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Kevin Costner’s ‘Yellowstone’ exit explained: Unraveling the ‘moral death’ clause


The buzz surrounding Kevin Costner’s departure from the hit series ‘Yellowstone’ has been making waves in the entertainment world. In a surprising turn of events, it was revealed that Costner’s contract included a unique provision known as a “moral death” clause, giving him an unprecedented say in the fate of his character, John Dutton.

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Costner’s unique contract clause

According to reports by Puck News, Costner’s contract for ‘Yellowstone’ was unlike anything seen before in the industry. This groundbreaking contract included a “moral death” clause, allowing Costner to have a significant say in how his character, John Dutton, could be written off the show. This provision added a layer of complexity to his exit, setting it apart from conventional departures in the world of television.

Demands and negotiations

Costner, a seasoned actor at the age of 68, leveraged this clause to make a series of demands during contract negotiations. These demands reportedly included an increased salary, a reduced shooting schedule, and the right to offer input on the scripts crafted by the show’s creator, Taylor Sheridan. Additionally, it was suggested that Costner’s representatives were actively pushing for his return not only for season 5B but also for potential seasons 6 and 7.

While these demands might seem ambitious, they underscored the significance of Costner’s role in the show and his commitment to shaping the character’s future.

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Costner’s legacy on ‘Yellowstone’

Costner has portrayed John Dutton in modern-day Western drama since 2018. His stellar performance not only earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination but also secured a 2023 Golden Globe Award win. ‘Yellowstone’ itself became a massive success, giving rise to an entire franchise, including spinoffs like ‘1883,’ led by real-life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Costner, amidst a tumultuous divorce from estranged wife Christine Baumgartner, expressed his desire to film fewer days on ‘Yellowstone’ to take on his next Western epic, ‘Horizon.’ However, reports suggest that discussions are ongoing to bring him back for scenes that provide closure to John Dutton’s character arc.

Sheridan’s reaction

Taylor Sheridan, the creative mastermind behind ‘Yellowstone,’ expressed disappointment in Costner’s decision to exit the show. He acknowledged that while the exit wouldn’t alter the character’s closure, it did truncate it, leaving fans to wonder how John Dutton’s journey would come to an end.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.