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. As such, it’s often boasted some of the highest viewership among all of TV’s scripted shows.
Meanwhile, the show’s most successful star was Jim Parsons. The actor knew as soon as he read the script that he could play the part of Sheldon Cooper – and play it well. And after 12 years, four Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe, he has made it patently clear just how right that instinct was.
But despite all his success with The Big Bang Theory, it would also be Parsons who’d pull the plug on the popular show. He eventually revealed why he felt he couldn’t go on playing Sheldon – and his reason for making the call was a very simple one.
But before we discover why Parsons called a day on The Big Bang Theory, let’s learn about the man himself. Indeed, the star knew as a six-year-old what he wanted to do with his future. After performing in The Elephant’s Child at his school, he wanted to become an actor. Meanwhile, watching TV shows such as Three’s Company and The Cosby Show influenced his comedy at a young age, too.
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. He then got his master’s at the University of San Diego, where he took 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 roles in Off-Broadway shows, commercial parts and small TV gigs. But that wasn’t for lack of trying. Indeed, Parsons auditioned for up to 30 pilots and, even if he got cast, the shows never got picked up by a network.
But Parsons’ luck changed after he got the pilot script for a new show called The Big Bang Theory. As soon as he read it, he felt as though his potential character, Sheldon Cooper, would be a nearly perfect fit for him. A lot of the draw came from the pilot’s quick dialogue, which gave him the chance to “dance through” his words, he told the Houston Chronicle.
“I did feel that when I read [for] Big Bang it was definitely special to me,” Parsons told Variety at the time, although he 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 did not play down the fact that he was immediately 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, he was far from the only one to think this.
Yes, show creator Chuck Lorre agreed and, with that, Parsons snagged the role of Sheldon Cooper, a senior theoretical physicist with a genius IQ. However, though he thrived academically, he lacked quite a bit in the social realm. Indeed, he didn’t always understand others’ sarcasm or humor, nor did he express himself with much humility or empathy.
But these were the reasons why Sheldon became the breakout star of The Big Bang Theory when it premiered in September 2007. The show followed 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, aspiring actress and waitress known simply as Penny, juxtaposed the nerdiness.
In spite of the love for Parsons’ character, it took a few years before The Big Bang Theory really took off. By its fourth season, CBS had moved the show from Monday to Thursday nights and it became the highest-rated comedy on TV. The time slot change helped grow the audience, as 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 was the highest-rated of all. And for his part on the program, Parsons was handsomely rewarded with four Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
But after a dozen seasons – and still with millions tuning in to watch – 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.”
The series finale 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 wins the Nobel Prize in physics for their work in super asymmetry. And they head to Sweden with their friends to accept the award.
But 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. When he worries that she’s sick – and may pass on her illness to the other Nobel winners – she reveals a secret to calm his nerves.
Penny tells Sheldon that she and Leonard are having a baby – and that’s why she’s sick. But rather than showing any excitement, the physicist shows only that he’s relieved that he can’t contract her illness. Then, when Leonard confronts him about his reaction, Sheldon asks if the pregnancy counts as something to celebrate, since Penny once said she didn’t want kids.
So, by the time the Big Bang friends arrive in Sweden, Penny and Leonard no longer want to be there. Neither do Howard and his wife, Bernadette, as they’re worried about their kids at home. Indeed, Sheldon makes an insensitive comment about that, too. Eventually, the latter’s wife reaches her breaking point and tells him how much he hurts everyone with his selfish, cold attitude.
The news shocks Sheldon, who genuinely has no idea how much he has hurt his friends’ feelings – but he realizes 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 to finally thank his friends for all they have done for him.
Meanwhile, critics had a generally positive reaction to the series finale. 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. 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 he overcame his selfishness to enter into a relationship with Amy that nobody could have possibly envisioned when the series began.”
Fans also felt the finale had a lot of heart. One fan wrote on Twitter that month, “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.”
For his part, Parsons shared his thoughts about the finale through his Instagram. Along with a photo of the door to the apartment 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 that, it might be surprising to learn that The Big Bang Theory came to an end because of Parsons himself. He revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in May 2019 that it all came down to a single thought. He said, “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 said nothing had happened that specifically made him come to that conclusion. He added, “There was no situation that I was like, ‘Well, I’ve had enough of that.’”
For Parsons, the decision was much more simplistic. He explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “It was just…when you know, you know.” He thought perhaps his maturation and its corresponding perspective might’ve 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 said. “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 the series could not continue. He 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. In 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 castmates, knew that The Big Bang Theory was truly something special. However, none of them could foresee another series in the future having the same longevity. He said, “I do not think the chances are good. Everything is changing so much it’s really hard to imagine it.”
However, Parsons said that he didn’t have much hope for Big Bang at its start, either. He added 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 multicams again.”
And that 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 nabbed awards and built a great career, but his personal life flourished, too. He married his longtime partner, art director Todd Spiewak, in May 2017.
And, for those reasons, Parsons said that his life outside of the show had mirrored Sheldon’s character arc. Both started off at the beginning of their careers, only to achieve great success and recognition both personally and professionally. For the actor, it appears that his level of achievement will 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. That’s because it details Parsons’ Big Bang character’s childhood as a nine-year-old genius attending high school.
Parsons also plays a small part on 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. That’s because 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 gay man who has mild cerebral palsy and hopes to break out of a rut and pursue the life he imagines. The show received praise after its first season but, as of June 2019, it hasn’t been renewed or cancelled.
Of course, Parsons will continue acting, too, even if he’s no longer Sheldon Cooper. He took a leap in May 2019 when he acted in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a movie about real-life serial killer Ted Bundy. In it, 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. In 2018 he starred in the Broadway version of the story alongside actors Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto. 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 also look out for Parsons in The Legend of Georgia McBride a feature film in which he will star while producing, too. And in the movie, he’ll transform into drag queen Miss Tracy Mills. The story has her teaching a down-and-out Elvis impersonator how to become a dazzling drag queen instead.
As for the rest of what to expect from Parsons, even he didn’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?”