Did Michael Jackson Actually Sing in His Guest Appearance on The Simpsons?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Michael Jackson didn’t actually do any singing in his guest appearance on The Simpsons.

Celebrities guest-starring on The Simpsons has become almost a right of passage for celebrities. You haven’t truly “made it” until you have appeared as a guest voice on The Simpsons (a while back, we featured a TV legend about Justin Timberlake’s ill-fated first appearance as a guest voice on The Simpsons). However, in the early days of celebrity guest voices on the show, the producers allowed their guest stars to use pseudonyms. Dustin Hoffman was the first guest actor to do so, using the credit “Sam Atic” (get it?) for his appearance in the late second season episode, “Lisa’s Substitute.” For the season three premiere, “Stark Raving Dad,” Michael Jackson appeared on the show as “John Jay Smith.” Jackson played Leon Kompowsky, a man that Homer Simpson meets in an asylum after Homer is accidentally committed. Kompowsky believes himself to be Michael Jackson. During the episode, Kompowsky sings the Jackson hit “Man in the Mirror” as well as an original song, “”Happy Birthday Lisa,” as a birthday present from Bart Simpson to his sister, Lisa. However, while Michael Jackson did appear on the episode, did he actually not sing on it? Find out!

It is interesting seeing how “Stark Raving Dad” came about. Michael Jackson apparently was a fan of the show and contacted Matt Groening personally to appear on the show. Jackson was particularly a fan of Bart Simpson and he wanted to write a hit song for Bart. So Jackson actually co-wrote the hit song “Do the Bartman,” although since he was under contract to another music company he could not legally take credit for the song (his co-writer, Bryan Loren, was the sole credited writer of the song). While “Do the Bartman” was never actually released as a single in the United States, it was in other countries and did, indeed, become a number one hit in many of those countries (including the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland and Norway).

When he was given the original script for the episode, Jackson had a few suggested changes, including that he wanted his character to write a song with Bart (the song ended up being “Happy Birthday, Lisa”). In addition, Jackson insisted that before he commit to doing the episode, the show had to do a read-through of the script with him. So the cast and crew went to Jackson’s manager’s office and they did a read-through of the script with Jackson. Jackson finally agreed to do the show, but under two conditions. One normal and one more than a bit odd. First off, Jackson would only do it under the aforementioned John Jay Smith pseuodym. Again, as the show had done it recently with Dustin Hoffman it wasn’t a big deal. Secondly, though, Jackson would only do the speaking parts. He wanted a Michael Jackson impersonator to do the singing parts. He wanted to trick his brothers into thinking that it was him singing on the show. That was how Michael Jackson rolled.

The producers agreed, although as it turned out, they were so annoyed by having to constantly evade questions about whether it was actually Michael Jackson doing the voice (being the premiere of season three, it got more attention than a typical episode) that they made a rule that from that point on, all guest voices on The Simpsons would have to be willing to be credited under their actual name.

Just to add extra confusion to the situation, when it came time to record the episode, while the impersonator, Kipp Lennon, performed both songs in the episodes (“Man in the Mirror” and “Happy Birthday, Lisa”) Jackson decided to also record the songs, just for the fun of it. As a result, there has always been some confusion, even among Simpsons staffers, as to whether any of Jackson’s performances were used on the final show. The Simpsons music editor Chris Ledesma, though, has confirmed that it was only Lennon’s performances used on the actual show.

So the legend is…

STATUS: True

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