Kevin Costner's Yellowstone Contract Has a Clause Dictating How His Character Can Be Killed Off

kevin cosner john dutton
Secrets of Kevin Costner's Yellowstone ContractParamount

It's been nearly ten months since the hit western Yellowstone went into a mid-season hiatus, but the off-screen drama just keeps on coming. This spring, it was announced that despite the show's huge ratings, the series would be coming to a close after the planned second half of its fifth season. The decision was reached, rumor has it, because Paramount Network executives and actor Kevin Costner, who has starred as patriarch John Dutton since the beginning, could not reach an agreement about filming schedules and Costner's salary.

While no official announcements have been made yet about the potential for Costner to return for the final episodes of the series, new information that has surfaced in recent weeks has made that possibility seem increasingly unlikely. In July, documents from Costner's ongoing divorce from wife Christine Baumgartner stated that the actor is "no longer under contract for 'Yellowstone,'" and in a hearing earlier this month, Costner addressed the subject by saying, "I’ve been told it’s a little disappointing that [it’s] the #1 show on TV, I’m not participating."

Now, a new report from Puck offers more details around the issue of the star's exit, revealing that Costner's contract with the show has what's referred to as a "moral death" provision. The clause, the publication says, gives general terms for the ways that John Dutton can and cannot be killed on the show, in particular precluding methods what would cause shame or embarrassment to the character.

According to sources reached by Puck, it's an unusual contract stipulation, though the scenario it seems to account for has been heavily speculated on by fans. When it was first announced that Costner would be leaving the show, online anxiety rose that John, one of the show's main protagonists, would be written off unceremoniously.

Show creator Taylor Sheridan waved off the possibility in a June 2023 interview with THR, saying, "I don’t do fuck-you car crashes." The term is a reference to the death of Patrick Dempsey's Grey's Anatomy character, who was killed in a car crash following behind-the-scenes issues. Sheridan added, "Whether [Dutton’s fate] inflates [Costner’s] ego or insults is collateral damage that I don’t factor in with regard to storytelling."

Sheridan had reportedly written the majority of the second half of season five (without Costner in it) prior to the strikes of the writers and actors guilds which have put production on-hold across the industry. While Puck states that Costner and his team believe that the planned ending for John Dutton could be in breach of Costner's "moral death" provision sources have said that Costner has not read the scripts which include the character's final bow.

The Puck report also alleges that Costner, who in his September hearing testified that he "will probably go to court over," his payment for the rest of Yellowstone, was already paid for the yet-to-be-filmed second half of season five and may have been referring to a lawsuit over the now-cancelled future season of the show. "According to sources, Costner believes that since he was offered a rich package to return, Paramount is in breach by yanking it," the publication writes. As of this writing, no legal action has been filed by Costner or Paramount on the subject.

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