I don’t want to hijack the Single Dad Sitcom thread so I’ll ask here. Has there been a more gratuitous death of an established character than the death of Maude Flanders on the Simpsons? She was knocked out of the top of the bleachers by a projectile free t-shirt.
The whale in Hitchhiker’s doesn’t count because it was created to die gratuitously. (And now I have a mental image of the poor thing wearing a red shirt.)