UPDATE: Simpsons co-creator James L. Brooks tweeted his hopefulness that Harry Shearer may still be a part of the show. “Hey, we tried. We’re still trying,” Brooks wrote. “Harry, no kidding, let’s talk.”
Harry Shearer, the voice actor behind Ned Flanders, C. Montgomery Burns, Smithers, Otto and countless more beloved The Simpsons characters, announced on Twitter that he is leaving the show after a run dating back to the series’ 1989 debut. Shearer’s shocking admission comes just days after Fox revealed that the long-running animated show had been picked up for two more seasons.
“From James L. Brooks’ lawyer: ‘Show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best.’ This because I wanted what we’ve always had: the freedom to do other work. Of course, I wish him the very best,” Shearer tweeted Wednesday night. “Thanks, Simpsons fans, for your support.”
Shearer’s work on The Simpsons is irreplaceable, as he voiced dozens of Springfield citizens the Simpson family interacted with nearly every episode, from Reverend Lovejoy and newscaster Kent Brockman to Lenny and Dr. Hibbert to fan favorite Simpsons visitors like the alien Kang and action star Rainier “McBain” Wolfcastle. A master impressionist, Shearer also provided the voices of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Nixon and many more.
Shearer told CNNMoney, “In last four years, I’ve created and starred in a UK TV series and starred on London stage. Not stopping,” suggesting that his work on The Simpsons would prevent him from pursuing other opportunities. However, when asked whether a compromise could be reached with The Simpsons producers, Shearer said, “I think that’s a question better posed to them.”
However, in a statement to the New York Times, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean wrote, “Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed. The show will go on and we wish him well. Maggie took it hard. We do not plan to kill off characters like Burns and Flanders but will recast with the finest voice talent available.”
While Fox initially promised that every Simpsons cast member would be back for the series’ two-season pick-up after inking contracts, TMZ hinted that one male voice actor was holding out. (Shearer tweeted a link to the Fox announcement, adding “Doesn’t this show have a cast?”) It wasn’t an issue of salary, the tabloid site reported. Instead, one cast member wanted more on the back end of merchandising deals and syndication rights.
After creator Matt Groening reiterated that everyone had signed on for Seasons 27 and 28, TMZ eventually named Shearer as the lone holdout. Shearer similarly asked for a larger cut of “profit participation” in 2011, even offering to reduce his show-to-show salary by 70 percent.
The 71-year-old Shearer, who got his start working on Saturday Night Live in 1979 before co-creating the legendary mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, earned his first Primetime Emmy Award in 2014 for his work on The Simpsons. Shearer has also hosted a weekly syndicated public radio show called Le Show since 1983.
20th Century Fox and James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films have not yet commented on Shearer’s depature, but Jean did tweet, “The show will go on, made by people who love it and see in it the most wonderful vehicle for satire ever.”