We hardly knew ye
In The Simpsons‘ vastly-populated cartoon world, a cavalcade of characters have come and gone over the course of the 662 (and counting) episodes which have aired so far. Some have been one-hit wonders, while others have either been phased out of storylines or simply retired. The latter policy applies, for instance, to those voiced by the late Phil Hartman, and is set to be the likely outcome for the characters voiced by Russi Taylor (such as Martin Prince) after she passed away over the weekend.
A small number of well-known characters have, however, met their end on The Simpsons in either sorrowful, black comedic or simply depressing circumstances (not counting the non-canon deaths in the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes or The Simpsons Movie, of course). The show has always been quite matter-of-fact in addressing death, such as when Homer attempts to comfort Bart before bed-time in ‘Bart The Fink’: “People die all the time, just like that. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow… well, good night!”
Let’s take a look back at those characters who have (dearly) departed Springfield for good over the years.
Bleeding Gums Murphy
Played by: Ron Taylor and Daryl L. Coley
Years active: 1990-1995
How they died: Poor ol’ Bleeding Gums Murphy at least got a proper episode-length send-off in 1995. The brilliant ‘Round Springfield, which aired during the show’s golden era, told his rise-and-fall jazz story (the ‘fall’ being exacerbated by his unfortunate addiction to buying Fabergé eggs) as his biggest fan Lisa listened intently at his bedside in hospital. An unspecified illness killed off Bleeding Gums — but at least he and Lisa got to enjoy one more Lion King-inspired scene together to perform a rousing rendition of Carole King’s ‘Jazzman’.
Played by: Maggie Roswell and Marcia Mitzman Gaven
Years active: 1990-2000 (although she’s posthumously featured in a number of episodes since)
How they died: In one of the most significant deaths in Simpsons history, season 11’s Alone Again, Natura-Diddily saw Maude meet her maker after she was knocked off the top of the Springfield Speedway grandstand by a t-shirt cannon. Poor old God-fearing Ned was left grieving (although the show quickly moved his focus on to dating again), but the decision to kill off Maude by producers was actually inspired by a pay dispute voice actor Maggie Roswell had with the Fox Broadcasting Company at the time over travel expenses.
Played by: Hank Azaria
Years active: 1997
How they died: A great example of a one-episode wonder, the lovably irritating Frank Grimes — or Grimey, as he liked to be called — had a short but very memorable innings in Simpsons history. Driven insane by Homer’s unrelenting blind success in life compared to his own unending series of daily tragedies, Grimes’ time on the show ended as he grabbed some high-voltage cables while trying to prove a point about Homer’s incompetence at work. Another character to bow out during the Simpsons‘ golden era, the treasured memory of Grimey was resurrected in the form of his son Frank Grimes Jr. in season 14.
Played by: Marcia Wallace
Years active: 1990-2014
How they died: Wallace’s death in October 2013 brought about the decision by producers to retire the Springfield Elementary teacher from the show. Married to Ned Flanders by that point, Edna’s death on the show was initially addressed by a chalkboard bearing the words “We’ll really miss you, Mrs K” in the title sequence for Four Regrettings and a Funeral, before a poignant epilogue aired as part of the The Man Who Grew Too Much a year later. A black armband-wearing Ned, wistfully looking at a picture of Edna (next to Maude) and remembering the good times, sighs: “Sure do miss that laugh.” He’s then joined by one of Edna’s former pupils Nelson Muntz, who agrees (“I miss her too”) before a sharp cut to the credits. We’re not crying, you are.
Played by: Joe Mantegna
Years active: 1991-2010
How they died: In Donnie Fatso, Fat Tony got what Tony Soprano never did — a proper TV death. While not succumbing to a hail of bullets from a rival mafia family or left sleepin’ with the fishes, this 2010 episode did spell the end for the original Springfield mobster as he succumbed to a heart attack upon learning that Homer was an FBI informant. Not that Simpsons fans would be deprived of an Italian-American presence in the show for too long, though: the very same episode introduced Fit Tony, Fat Tony’s identical cousin, who promptly takes over the mob family. The stress of running the family business causes him to gain weight, though, and he soon becomes known as Fat Tony (2.0, of course).
Played by: Glenn Close
Years active: 1991-2008
How they died: Homer’s mother — and Grampa’s estranged wife — was always an elusive presence, slipping back out of her son’s life just as soon as she’d returned to him in Mother Simpson as she continued to run from the authorities. Mona’s final appearance and death featured in the heartbreaking season 19 episode Mona Leaves-a, where she fails to get Homer to reconcile with her before she passes — and it’s a distraught Homer who finds her slumped on a chair in front of the fireplace. He does manage, though, to fulfil his mother’s final wishes by preventing her long-term adversary Mr. Burns from launching nuclear waste into the Amazon, before a tear-jerking montage of Homer and Mona in happier times at the close of the episode manages to ramp up the emotions even more.
Played by: Tress MacNeille and Cloris Leachman
Years active: 1991-2011
How they died: Mrs. Glick was never a major character in the Simpsons world, but she was a recognisable face (“No! Just candy, Ned. $90!”) all the same. 2011’s Replaceable You marked the end for one of Springfield’s most elderly residents, though, as Mrs. Glick was killed by an, er, robotic seal.
Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky
Played by: Jackie Mason
Years active: 1991- 2014
How they died: Krusty lost his father in the season 26 opener Clown in the Dumps, with his death coming just as the Rabbi is about to deliver his true verdict on the clown’s comedy stylings: “As for you, son, if you want to know my honest opinion of you, you’ve always been.. eh.” Krustofsky’s death was actually the big reveal from executive producer Al Jean’s tiresome teaser in 2013 that “a major character” would die in the episode in question. “It turned out bigger than we thought it was going to be,” Jean reflected later. “It’s not going to be this blood bath where they all get murdered.”
Played by: A real-life lobster, probably
Years active: 1998
How they died: After accidentally being boiled alive by his loving owner, Homer. “Pinchy would’ve wanted it that way,” Homer says through sobs when asked by Bart why he wouldn’t let anyone else but him eat the lobster’s delicious carcass. RIP, dear Pinchy.