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October 24, 2014

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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