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August 29, 2015

Michael Jackson's memorable Simpsons stint

by Joel Keller, posted Jun 26th 2009 11:26AM
Michael Jackson on The SimpsonsWhen I heard that Michael Jackson died, I tried to think of how his career touched the world of TV. What surprised me was that he utilized TV much more than most people realized: from his first appearances on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, to his groundbreaking MTV videos and moonwalk on Motown 25, to even the coverage of his court battles, Michael has been as much a TV fixture as a musical fixture.

But when I think of MJ on TV, my mind will always drift to his memorable appearance on The Simpsons. It was the first episode of the third season (all the way back in -- gulp -- 1991), in an episode called "Stark Raving Dad." Homer is thrown in a mental institution for wearing a pink shirt to work. In there, he meets a huge galumphing patient named Leon Kompowski, who happens to sound like Michael Jackson. Leon leaves with Homer (he's there voluntarily) and helps Bart write a stirring birthday tribute to his sister, "Happy Birthday Lisa."

What I always thought was the most interesting part of the episode was that Jackson lent his voice uncredited (he was credited as John Jay Smith). I guess he didn't want promotion of the episode to be all about him, though our friends at UGO said it was because of a contractual conflict. That was definitely the right strategy; it was fun to guess whether the voice of Leon was really Jackson or a really good impersonator . But, by the time we heard "Happy Birthday, Lisa," we all knew who it was. (Update: the singing parts were done by an impersonator, though there is speculation that a Jackson-recorded version was snuck into the episode. Thanks to those who pointed it out, but not to the guy who called me a "dumb ass.")

Here's a couple of clips of the episode from Hulu (US only, folks), and a YouTube audio-only clip of "Happy Birthday, Lisa." We'll be talking about more Michael Jackson-meets-TV memories throughout the day; feel free to leave yours here or in any of our MJ posts.

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when he sings "ben" to Homer to make him fall asleep.. that had to be MJ.. He was just out of this world!

June 26 2009 at 6:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yep, it IS sad that MJ has died. He had a huge impact on our pop culture and music culture to say the least. I was looking forward to his performing again. But to be honest, we really haven't heard much from him in the last 10years or more. He removed himself from the very thing that gave him (I would think) and all of us so much pleasure. When he appeared straight from the hospital to the court for fear of bond revocation, I noticed he looked pencil thin, a wisp of a person....I really didn't think he would outlive the trial. It depressed me to be honest. I knew he was really on borrowed time. I have seen that look up close before and in all instances it precluded death. That was why , when he had his "comeback" press conference, I looked for signs that he was really in a different state physically. I didn't see it. I knew it would never materialize. People need to look out for each other. RIP MJ.....

June 26 2009 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'll always remember the premiere of MJ's "Black or White" which premiered right after an episode of the Simpsons entitled "Saturdays of Thunder."

June 26 2009 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look, don't tell me how to speak just because you got your feelings hurt by my opinion. I'll say what the hell I want. That was a stupid move on your part for not doing research that would have taken 30 seconds. It was a major part of the post and you made a bold conclusion when you were wrong. Now tell me why I should think otherwise?

June 26 2009 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
6 replies to tracey21's comment

It's sloooooooooowly sinking in, Michael Jackson is dead. Despite my trepidations about his personal life, I love his music and was a big fan in the 80s. He spent 45 years of his life in the spotlight, hopefully, now he can rest in peace. Join me and other fans over the next few days at www.runarounddiva.com as we celebrate the life of a legend. Let's send this "bright star" home in the right way.

June 26 2009 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I remember there was much controversy about how Jackson wasn't credited in this episode, and after that The Simpsons had a policy that all guest stars would be credited. I can't remember, but I might have heard that from the Series 3 DVD commentary for the episode.

June 26 2009 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What you're only going to let positive things be said about you ior else you'll delete it? Grow a pair. It's funny because you were so adamant that it was Jackson singing that you said "we all" knew it. I'm allowed to find fault with that. That's horrible writing.

June 26 2009 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tracey21's comment
Joel Keller

You can criticize me all you want. But I've been cracking down on commenters that directly insult the bloggers or other commenters. Name-calling isn't necessary, and, to be honest, skewers your argument by making it sound angry and not informed.

You know you can criticize without calling names or making unwarranted attacks. I've seen you make other intelligent comments here. Why not continue doing that?

June 26 2009 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I seem to remember an interview with one of the cast members that talked about this, and while Jackson was indeed the speaking voice, it was an impersonator who did the singing. The story at the time was that they weren't paying him enough to sing.

June 26 2009 at 12:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Eirik's comment
Joel Keller

I've heard that too. But was that confirmed? If so, I'll change the post.

June 26 2009 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel Keller

Looks like it was an impersonator. For some reason, I forgot that. I updated the post.

Oh, and the guy who called me a "dumb ass" got deleted. Thou shalt not call each other names in the comments.

June 26 2009 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah this episode was great I remember it clearly. It was one of the best episodes of any show in fact IMO.

If you guys are going to do articles about every influence Michael Jackson had on the entertainment and TV industry these new few days you guys are going to be terrible busy.

It just boggles the mind when you think about what was born of Michael jackson.

June 26 2009 at 11:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That still ranks as one of the best Simpsons episodes, ever.

June 26 2009 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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