Anyone who has watched TV over the past decade has probably heard of CBS show The Big Bang Theory. In its dozen seasons, the comedy has captivated audiences with its smarts and nerdy sense of humor. And what’s more, the sitcom has often boasted some of the most impressive viewing figures for young to middle-aged adults across all scripted shows on TV.
The standout star of the sitcom was Jim Parsons, though. As soon as he read the script, the budding actor reportedly knew that he could play the part of Sheldon Cooper – and knew that he could play it well. And after 12 years – as well as four Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe – Parsons has made it very clear just how right that instinct was.
Despite all Parson’s success with The Big Bang Theory, however, he would also be the one to eventually pull the plug on the popular show. Since then, the actor has gone on record to reveal just why he felt that he couldn’t go on playing Sheldon. And his reason for making the decision was in fact a very simple one.
But before we explore just why Parsons called it a day on The Big Bang Theory, let’s learn a little more about the man himself. For starters, the future star apparently set his sights on the stage at a young age. After performing in The Elephant’s Child at his school as a six-year-old, the young Parsons reportedly decided that he wanted to pursue a career as an actor. And at the same time, TV shows such as Three’s Company and The Cosby Show are also said to have influenced his comedy.
Parsons then continued to pursue his creative dreams after finishing high school. First, he went to the University of Houston, where he acted in a whopping 17 shows over a three-year span. Then, the young man got his master’s from the University of San Diego, where he’d taken part in a classical theater program.
However, it would take several more years for Parsons to get his big break. At first, his career comprised of small TV gigs, commercial parts and roles in Off-Broadway shows. But the young actor was keen to get ahead. So, Parsons auditioned for some 30 pilots – and yet even when he did get cast, the shows never got picked up by a network.
Still, Parsons’ luck changed after he got the pilot script for a new show called The Big Bang Theory. As soon as he read it, the aspiring star felt as though his potential character, Sheldon Cooper, would be a nearly perfect match for him. A lot of the draw came from the pilot’s quick dialogue, which gave the actor the chance to “dance through” his words, as he would tell the Houston Chronicle.
“I did feel that when I read [for] Big Bang it was definitely special to me,” Parsons told Variety at around that time, although he also played down his initial hopes for the success of the series. “I would definitely not presume to say I thought it was going to be a hit show or be picked up,” he confessed in the same interview.
However, Parsons didn’t downplay the fact that he had immediately been drawn to the role of Sheldon Cooper. “I know that I was being presented with a character that was, in its own weird way, a really good fit – that I thought I could do,” he admitted to Variety. And it seems that he was far from the only person to think the same.
Show creator Chuck Lorre agreed, for one, and with that, Parsons bagged the role of Sheldon Cooper – a prominent theoretical physicist with a genius IQ but, at the same time, some notable flaws. You see, although the character thrives academically, he also lacks quite a bit when it comes to social situations. He doesn’t always understand the sarcasm or humor of others, for example, and nor does he express himself with much humility or empathy.
And yet these were the reasons why Sheldon became the breakout star of The Big Bang Theory when it premiered in September 2007. The show follows the lives of Sheldon and his roommate and fellow physicist Leonard Hofstadter as well as their geeky friends Howard Wolowitz, an aerospace engineer, and Raj Koothrappali, an astrophysicist. Meanwhile, Sheldon and Leonard’s neighbor – a waitress, known simply as Penny, with dreams of making it in Hollywood – offsets some of the nerdiness.
Yet in spite of the widespread love for Parsons’ character, in particular, it actually took a few years before The Big Bang Theory really took off. By its fourth season, CBS rescheduled the show so that it aired on Thursday instead of Monday nights, and it became the highest-rated comedy on TV. The time slot change helped grow the audience, and so too did syndication of the series on other networks.
With an average of 15 to 20 million people watching the show in seasons four through 12, The Big Bang Theory became one of TV’s most popular scripted shows. Indeed, at some points it had the highest ratings of all. And for his part on the project, Parsons was duly rewarded with four Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
However, after a dozen seasons – and still with millions tuning in to watch each episode – The Big Bang Theory finally ended. Before season 12 premiered in the fall of 2018, creator Lorre said in a statement, “We… are extremely appreciative of the show’s success and aim to deliver a final season – and series finale – that will bring [the show] to an epic creative close.”
So, the series finale duly aired in two parts in May 2019. The Big Bang Theory’s final scenes see the fulfilling culmination of Sheldon’s career, which he achieves alongside his wife, neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler. The pair win the physics Nobel Prize for their contributions to the field of super asymmetry, and they then head to Sweden with their friends to accept the award.
Yet Sheldon’s signature self-centered nature gets the best of him on the trip. For instance, on the way to Sweden, he notices that his friend Penny has been sick in the bathroom throughout the flight. And so when he worries that she’s sick – and may pass on her illness to the other Nobel winners – Penny reveals a secret to calm his nerves.
Penny tells Sheldon that she and Leonard are having a baby – and that this is why she’s unwell. And yet rather than displaying any excitement, the physicist shows only relief that he can’t contract her illness. Then, when Leonard challenges him about his reaction, Sheldon asks if the pregnancy counts as something to celebrate, as Penny had once said that she didn’t want kids.
In any case, by the time the Big Bang friends arrive in Sweden, Penny and Leonard no longer want to be there. And neither do Howard and his wife, Bernadette, as they’re worried about their kids at home. In fact, Sheldon makes an insensitive comment about that, too. So, eventually Amy reaches breaking point and tells him how much he hurts everyone with his selfish, cold attitude.
This news comes as a shock to Sheldon, who genuinely has no idea how much he has hurt his friends’ feelings – but he also realizes that it’s true. Then the time comes for him and Amy to accept their Nobel Prize. And he uses the platform not to laud his own accomplishments but, instead, to finally thank his friends for all that they have done for him.
Critics, for their part, had a generally positive reaction to the series finale, too. As Kim Potts wrote for Vulture in May 2019, “It’s a tidy and fitting ending to the core group’s – and the series’ – emotional arc, but it’s surrounded by a bunch of little grace notes that made The Big Bang Theory’s final send-off a satisfying one.”
For many, it was Sheldon’s transformation that made the most impact, though. As Brian Lowry wrote for CNN in May 2019, “[His] closing tribute to his friends reflected how, in his unorthodox manner, he obviously cherished them. [This is] in the same way [that] he overcame his selfishness to enter into a relationship with Amy that nobody could have possibly envisioned when the series began.”
Fans, meanwhile, felt that the finale had a lot of heart. One person wrote on Twitter, “What a heartfelt, genuine, tearjerker of an ending, The Big Bang Theory. I loved every minute of this episode. I will miss this show more than you know. Thank you for the last 12 years.” Another said, “I loved the ending, and it will always be one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.”
Parsons himself, meanwhile, shared his thoughts about the finale through his Instagram account. Alongside a photo of the door to the apartment that his character once shared with Leonard, Parsons wrote, “It is hard to find the words to articulate what a profound experience this has been. But the words ‘love’ and ‘gratitude’ come to mind… So love and gratitude to all of you.”
Knowing all of this, then, it might be surprising to learn that The Big Bang Theory actually came to an end because of Parsons himself. In fact, as the actor revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in May 2019, it all came down to a single thought. He explained, “It was the first time in my life of doing this show that it occurred to me that I might not want to do another contract after [season] 12 was up.”
Parsons continued, “I don’t know if it’s because I’m an Aries or just because I’m in touch with myself. Whatever it is, once I had that thought, I was like, ‘Well, that’s your answer.’” But the actor also pointed out that nothing had happened that specifically made him come to this conclusion. He added, “There was no situation that I was like, ‘Well, I’ve had enough of that.’”
No, for Parsons, the decision was far simpler. As he explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “It was just… when you know, you know.” Yet he also thought that perhaps his maturation and its corresponding perspective might have led him there. He continued, “You’re susceptible and thrown around by the whims of your own existence – and getting to a certain age, and your life changes, and suddenly you just think different.”
“It has been fascinating to think about who I was [in 2007],” Parsons added. “But it’s like, you’re not the same person you were. There is a possibility that this actually became more difficult for you in a way. And I don’t know what that means, but it’s like you just change.”
Meanwhile, as soon as series creator Lorre heard about Parsons’ plans, he knew that the series could not continue. As Lorre told The Hollywood Reporter, “I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of going on without the whole ensemble. And the whole ensemble is why we succeeded… Pulling it apart and re-approaching it as a fraction of what it was just never felt right to me.”
Still, Parsons – as well as several of his cast mates – knew that The Big Bang Theory was truly something special. And yet, that said, none of them could foresee another future series having the same longevity. The actor said, “I do not think the chances are good. Everything is changing so much, it’s really hard to imagine it.”
Yet Parsons also explained that he hadn’t had much hope for Big Bang at its start, either. As he said to The Hollywood Reporter, “When we first came on the air in 2007 single-cams were the wave of the future, and we even felt [the concern] on our set because all anybody wanted [at the time] was single-cam. And within a few years, it became clear that not only were we going to exist and thrive but that they were suddenly making more multi-cam [shows] again.”
And this in turn left Parsons to draw his final conclusion: there’s no way of knowing what will happen with TV in the future. He continued, “This business is both frustrating and beautiful because it is constantly doing things that you didn’t see coming… So logic tells you, ‘No, there won’t be another show like this’ – but to be alive in this business right now tells you that you don’t know jack s***.”
In the end, Parsons could only relish in what he had achieved on The Big Bang Theory. During the show’s run, he not only bagged awards and built a great career, but his personal life flourished, too. After all, he married his longtime partner, art director Todd Spiewak, in May 2017.
And, for those reasons, Parsons has pointed out that his life outside the show has mirrored Sheldon’s character arc. Both individuals started off at the beginning of their careers – only to go on to achieve great success and recognition. And for the actor, it seems that his level of achievement may well continue to rise post-Big Bang.
For one thing, Parsons has served as executive producer of the TV show Young Sheldon since its start in 2017. And it makes sense that he’d have a hand in such a production. After all, it details Parsons’ Big Bang character’s childhood as a nine-year-old genius attending high school.
Parsons also plays a small part in Young Sheldon – narrating the series as the older Sheldon who’s reflecting on his childhood. And Parsons’ responsibilities with the show will keep him busy until at least 2021. You see, the network has renewed it for two more seasons, as of 2019.
Parsons may also resume his role as executive producer of the Netflix series Special. The show stars Ryan O’Connell as Ryan Hayes – a homosexual man who suffers from cerebral palsy and hopes to break out of a rut and pursue the life that he imagines. But while the show received praise after its first season, as of June 2019 it has neither been renewed nor cancelled.
Unsurprisingly, Parsons will continue acting, too, even if he’s no longer in the role of Sheldon Cooper. And he took a notable leap in May 2019 when he acted in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile – a movie about the real-life serial killer Ted Bundy. In the crime thriller, Parsons plays Larry Simpson – an attorney who prosecutes Bundy.
Parsons will also have a part in the 2020 Netflix movie The Boys in the Band. You see, in 2018 he starred in the Broadway version of the story alongside actors Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto. And all three of them – plus the rest of their co-stars from the production on the Great White Way – will be in the film.
Fans can, in addition, look out for Parsons in The Legend of Georgia McBride – a feature film in which he will star while also producing. Acting in the movie, he’ll transform into drag queen Miss Tracy Mills – as part of a story that sees her teaching a down-and-out Elvis impersonator how to become a dazzling drag artist instead.
As for the rest of what to expect from Parsons, well, it seems that even he doesn’t have a solid answer. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in January 2019, he said, “I don’t know what’s next for me. It’s not like there is something specific I am aiming for… In a way, it’s exciting. What is this next chapter of life? What is this next chapter for all of us?”