As perhaps the most successful and popular television show of all-time, it is not surprising that everybody wants in on the action and score an appearance on The Simpsons. Throughout the course of the show’s history, there have been dozens of fantastic celebrity cameos which have only heightened the comedy. Sometimes these characters are playing themselves within the Springfield world, while other times the celebrities have lent their voice to a new original character on the show. Today we are looking at the 11 best celebrity appearances on the show, a few of each type.
11. Paul & Linda McCartney as Themselves
A brilliant episode centered on Homer and Lisa’s relationship, Paul and Linda McCartney appear as themselves in “Lisa the Vegetarian.” In the episode, Homer and Lisa clash over eating meat – seeing Lisa sabotage his BBQ and run away. She ends up at the Kwik-E-Mart where she talks to Apu, who just happens to be friends with the legendary musician and his then-wife. Apu teaches Lisa that forcing her views onto others is wrong, but Apu, Paul and Linda then discuss animal rights and show Lisa that it is okay to be a vegetarian. Inspired, she reconnects with Homer and they both apologize to each other. He then offers to give her a “veggie back” ride home. Although a small appearance, Paul and Linda played a pivotal role in shaping Lisa’s character. Paul only agreed to appear if Lisa remained a vegetarian, which she has to this day.
10. Dr. Stephen Hawking as Himself
Stephen Hawking has made a few appearances, but most notably in Season 10’s “They Saved Lisa’s Brain.” After becoming disgusted by the stupidity of Springfield (particularly Homer and Bart), Lisa pens a letter criticizing the town’s lack of refinement. She is then welcomed as a member of Springfield’s MENSA chapter (which includes Principal Skinner, Comic Book Guy, Dr. Hibbert, Professor Frink, and Lindsey Neagle). The group comes to run the mayor’s office, but they begin to pass laws without consulting each other. Making a surprise visit, Stephen Hawking criticizes their failings and he teaches Lisa that even the most intelligent people are fallible (except him). Marge then makes a profound statement, but is caught reading off of his screen. He also gets into a fight, has a chair packed with handy gadgets, and shows interest in stealing Homer’s theory of a donut-shaped universe. Hawking stated that he loved appearing on the show.
9. Barry White as Himself
One of the great voices in music, Barry White lends his smooth and seductive voice when he plays himself in Season 4’s classic “Whacking Day.” With the town excited for the annual barbaric Whacking Day (a day where the townspeople beat snakes to death with a stick and chase them out of town), Lisa and Bart hatch a plan to save the snakes. Barry White initially introduces Whacking Day, but then shows disgust when he learns what it is. Bart and Lisa decide to lure the snakes to their home by placing their speakers on the ground and playing bass heavy music. Fortunately, Barry White walks past and performs an impromptu performance of “Can’t Get Enough of your Love, Babe” with Lisa on bass. The plan works perfectly, with the crowd just behind, who then denounce Whacking Day after learning of its origins. Brilliantly, White’s unmistakable voice is central to the plot.
8. Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Bergstrom
We all have those teachers from when we were younger that come in and change your life. For Lisa, this was substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom. Voiced by Dustin Hoffman (but credited as Sam Etic for contractual reasons), Mr. Bergstrom is intelligent, thoughtful, and in touch with his emotions. He is, essentially, a positive male role model for Lisa and the opposite of Homer. He encourages Homer to think more highly of himself for Lisa’s sake, and then leaves Lisa with a powerful message as he departs on a train – a note which simply reads “You are Lisa Simpson.”
Hoffman’s smooth voice lends itself well to the intelligent and thoughtful character (a rarity in Springfield). While there was not a huge amount of humor in the character, Mr. Bergstrom had a huge impact on Lisa’s character. The episodes that explore Homer and Lisa’s relationship are often the most heartfelt.
7. Danny DeVito as Herb Powell
Danny DeVito has a habit of stealing the show regardless of what he appears in, and he does it once again as Homer’s long lost half brother – Herb Powell. Appearing in two excellent episodes, Homer tracks down his brother only to find that he is the CEO of a hugely successful car company. He immediately bonds with the family and spoils them, but then makes the mistake of letting Homer design a car which ruins his career. “Unky Herb” returns as a broke hobo in a later episode and stays with the family, despite his hatred towards Homer for ruining him. But he invents a baby translating device after studying Maggie, which brings back his fortune. He then settles his differences with Homer. Any episode with Homer’s extended family usually results in gold and particularly when they have similar traits, plus Danny DeVito’s terrific voice acting make these two fan-favorite episodes.
6. Johnny Cash as Space Coyote
Johnny Cash lends his legendary voice to one of the more strange and surreal episodes of The Simpsons – “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer.” After consuming Guatemalan insanity peppers at the local chili cook off, Homer hallucinates and goes on a spiritual journey led by his spirit animal — a talking coyote perfectly voiced by Cash. After entering a desert landscape where the laws of physics do not apply, Homer meets the coyote who advises Homer to find his soulmate – which he later realizes is Marge after some doubt (and then randomly shouts out “in your face, Space Coyote!” much to the confusion of Marge).
The surreal nature of the episode and touching sentiment at the end make it a standout one, plus the cool voice of Johnny Cash lent to a talking coyote ensure that this is one of the top celebrity appearances.
5. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as Themselves
The Simpsons really hit gold with Season 14’s “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation,” which boasts a host of rock and roll’s finest. Many rock stars have appeared on the show, but no episode has been as brilliant as this. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are at the forefront, but it also features Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, and Brian Setzer. These rock gods are instructors at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, which Homer enthusiastically attends. Much of the humor comes from the rockers making fun of themselves and rock music in general, plus one of the great Simpsons quotes delivered by Mick Jagger when explaining the rules of the camp – “Rule number 1: There are no rules! Rule number 2: No outside food.” With so many high profile musicians in one episode it could have failed miserably, but the silliness and self awareness ensured that this is a classic.
4. Leonard Nimoy as Himself
Leonard Nimoy made two fantastic appearances in two classic episodes of The Simpsons; “Marge vs. the Monorail” and “The Springfield Files.” In the latter, Nimoy uses his deadpan hilarity to introduce the story – “Hello. I’m Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the truth? The answer is: no.” He closes the episode in equally brilliant fashion, and even pops up in the story buying a hot dog.
In “Marge Vs. The Monorail,” Nimoy has another short yet brilliant cameo. Turning up for the monorail’s maiden voyage as a guest of honor, Nimoy bores Springfield with his stories from Star Trek whilst Mayor Quimby fails to recognize him, embarrassing himself by giving him a greetings from Star Wars. Once Homer saves the day, Nimoy attempts to take the credit before vanishing in a transporter effect similar to Star Trek.
3. Michael Jackson as Leon Kompowsky
Appearing pre-lawsuit, special guests don’t get better than the King of Pop. Appearing in Season 3 under the name John Jay Smith (for contractual reasons), Michael Jackson brilliantly plays a man who believes himself to be Michael Jackson. This is Leon Kompowsky, who is Homer’s large, overweight, bald, and white cellmate in an psych asylum (Homer was sent there for wearing a pink shirt to work). He and Homer bond, with Leon singing to Homer and attempting to teach him how to moonwalk. He even comes back to the Simpson household, and helps Bart to write a catchy birthday song for Lisa. Interestingly, Jackson did not actually perform the song — it was performed by an impersonator as a joke on Jackson’s brothers. There are many excellent jokes and references to Jackson’s career, plus the excellent idea of him voicing a character who is pretending to be himself help to make it one of the more memorable episodes.
2. Kelsey Grammar as Sideshow Bob
Some may consider this cheating, since Sideshow Bob is considered to be a regular character, but he actually only appears in a handful of episodes. He is too fantastic a character not to include on list. One of Springfield’s villains and Bart’s longtime nemesis, Sideshow Bob is perfectly voiced by the eloquent and articulate Kelsey Grammar. The voice matches the personality, as Bob is intelligent, well read, and a champion of high culture. But he is also a criminal with one mission in life – to kill Bart Simpson, after Bart foiled his plan to frame Krusty the Clown. Sideshow Bob’s episodes are amongst the best, including a hilarious spoof of Cape Fear (with the rake scene being a classic), Bob marrying Selma, and the introduction of his brother, Cecil, who is hilariously voiced by David Hyde Pierce (who plays Frasier’s Brother, Niles, on Frasier).
1. Everyone in “Homer At The Bat”
The logistics of this episode alone made it an almost impossible task. In an episode entitled “Homer At The Bat,” the production team managed to assemble nine different Major League Baseball players to lend their voices, as Mr. Burns used ringers to stack his Power Plant softball team. The roster was comprised of Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Scioscia. The voice acting was recorded over several months, whenever the players were in Los Angeles to play the Dodgers or the Angels.
Often considered one of the greatest Simpsons episodes ever made, each player would eventually miss the championship game for increasingly weird reasons (except Strawberry, who played Homer’s position). Homer would end up the hero though, after being knocked unconscious by a wild pitch.
Even Terry Cashman, a singer famous for his 1981 hit “Talkin’ Baseball,” came in to record a cover version of his own song for the end credits. “Talkin’ Softball” featured altered lyrics about Homer and his Power Plant team.