Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper and Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood in The O.C.

Fox's The O.C. shocked and devastated viewers back in 2006 with a twist that changed the direction of the hit show forever by killing off leading lady Marissa Cooper, portrayed by Mischa Barton. It was a big surprise and left fans in tears. 15 years after the episode premiered, Barton is speaking out about the real reason why her character was ultimately killed.

Fans first met Marissa Cooper in the pilot episode of The O.C. in 2003 and the character went through a lot over the few years she was on the show, much more than what viewers might have expected of a rich Southern California teenage girl. When her tragic fate happened, there was a question as to why it happened, and what made Mischa Barton exit the series. Barton, who hasn’t spoken much about her departure from The O.C., told E! News when she started to think about leaving and what she thinks about her time on the drama:

So halfway through season two I would say, when we started doubling up on episodes and shooting [became] so much harder, and again a lot of that was too much for me. I didn't know where the character was going. I look back on it pretty fondly, but there's stuff I think people did wrong and the way they handled it. So, I just didn't feel I could keep going.

The way that Marissa’s death was handled was tragic as well as shocking. After everything that happened to her, it seemed like things were finally coming around. Then she and Ryan got into a car accident, Ryan pulled her from the wreckage, and she died in his arms. While many didn’t understand why Fox would kill off the lead female character, Mischa Barton reveals what led to that choice:

The producers were like, ‘Well, do you want your job and to sail off into the sunset and potentially you can come back in the future in some bizarre TV scenario or we can kill your character off and you can go on with your career that you want and what you want to do?’ I was getting offers from big films at the time and having to turn them down. I had always been supporting in The Sixth Sense and any of those things. My dream was to be offered those lead roles, so that's what happened. It just felt like it was the best thing for me and my health and just in terms of not really feeling protected by my cast and crew at that point.

While it’s been 15 years since fans had to say goodbye to Marissa Cooper, those final moments will forever remain a tragic staple in drama TV. Nothing will ever compare to Ben McKenzie carrying Mischa Barton from a car wreck as Imogen Heap’s chilling rendition of “Hallelujah” played in the background. The O.C. is available to stream on HBO Max, and there are plenty of options elsewhere for TV shows.

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