(Content warning: sexual abuse.)
The Simpsons executive team has decided to pull an episode that featured deceased pop star Michael Jackson as a guest voice, following renewed allegations of abuse. Creator Matt Groening, executive producer James L. Brooks, and showrunner Al Jean said they reached the decision together after viewing the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland.
“It feels clearly the only choice to make,” Brooks told The Wall Street Journal. “The guys I work with–where we spend our lives arguing over jokes–were of one mind on this.”
The 1991 episode “Stark Raving Dad” was about Homer being committed to a mental institution, where he met a soft-spoken patient who believes he is Michael Jackson, who at the time was a famous musician. Homer didn’t know the pop music reference, but brought the man home with him. Word spread around town that Jackson was visiting, leading to a backlash against the Simpson family when he turned out to be an imposter. The man then helped Bart write a song for his sister Lisa’s birthday.
Jackson was credited under the name “John Jay Smith” to obscure his involvement in the episode. He spoke his own lines, but used a voice double for the singing parts.
Leaving Neverland prominently features testimony from Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Both allege that when they were boys, Jackson groomed the boys for sexual abuse and instructed them to keep silent about these experiences. The documentary has led to a new conversations about Jackson’s legacy, and some radio stations have pulled his songs from their rotation.