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The Simpsons' Michael Jackson Episode Explained

Michael Jackson in The Simpsons

Guest starring Michael Jackson, "Stark Raving Dad" is one of the most famous episodes of The Simpsons, but has been fraught with legal wrangling and controversy. This season 3 offering sees Homer sent to a mental institution after wearing a pink shirt to work and then allowing Bart to fill in the psychiatric quiz given to him by Mr. Burns. While incarcerated, Homer meets Leon Kompowsky, a man who claims to be Michael Jackson. Since Homer has no idea what the real Jackson looks like, he believes Kompowsky and invites him to the Simpsons' family home where he's immediately found out as an impostor. Meanwhile, Bart has forgotten Lisa's birthday for yet another year, but "Michael Jackson" helps him make amends by writing and performing the impossibly catchy "Happy Birthday Lisa" song.

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"Stark Raving Dad" is a fondly remembered episode from the glory days of The Simpsons, largely thanks to the heartfelt story and the captivating guest character of Leon Kompowsky. However, the episode has also generated some confusion over exactly what role Jackson played in the production and recording. More recently, The Simpsons' Michael Jackson episode has been subject to some considerable controversy. On a lighter note, "Stark Raving Dad" is also arguably responsible for popularizing the trend of celebrity cameos on The Simpsons.

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The Making Of The Simpsons' Michael Jackson Episode

The Simpsons Bart Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's love of The Simpsons is well documented, and it was the iconic pop singer himself who instigated the creation of this much-loved episode. According to the show's creator, Matt Groening, Jackson contacted him directly offering to do a guest turn on the series; a proposal that was, of course, gladly accepted. All of The Simpsons' most prominent creative forces were involved in writing the episode, including James L. Brooks, Al Jean and Groening himself, but Jackson also contributed several elements, such as the scene where he and Bart write a song together. The singer also composed "Happy Birthday Lisa" specifically for the episode.

There is often some confusion over Jackson's actual contribution to "Stark Raving Dad." The King of Pop provided the voice for Leon Kompowsky, but only for spoken lines. A skilled Jackson impersonator by the name of Kipp Lennon was hired to record Kompowsky's singing scenes. According to The Simpsons' season 3 DVD commentary, Jackson intended to trick his brothers into believing the impersonator was him but Groening confirmed in a 2018 interview that Jackson's record label prevented him from singing elsewhere, and this is why the impersonator was brought in.

Why Michael Jackson Isn't Credited On The Simpsons

The splitting of Kompowsky's speaking and singing parts was already casting doubt on Jackson's cameo, and this was furthered when the character's official credit was listed as John Jay Smith. The pseudonym was used because of further contractual complications that would've legally prevented Jackson from officially appearing in a credited role, and The Simpsons had already employed similar tactics with previous guest stars. As such, "Stark Raving Dad" wasn't advertised as guest-starring the most famous musician of the era but, nevertheless, most viewers saw through the ruse immediately.

Why The Simpsons' Michael Jackson Episode Is Banned

Allegations of sexual abuse have dogged Michael Jackson's career since long before his death, but have never been proven. However, the case was opened once again with the Leaving Neverland documentary released earlier this year, in which two men claimed to have been subjected to long-term grooming by Jackson at his Neverland ranch. Following the film's release, radio stations began pulling Jackson's music from circulation and long-serving The Simpsons producers James L. Brooks and Al Jean, along with Matt Groening, made the unanimous decision to exclude "Stark Raving Dad" from further reruns. Brooks claimed that while he was usually against "book burning," there was no other choice to make. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Al Jean went even further, suggesting that Jackson used his appearance in The Simpsons for more sinister purposes.

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The Simpsons will be available on Disney+ at launch on November 12th.

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