Pat Butcher recently slipped out of soapland peacefully, but most characters don't get off nearly as lightly, says Paul Whitington
'The end of an earring" was how the British tabloids put it, as brassy matriarch Pat Butcher made her final bow from 'EastEnders' earlier this month.
Last summer, actress Pam St Clement announced that she'd be leaving the show at the end of 2011, and in the end she did so in a pine box.
Over the years, poor old Pat, who was unkindly dubbed 'Fat Pat' by the British tabloids, has endured several stints as a prostitute, been attacked and left for dead by the 'Walford attacker', had an affair with Dirty Den and done a prison stretch for killing a child in a drink-driving incident.
Famous for her bad dress sense and ghastly gypsy fortune-teller earrings, Pat was never going to go quietly, and she was given a lavish 'EastEnders' send-off after succumbing to a sudden bout of terminal cancer over the Christmas.
She passed away on New Year's Day, surrounded by her bickering family, and a suitably tasteless funeral service followed last Friday.
A Victorian horse-drawn carriage bedecked with bouquets and a huge floral inscription of the word 'PAT' was followed by members of the Butcher, Mitchell and Branning clans, all dressed in black and looking suitably chastened.
Apparently, the show's writers initially considered killing Pat in a fire before opting for a more humane approach. She got to expire in her own bed, and, in soap death terms, that's pretty good going. Because most of them are grisly affairs, and say a lot about the esteem -- or lack of it -- in which a character or actor is held.
Pat certainly got off lighter than Pauline Fowler, that other long-serving Walford fishwife who collapsed and died in the middle of a wintry Albert Square on Christmas Day 2006, from a brain haemorrhage that we later discovered was caused by a belt from a frying pan wielded by her husband, Joe.
Dirty Den fared even worse. As memorably played by Leslie Grantham, Den Watts was the devious and unprincipled landlord of the Old Vic who became a national hate figure in Britain in the 1980s when he got his best friend's 16-year-old daughter pregnant and then abandoned her.
He was shot and presumed dead in 1989, but dramatically returned to the soap in 2003.
The public tuned in in droves to watch his return, but when the actor was implicated in an internet sex scandal, the show's producers decided enough was enough.
In February 2005, Den was cornered in the Old Vic and bludgeoned to death with an iron doorstop by Zoe Slater and his estranged wife Chrissie, and buried in the pub's basement.
No coming back this time.
Perhaps the most memorable Irish soap death involved another despicable villain, 'Fair City' crime boss Billy Meehan. His beating and abusing of his wife Carol and mistress Tracey finally came to an end when Carol's son Lorcan murdered him in a grisly 2001 episode. Good enough for him.
Things get pretty grim on 'Ros na Run' too, where Dublin hoodlum and blackmailer Jim O'Dowd used his takeaway as a front for his drug dealing, until good old Tina cut his throat.
The evidence would seem to suggest that audiences will only put up with a villain's wrongdoing for so long without demanding some sort of violent comeuppance.
'Coronation Street's' Richard Hillman was one of the most odious soap villains of them all, a conniving sociopath who started out as a conman and ended up a fully fledged serial killer.
After posing as a distant cousin of the Baldwins, Richard smooth-talked his way into Gail Platt's affections, married her and then tried to murder her mother in order to inherit her money.
He murdered his ex-wife with a shovel, beat Maxine Peacock to death with a crowbar and then tried to kill Gail, Sarah, David and himself by driving them into the canal while screaming "this is it -- I love you!".
They survived, he didn't.
In Corrie's 50th anniversary week in December 2010, the characters Molly Dobbs and Ashley Peacock were killed by a flying tram in an apocalyptic crash.
When it comes to outlandish soap opera deaths, though, you just can't beat the Americans. Nicollette Sheridan's acrimonious relationship with 'Desperate Housewives' creator Marc Cherry came to a head in 2009 when Marc decided to kill off her character, Edie Britt.
He did so in a tellingly nasty manner, having her car crash into an electrical pole which then electrocuted her.
Nicollette then tried to sue Marc for wrongful dismissal, but all the other cast members sided with the producer.
As Ms Sheridan discovered to her cost, American soaps can be wonderfully cavalier when it comes to killing off characters.
In the California-based 1980s soap 'Santa Barbara', a pain-in-the-ass former nun called Mary DuVall McCormick was killed by a giant neon letter 'C' that fell off the roof of a posh hotel.
I wonder what the producers were trying to say to the actress who played her.
Long-running 'Days of Our Lives' character Dr Marlena Evans has disappeared from the show more than once. Over the years, she has survived possession by the devil, numerous kidnappings and a fall from a 30th-storey window.
In 1987, actress Deidre Hall decided she wanted to leave the show, and the writers killed Marlena off in a plane crash.
But plane crashes always offer writers a handy get-out clause, and in 1991 we discovered that Marlena had survived and was now triumphantly emerging from a four-year coma.
But it seems Marlena is never safe: in 2007, the show's producers decided they had to cut costs and fired their highest-paid stars, including Deidre.
Marlena had, by this stage, become a reluctant serial killer, and was shot and killed on a prison rooftop. Oh no she wasn't, said the public, and Marlena was quickly reinstated by means best left unexamined.
One of the many fantastic sub-plots in the long-running soap 'All My Children' was the doomed love affair between childhood sweethearts Greg Nelson and Jenny Gardner.
After Greg became paralysed from the waist down, he encouraged Jenny to meet other men. She did, and got engaged to an egotistical model called Tony.
But when Greg recovered the use of his legs and adjacent areas, Jenny dumped Tony who, not best pleased, rigged a jet ski to explode and kill Greg.
But guess what, he got Jenny instead.
Then there's Bobby Ewing in 'Dallas', who was run over by a car in 1985 when Patrick Duffy decided he no longer wanted to play him.
A year later, however, after Patrick had discovered that life after 'Dallas' was no picnic, Bobby returned and his death was dismissed as part of a bad dream.
There will be no such miraculous resurrections for poor old Pat Butcher.