- The Simpsons has replaced at least fifteen voice actors throughout its 33-year run, due to reasons like actor deaths, concerns about diversity, and labor disputes.
- Characters like Dr. Hibbert, Artie Ziff, and Carl Carlson have been recast in recent years to address diversity issues in the show.
- While some character changes caused controversy, most of the recast characters in The Simpsons did not receive significant backlash from fans.
While The Simpsons has a cast of thousands, the show has changed the voice actors of at least fifteen characters for a diverse range of reasons. The Simpsons has been on the air for over 33 years. During that time, the long-running animated comedy introduced viewers to thousands of characters. From one-off joke characters to ever-present fan favorites, The Simpsons has a vast cast. However, many of the show’s characters are voiced by the same handful of actors, with comedy veterans like Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, and Nancy Cartwright playing dozens of characters.
While The Simpsons recast Moe and Mr. Burns early in the show’s existence, this was far from the only time that the series needed to replace a voice actor. Over the years, actor deaths, concerns about diversity, and sometimes even labor disputes have resulted in The Simpsons replacing at least fifteen voice actors. Some of these actors returned to their original roles soon after while others were recast for good. Although a few characters in The Simpsons caused controversy when they were retired, such as Apu and Maude Flanders, few of the show’s recast characters have prompted such outcry.
15 Dr. Hibbert
For the first few decades of The Simpsons, Dr. Hibbert was played by Harry Shearer. However, in 2020, the creators of The Simpsons questioned whether it was wise to have a white actor playing a person of color on the show. Dr. Hibbert’s new voice was provided by Kevin Michael Richardson from 2021 onwards, although Shearer publicly took issue with the character’s recasting. A veteran of animated shows, Kevin Michael Richardson had previously been heard in The Boondocks, American Dad, and Rick and Morty.
14 Artie Ziff
Saturday Night Live regular Jon Lovitz played Marge’s would-be paramour Artie Ziff in almost all of his onscreen appearances. A jilted date from Marge’s high school years, Artie went on to become a tech millionaire. While Ziff’s four major appearances in the show featured Lovitz, his brief cameo in The Simpsons season 4, episode 19, “The Front,” saw Homer’s actor Dan Castellaneta voice the character.
13 Carl Carlson
Carl Carlson is Homer’s barfly buddy and a regular supporting character seen in almost every plot that centers around Moe’s Tavern. Carl has starred in two episodes that explored his family history and was played by Hank Azaria until 2020. Like Hibbert, he was recast due to concerns about the show’s lack of diversity. Since 2020, The Simpsons character has been played by Alex Désert. Coincidentally, long before The Simpsons explored Carl’s backstory, the character was played by Harry Shearer in two episodes before Azaria took over the part.
12 Julio Franco
Julio Franco is a gay man who Homer moved in with in The Simpsons season 14, episode 17, “Three Gays of the Condo.” Originally played by Hank Azaria, the character was recast in 2020 due to concerns about the show’s lack of diversity, as Azaria is not a gay actor himself. Julio is now voiced by Tony Rodriguez in his post-2021 appearances on the series.
11 Martin Prince/Sherri and Terri
Originally, the resident teacher’s pet of Springfield Elementary was played by voice actor Russi Taylor, as were both of Lisa’s twin frenemies Sherri and Terri. However, Taylor passed away in 2019 and, after her characters were kept offscreen for a period, they eventually returned voiced by Grey DeLisle. A veteran voice actor, Taylor is perhaps best remembered for her work as Minnie Mouse.
10 Moe/Mr. Burns
One of the reasons that a live-action version of The Simpsons would never work is that the show’s cast members often play more than one character within a given scene, particularly the prolific Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. Azaria plays the surly bartender Moe while Shearer plays the show’s primary villain Mr. Burns, but both roles were originally played by ‘80s Saturday morning cartoon mainstay Christopher Collins. However, Collins clashed with the show’s creators and left The Simpsons early on, leading the roles to be recast.
9 Mona Simpson
In the most heart-wrenching episode of The Simpsons ever, screen legend Glenn Close played Homer’s absent activist mother Mona Simpson. However, while Close has reprised the role on a few occasions, she is not the only actor to play the part. Mona has been played by Tress MacNeille and Maggie Roswell in two episodes where her role wasn’t big enough to warrant a return from Close.
8 Bill Clinton
Former US President Bill Clinton was mocked plenty of times on The Simpsons, but the show couldn’t settle on one voice actor to portray the public figure. Clinton was played by Karl Wiedergott, Harry Shearer, or Phil Hartman depending on the episode. The late, great Hartman’s Clinton impression was frequently seen on Saturday Night Live, but his tragically early death led The Simpsons to hire an alternative impressionist.
7 Maude Flanders
Infamously, The Simpsons killed off Maude Flanders when pay negotiations with her actor Maggie Roswell broke down, only to then rehire Roswell a year later. However, what a lot of fans might not know is that Marcia Mitzman Gaven voiced Maude during Maggie Roswell’s pay dispute. Roswell’s struggles with the producers led the show to recast the character shortly before she was subsequently killed off.
Normally, Maggie’s pre-verbal vocalizations are voiced by Nancy Cartwright. However, in one early episode of The Simpsons, she was voiced by Carol Kane in a fantasy segue where Bart imagined her talking. Later, Hollywood royalty Elizabeth Taylor said Maggie’s canonical first word in the heartwarming ending of The Simpsons season 4, episode 10, “Lisa’s First Word.”
5 Bernice Hibbert
While The Simpsons season 34 was a major comeback for the series, the show was still recovering from its reckoning with miscast characters like Dr. Hibbert and Carl. Bernice Hibbert, Dr. Hibbert’s wife, was originally voiced by Tress MacNeille for the first few decades of the series. Like her husband, however, Bernice was replaced in 2021 by a more fitting voice actor. Now, the character is played by Dawnn Lewis.
4 Fat Tony
The mobster Fat Tony is usually played by Joe Mantegna, but the actor’s prolific career has meant that the creators of The Simpsons had to get another actor to take over the role on occasion. In one season 7 episode, Fat Tony was played by Phil Hartman. However, the role has consistently been Mantegna’s before and since.
3 Bleeding Gums Murphy
Originally, the tragic jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy was played by Ron Taylor. However, Taylor passed away in 2002, meaning the character’s later appearances were taken over by Kevin Michael Richardson. While many of the cartoon comedy’s side characters are hilarious, Bleeding Gums Murphy’s appearances are almost always poignant moments for The Simpsons.
2 Sophie Krustofsky
Krusty’s daughter Sophie Krustofsky was originally played by Drew Barrymore, but she is now voiced by Natasha Lyonne. This change is particularly interesting since Barrymore returned to The Simpsons in season 34 to play herself only a few episodes before Lyonne reprised the role of Sophie. As such, the reasoning behind the switch isn’t clear since the show was clearly able to get Barrymore back on.
1 Lunchlady Doris
Lunchlady Doris was originally played by Doris Glau, but the actor’s 195 passing led the show to hand the role to Tress MacNeille. Interestingly, Glau herself also took over an earlier role in the series. When the country singer Lurleen Lumpkin first appeared she was played by Beverly D’Angelo but, in her later appearances on The Simpsons, the character was played by Glau.