After 26 seasons of years of voicing various Simpsons characters including Mr. Burns, Flanders and Principal Skinner, Harry Shearer announced via Twitter on Wednesday that he is leaving the show.
Shearer is credited with acting in a modest 581 episodes of the animated series, beginning with the series premiere “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” in 1989. In addition to the afore-mentioned beloved Springfield residents, Shearer has also voiced a cast of characters large enough to populate a small hamlet, including Smithers, Kent Brockman, Rainer Wolfcastle, Lenny, Dr. Hibbert, Otto, Reverend Lovejoy and Kang.
The entertainer has written, directed, acted, voice-acted and composed music in well-known media projects too numerous to list, so we’ll just name three of them: This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show and Saturday Night Live.
Simpsons showrunner Al Jean confirmed the actor’s departure to HitFlix on Thursday, saying, “Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted and passed. We wish him well but the show will go on. Maggie took it hard.”
When HitFlix’s Alan Sepinwall asked Jean if that meant they were retiring or killing off Shearer’s most popular characters, Jean (also a vet of the show since its first season) answered, “Yes, Burns and Flanders will not die. They are great characters and will continue.”
This seems pretty final, though Thursday Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks released a Tweet that casts a slim shadow of a doubt on the certainty of Shearer’s departure.
That Burns or Flanders will continue on with different voices will be, in a word, weird. If the show can survive a major transition like replacing one of its core cast members, that would be yet another signal that The Simpsons is the TV show cockroach that will live long after all of us have been evaporated by mushroom clouds or murdered in our sleep by androids.
In almost unrelated news, here’s the couch gag cross-over from Rick and Morty, which was released Thursday, airs ing The Simpsons’ 26th season finale this Sunday, and features about one second of Shearer’s vocal talents.