Sadly, yes, Ducky did die on NCIS (but there’s a good reason why)

The NCIS creative team has opted to kill of Ducky but this was not a decision taken lightly by the creative team.

"Decompressed" -- When a deep sea diver is murdered on the job, his body and suspected co-workers must remain in a high-tech decompression chamber for four days, leaving the NCIS team to complete an unorthodox investigation from outside the tank, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: David McCallum 
Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS
©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
"Decompressed" -- When a deep sea diver is murdered on the job, his body and suspected co-workers must remain in a high-tech decompression chamber for four days, leaving the NCIS team to complete an unorthodox investigation from outside the tank, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: David McCallum Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /
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It's the end of an era on NCIS as CBS's long-running crime drama bids farewell to a character who has been a part of the show since the very beginning, going all the way back to the show's backdoor pilot on JAG.

As the promo for "The Stories We Leave Behind" teased, the second episode of season 21 will celebrate NCIS medical examiner turned NCIS historian Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard in what promises to be one of the most emotional episodes in the history of NCIS. In the episode, Jimmy Palmer goes to visit his longtime friend and mentor and sadly discovers that Ducky has passed away.

What follows is the mourning and celebration of Ducky by his NCIS family as the team comes together and find comfort in their time of grief working on one of Ducky's unfinished cases. The decision to write Ducky off the show by killing the character is one that has fans feeling quite emotional and understandably so as this is a character we've known and loved for over 20 years. However, the decision was made in an effort to honor the character and his legacy.

NCIS decided to write David McCallum's death into the show

On September 25, 2023, actor David McCallum passed away peacefully at the New York Presbyterian Hospital at the age of 90. His passing shook the entire NCIS family to its core with tributes from his former costars and fans pouring in across social media in the wake of his death.

"I’ll always remember David McCallum. And I thought that from day one here, because I thought how fortunate this entire cast, whoever it is, is lucky enough to work with him and watch his work ethic every day. And take from his experience, what he’s had in this industry, for a number of years, in different shows," wrote McCallum's longtime costar and NCIS executive producer Mark Harmon at the time.

Following McCallum's passing, it was clear NCIS was going to have to find a way to honor the beloved member of the family and ultimately the show made the best possible call by writing Ducky off the show which will allow the show to celebrate McCallum through his character on the show.

While it's heartbreaking to think of NCIS without Ducky, there is no way the show should or could have ever recast the role as doing so would have been a disservice to McCallum and his legacy. By having Ducky pass away in the show, NCIS will be able to allow the audience to mourn the beloved character alongside the cast in an episode that will pay tribute to Ducky and McCallum's immeasurable contributions to the show.

Everything Starts Somewhere
“Everything Starts Somewhere” – Flashbacks reveal the murder case that first introduced young Gibbs (Sean Harmon) to NCIS and his introduction to young, new-to-America Ducky (Adam Campbell), on the 400th episode of NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 24 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: David McCallum as Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Sadly David McCallum was unable to film any scenes for NCIS season 21

While the second episode of NCIS will be celebrating Ducky and David McCallum, we sadly will not get to see any newly filmed footage of McCallum in his iconic role. Due to the actors' and writers' strikes of 2023, production on NCIS season 21 did not begin until after McCallum's passing which means McCallum had not begun filming any new materials for the show.

As a result, NCIS will have to use archive footage in its tribute episode from past episodes of the show in order to feature McCallum, though there is a chance some new footage could be used as it's not uncommon for shows to retain unused footage and utilize it in later episodes including in tribute episodes.

Black Sky
“Black Sky” – Torres finds himself in prison as the team tries to stop an impending terror attack on U.S. soil, on the 20th season finale of the CBS Original series NCIS, Monday, May 22 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Pictured: David McCallum as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

David McCallum was NCIS's longest running cast member

David McCallum was the last remaining original cast member on NCIS, having originated the role of Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard in episodes 20 and 21 of JAG's eighth season which served as a backdoor pilot for NCIS.

McCallum was a series regular on NCIS across the show's first 15 seasons before transitioning into more of a recurring role from seasons 16-20. During his time on the show, McCallum is credited for appearing in a total of 458 episodes of the show and was the only member of the cast to appear in every season of the show's first 20 seasons.

In addition to his role on the flagship series, McCallum also appeared in two episodes of NCIS: New Orleans and voiced Ducky in CBS's NCIS video game.

McCallum's last episode of NCIS came in the season 20 finale, "Black Sky," in which the NCIS team worked to stop an impending terror attack from happening.

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