Mrs. Wolowitz, it’s equally clear that even a perfectly voice matched professional would never quite be able to replicate the soul that Susi brought to the role.

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