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Excellent, Smithers: Harry Shearer’s 10 Best ‘Simpsons’ Characters

From stoner bus drivers to Mr. Burns, these were the comedian’s choicest Springfield residents

Mr Burns and Harry Shearer

FOX; Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty

Last night, actor Harry Shearer tweeted that after 26 seasons, he will no longer be part of The Simpsons. And to clarify: by "part of The Simpsons," we mean "most of The Simpsons." That's because Shearer voiced so many characters in the show's supporting cast – folks with whom the Simpsons family interacted with each week (Mr. Burns! Principal Skinner! Dr. Hibbert!) – that it's like two-thirds of Springfield just up and moved to Capital City. Or worse, Shelbyville!

Sadder still, it appears the SNL alum, Spinal Tap bassist and Richard Nixon enthusiast parted ways acrimoniously with The Simpsons crew. "From [co-creator] James L.  Brooks' lawyer: 'Show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best,'" Shearer wrote on Twitter. "This because I wanted what we've always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best." In another tweet, replying to an alarmed fan, Shearer underscored that, despite his Simpsons split, he would not be retiring.

The producers have said they will replace him, since they've renewed the show for another two seasons, but frankly no other actor will be able to achieve Shearer's level of nuance. (To quote Shearer's Mr. Burns, with regard to replacing him, "Release the hounds!") So, with the hope that the heir to voice-acting icon Mel Blanc's 1,000 Voices throne will be moving on to bigger and maybe even better things, Rolling Stone is saying goodbye to Shearer's 10 most memorable Simpsons characters.

Otto the bus driver

FOX

6

Otto Mann, the Bus Driver

Springfield Elementary's bus driver is such a stoner burnout parody that even his last name sounds like it could be one of his character's lines: "Otto, maaan." Speaking in a gruff, hippie-like drawl, Shearer nails endearingly aloof expressions like, "Yo, Bart dude," and – after hearing the items in his in his apartment after getting evicted – "Wow, I had mustard?" And as with all of Shearer's many supporting roles, the actor managed to tap into some otherwise lost human quality in the character, looking alarmed when Homer tells him that Otto backwards is still Otto and begging Homer, "Please let me stay here" ("The Otto Show"), and then seamlessly transitioning back to burnout. "Spell AC/DC!" Otto tells Lisa in "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can." "A-C-D-C," Lisa replies. "Nuh-uh," rejoins Otto. "You forgot the lightning bolt!" It's Shearer's innocent delivery that makes that funny.

Rainer Wolfcastle McBain

FOX

5

Rainier Wolfcastle/McBain

The Simpsons' long-running action-hero Ah-nold parody, Rainier Wolfcastle and his box-office–breaking McBain character allowed Shearer to exercise a "cool, dry wit" and fearless short fuse that his other characters lack. Yet another example of the actor's malleability, Wolfcastle speaks in a heavy Austrian accent, which sometimes becomes exasperated when he has to play his signature action hero in any number of movies (best title: McBain VI: You Have the Right to Remain Dead) and scream a villain's name – like, "Men-doh-zaaaaaa!!" The McBain character is so over-the-top and memorable that one Simpsons superfan stitched together a full McBain movie on YouTube.

Principal Seymour Skinner

FOX

4

Principal Seymour Skinner

Bart's perennially buttoned-up yet socially ill-equipped principal, Seymour Skinner (or "Armin Tamzarian," but who's asking?), has long served as the straight man to the mischievous preteen's antics. From the way he cowers around Superintendent Chalmers and his mother to rare moments of humanity — as when he was courting girlfriends like Mrs. Krabappel and Marge's sister, Patty — Skinner is about as nuanced as a Simpsons character can get. Shearer's portrayal homes in on Skinner's earnest unwitting-ness in a manner that makes you laugh at him and feel bad for him simultaneously; it's hard to imagine any other actor striking that same balance with the character.

Waylon Smithers

FOX

3

Waylon Smithers

As Mr. Burns' sniveling foil, Waylon Smithers – or, most often, referred to as simply "Smithers!!" with some extra disgust and exclamation points thrown in – seems like the diametric opposite to the great and powerful nuclear-plant owner. The executive assistant speaks in a nasal, mostly monotonous voice that only changes in volume and (slightly) in pitch, depending on how annoyed he is (usually with Homer). Since Shearer voices both Smithers and Mr. Burns, it's fun to imagine how often his expression changes when assuming each role when they're in the same scene.

Ned Flanders

FOX

2

Ned Flanders

Homer's neighbor and sworn enemy is the nicest guy in Springfield; after all, "everyone who counts loves Ned Flanders!" Except for the odd episode where his house gets destroyed, Flanders speaks with a sort of friendliness, righteousness and generosity of spirit that everyone aspires to but, other than on a fictional TV show, is impossible to attain. From the way Shearer says Flanders' ridiculously corny catchphrases like "Okily-dokily" and "Hidely-ho" to the rare moments where the goody-two-shoes gets angry and unleashes the sort of inoffensive invective that would easily pass TV censors, he captures Ned's pureness of mind. Diddly.

Montgomery Burns

FOX

1

Montgomery Burns

As Homer Simpson's tyrannical multi-billionaire boss, "Mr." C. Montgomery Burns espouses all the characteristics of a supervillain – many of which owe a huge debt to Harry Shearer. From the diabolical way he seems to hum the word "excellent!" whenever he implements an evil plan to the befuddled way he forgets Homer's name like it's Homer's fault, Shearer's ability to get inside the bald head of Mr. Burns (and all his myriad look-alikes) has been a part of what has made The Simpsons great. Most chilling: the disarmingly saccharine manner in which Shearer's Mr. Burns answers the phone, "Ahoy-hoy?"

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