Celebrating The Simpsons' retired characters

Feature James Peckham 25 Feb 2014 - 07:00

From Mrs Krabappel to Troy McClure, James salutes a selection of Springfield's finest departed citizens...

Contains plot details for The Simpsons seasons one to twenty-five.

During 2014, The Simpsons is celebrating the big quarter of a century benchmark and airing its 25th season. Not half bad for a couple of brief sketches originally airing as part of The Tracy Ullman Show. With such a large ensemble cast and hundreds of characters to animate you don’t last quarter of a century without losing a few along the way. Actors dying, leaving for personal reasons, awkward pay disputes and unknown circumstances are all responsible.

The Simpsons has stuck to a rule of retiring characters after an actor’s death, mainly out of respect but also to ensure the voice acting talent is top notch. After the sad death of Marcia Wallace in 2013, best known as the voice of Bart’s schoolteacher Edna Krabappel, the character will be retired in this season. Many of the characters previously removed have been retired under strange circumstances so here is a history of, an In Memoriam, for those we’ve lost on the longest-running sitcom of all time.

Lionel Hutz & Troy McClure (Phil Hartman)

Both were iconic characters who left a lasting legacy on the show, and both were voiced by Phil Hartman. Hutz is the incompetent lawyer everyone in Springfield appears to use. Troy McClure is most famous for his catchphrase, “Hi, I’m Troy McClure, you may remember me from...”. McClure was present between seasons two-ten and involved in a variety of roles, a B-movie actor who had fallen on hard times. Both of Hartman’s characters briefly married Selma Bouvier.

The story of the two characters ends in retirement after a very sad and potentially the most dramatic turn of events behind the scenes in the show's history. Phil Hartman was killed at the age of 49 on the 28th of May, 1998. Out of respect for those concerned, we won't go into the sad details of Hartman's death here. Suffice to say, the actor is sorely missed.

As were Hartman's characters in The Simpsons. Both McClure and Hutz were retired in his memory in 1998 episode Bart the Mother and Hartman’s last appearance also received a dedication to his memory. Hartman’s legacy lives on through The Simpsons as Hutz sometimes appears as a non-speaking background character. Matt Groening, the show’s creator and also head of Futurama, later named the show's protagonist, Philip J Fry, in Hartman's honour.

Maude Flanders

Wife of Ned, mother of Rod and Todd, Godmother to Lisa and The Simpsons neighbour-rino sadly left the show in Season eleven. Maude was a devout Christian - much like her husband - homemaker on Evergreen Terrace and sometime owner of the Leftorium. She was killed at the Springfield Speedway after being knocked off a height by a shirt cannon brought on by Homer himself. He’s not such a good guy after all, is he?

Voice artist for Maude was Maggie Roswell who voices characters Helen Lovejoy, Miss Hoover and Luann Van Houten with some other minor characters. Roswell left after a pay dispute in season ten and Maude was retired whilst acting duties for the other characters fell to a number of backups. Roswell then returned to the show after a settlement with Fox for Season fourteen but by that time Maude was dead and gone. Maude has been wheeled out a few times since though, usually as a ghost in the Treehouse of Horror episodes.

Frank “Grimey” Grimes

Appearing in just one episode yet every Simpsons viewer remembering him, that’s the sign of an effective character. Frank Grimes appeared in Season eight’s Homer’s Enemy in which he plays the title character. Grimey had to earn everything he had the hard way and was so inspiring Mr Burns decided to employ him in Sector 7G after a short TV feature.

Homer’s buffoonery eventually sends Grimes into a rage which ends in the infamous line. “What’s this? Extremely high voltage. Well, I don’t need safety gloves, cause I’m Homer Simp-!” Grimes certainly left his legacy on the show, appearing in a number of in memoriams and inspiring the the introduction of Frank Grimes Jr. Hank Azaria did a great job voicing Grimes and his relations but sadly the character has not yet been fully resurrected. You never know, Treehouse of Horror means anything can happen.

Edna Krabappel

After Marcia Wallace’s death, Executive Producer Al Jean confirmed that the character will be retired within Season twenty-five. It’s unsure how it will happen as she’s only just moved into Evergreen Terrace with her new husband, Mr Ned “Diddly” Flanders. Jean said: "I was tremendously saddened to learn of the passing of the brilliant and gracious Marcia Wallace. She was beloved by all at "The Simpsons" and we intend to retire her irreplaceable character.

How do you think Edna will leave the show? How will it affect Ned and the Flanders children? Even more interesting could be the way it will affect Bart, Edna’s on-again-off-again student, enemy and best-friend. Also who will take over the teaching of the tenth grade at Springfield Elementary? How will one-time boyfriend Principal Skinner take the news?

So many questions, and not long to find out as Season twenty-five finishes sometime around May.

Someone else...

Another character we know and love is destined to leave the series in the next year or so, and it won’t be a half arsed Brian Griffin one either. Al Jean told The Sun News: “I’ll give you a clue that the actor playing the character won an Emmy for playing that character, but I won’t say who it is.” So who does that leave?

Nine voice actors on the show have won an Emmy making the list pretty much endless. Characters include: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Grampa, Krusty, Barney, Willie, Mayor Quimby, Sideshow Mel, Itchy, Gil, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Moe, Rabbi Krustofski, Sideshow Bow and Anne Hathaway’s turn as Princess Penelope. Plus there are many, many more to choose from. It’ll be sad to see anyone go but Springfield isn’t shy of killing off characters. Place your bets now.

Special mentions also go out for the entire Snowball legacy, The Winfields who moved to Florida, Mona Simpson and of course, the original, Fat Tony.

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All this indicates to me that The Simpsons should be retired for good, especially with the death of Marcia Wallace, because right now it's only enjoying a continued success due to its earlier material and not its current. I've recently been rewatching the earlier seasons (1-10) and it's amazing how much more heartfelt those episodes are in comparison to the current stuff.

Realistically The Simpsons has had its day and should have ended with the movie, or at least with Season 25 to round it off. I really do enjoy The Simpsons, but I'm somewhat tired of it now and just wish they'd end it with a bang and not a whimper like so many other long-running shows.

The problem is that as long as it continues to make Fox money, they will continue to make it. Thing is, I'm not sure who is even watching it these days. Can't say I've seen more than the odd episode (by accident) for over ten years now.

Bleeding Gums Murphy's death was the one that saddened me the most, especially the last scene with Lisa

True

Well exactly, I'm willing to bet the majority of people who watch it now only do so because they watched the earlier stuff and only a minority came into the show via its current material.
Assuming it makes it to Season 30 out of just goodwill Matt Groening should call it a day then, sadly as you point out that's not how business works. :-(

They'd probably keep going without Matt Groening

Interesting. I'd always assumed the people watching it now were kids who've never seen the earlier stuff so don't know how far it's fallen.

Won't happen:
Homer: Because Mr. Cosby wanted to stop before the quality suffered.
Bart: Quality schmality! If I had a TV show, I’d run that sucker into the ground.
Homer: Amen, boy. Amen.

"Poison fish" - most emotional episode, I'd say.

I've seen every single episode multiple times (confessions of an insomniac) and honestly there are really good moments and laughs in many newer episodes, although perhaps not quite so often as in its older days. I've been watching since the beginning and still enjoy most newer episodes. They've changed some but I don't get the gloom and doom condemnation they get overall. I think it's really easy to reflect back on older seasons and remember all the really amazing episodes and great times and sort of forget about some of the "meh" episodes from the older seasons. At the same time, it's easy to have really high expectations for the newer episodes and be ready to butcher them for falling short of said lofty expectations. Sure, some newer episodes aren't that great, but there were older ones sprinkled throughout the older seasons everyone agrees to admire, too. There are also great moments and gems of episodes in the newer seasons (the recent episode about movie piracy had me chuckling for a while). If you don't bring in unrealistic expectations and just expect to have some good laughs, I think it fits the bill fine and I'm happy to say my cynicism towards the world at large has not affected my ability to still enjoy my favorite show. I honestly cannot think of any other current comedy that has heart and doesn't over rely on lower brow humor. Count me a fan to the end, whenever that day may be!

My money's on Sideshow Bob. In recent appearance, the character's seemed pretty spent and worn out. But, we'll see.

"I love you Doctor Zeus"

Sometimes I feel like the only person who DOESN'T like Homer's Enemy.

I don't care for it either, but then I fell out of love with the whole show a long time ago. But "Homer's Enemy" takes an obvious question - why do people put up with Homer Simpson? - asks it, and never answers it.

Aww, come on Lisa - I've got a date with Billie Holiday.

Lionel Hutz, attorney at law, was always brilliant. Whether it was not noticing he'd won a case, a free pizza guarantee (with an empty box) or my favourite ever quote ("he's kind of had it in for me since I accidently ran over his dog. For "accidently" read "repeatedly" and for "dog" read "son"") - all of which managed to occur in one single episode - the man was a comedy gem. Phil Hartman was and is sadly missed. On the Futurama point, does anyone else think that Billy West (I think that's who voices him) is impersonating Phil Hartman when he does Zap Brannigan? Not that that's a bad thing, it fits the character perfectly.

You may not like it but you do remember it and Grimey,
As for me its a passable episode, but you do hate Homer during it

"Dr. Zaius"
Nitpicky about my Simpsons' tribute to off-Broadway musical re-imaginations of 1960s scifi movies. Sheesh! :-)

I'm sure that I read that Billy West very deliberately went for a Hartmanesque delivery with Brannigan.

I'm fairly certain I read somewhere that Hartman was originally meant to play Zapp, but was eventually replaced by West.

Wait, seriously? Five characters? Five? Is that all you can think of before quitting on us? Lazy. Lame. Pathetic!

Fire this man!

"You'll never stop the Simpsons,
Have no fears we've got stories for years..."

I'm sorry, I stopped watching "The Simpsons" a decade ago. Actually, it was the feature film that convinced me the series had run its course. Consider - Homer has gone from a lovable goof who surrenders to human flaws to so irresponsible that he constitutes an out and out danger to himself and society. There was a scene in which all of Springfield formed a mob to lynch Homer, Marge, an eight year old boy, a six year old girl and a baby...AND I WAS ROOTING FOR THE MOB!

Wow that's a poor article given the premise. 3 characters retired due to deaths, Maud and a guy who was in it for a couple of episodes.

On that basis we can include every single one appearance character.

I do miss McClure & Hutz though.

Also... Sideshow Bow? Did I miss that episode?

It's nice to see someone else who isn't demanding the show should be cancelled. The show might not be up to the quality of the golden years but I still enjoy watching it and I'll be sad when it does end.

I watched this episode when I was probably 7 and I had no idea how TV worked then and I didn't understand they couldn't kill off Homer and I was in floods of tears watching that episode

It could be Itchy, think about it Scratchy finally wins and this time we get to see it.

Definitely. While the percentage of awesomeness has slipped a bit, I still find it to be one of the more enjoyable programs on right now. That will be a sad day indeed.

So what about Bleeding Gums Murphy, the Dr. Marvin Monroe............?

My main problem with The Simpsons these days seems to be that rather than following a specific story, perhaps with a moral at the end of it like they used to do, it now just seems to be a sequence of daft events that occur. Maybe I'm wrong and I've just randomly caught the terrible episodes.

Not quite the longest running sitcom: Last of the Summer Wine ran for 37 years, although the 'com' status of that is questionable

The newer Simpsons episodes may not be up there comedywise with the early season 3 to 10 classics but they still bring a smile to my face and if the show sticks around for many years to come, I'll still give it a chance. The Simpsons got me through some very dark times and kept me smiling all the way. Long may it continue.

What about the characters who appeared in one episode but never returned? All right I'll just come out and say it. Bring back Hank Scorpio!

Great article. I still like The Simpsons but, if I'm honest its not the must-see it once was. That said, it's longevity is remarkable given it was the first primetime cartoon series since The Flintstones, which only lasted about 5 seasons (I think!) from1961-66. The Simpsons has aired since 1989 (US) 1990 (Sky One) and 1996 (BBC1,2 and then most recently, Channel 4 ) if you count the Tracey Ullman show shorts we've been aware of them since 1987(US) and 1988 (BBC2). So for the best part of a generation the show has endured. I think only the death of one of the main family cast members would end it, unless the producers did so themselves.

Went from it's peak in season 8 to a bit iffy in season 9 to unwatchable from 10 on

It definitely depends on the episode and personal taste, but I agree that some are less focused. I would try to avoid ones centered on newer characters since it seems like that's when a lot of other random things are thrown in (with more established characters), perhaps in an attempt to balance things out. I'd especially avoid ones that center on Shawna (ugh), Princess Penelope, and Mary Spuckler, for starters. Of course episode preferences vary a lot, but some recent ones I've enjoyed, off the top of my head, are: "Steal this Episode," "Dark Knight Court," "Them, Robot," and "The Good, the Sad, and the Drugly." Mr. Burns is my favorite, so many of the ones that come to mind deal with him somehow (or are admittedly pretty geeky). Burns' song about how awesome it is to be a villain, in "Gorgeous Grampa," is also fun if you like the older episodes that threw in songs.

They killed him in one episode, but it wasn't shown. Bart and Lisa are watching TV and Homer's nerd friends from college unplug the TV to plug in their rock tumbler right as its about to happen. The kids scream and get it plugged in again, but sadly they just missed it and Krusty says it will never be shown again.

The roll of zap was originally given to phill hartmen, but due to he's death it was handed to billy west, and yeah west styles he's vocal preformance on hartmen's voice.. Hence why zap & troy sound the same.. :)
Hope that clears that up

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