In the giant buffet of cartoon characters to choose from, South Park’s
Chef is the filet mignon next to the Salisbury steak. He is a hilarious, insightful and totally inappropriate yet caring role model for South Park Elementary's children, which is why the abrupt departure of the beloved character left a cloud of controversy and disappointment.
When South Park first premiered
in 1997, Chef became one of the series' signature breakout stars. While The Simpsons
were the gold standard for adult cartoons in the 90s, even Springfield's wildest residents were nothing like Chef. He was the wise, cautionary sage who could always be counted on to give the children what they needed most -- the truth or something like it.
Who Chef Was on South Park and How He Died
If any South Park character could have had a spin-off series -- it's Chef. He was a popular school cafeteria worker, who fed and nurtured the children’s tummies and their brains by being one of the only town residents with a semi-firm grasp on reality. Chef cut to the heart of the matter like a knife in his kitchen.
It was no accident Chef was such a commanding presence on the animated screen. The pounding, mellifluous baritone of Oscar
& Grammy-winning artist, Isaac Hayes, made Chef larger than life. With a penchant for breaking out in song to bestow wisdom and anecdotes upon the children, Hayes’ sensational talents were even pressed into Chef Aid: The South Park Album
, including the savory hit single "Chocolate Salty Balls."
Chef's final appearance on South Park
was the opening of Season 10. In the episode, Chef is brainwashed into joining a global pedophile cult. He finally escapes thanks to Stan, Kyle, Kenny
and Cartman. But Chef is almost lured back before plunging into a ravine and torn to pieces by wild animals. The cult later resurrects Chef’s mangled remains into a Darth Vader
-esque parody. But Hayes didn’t actually work on the episode. Chef's voice-over was stitched together with audio clips from past South Park
Why Isaac Hayes Left South Park?
In late 2005, South Park
’s 9th season aired the controversial episode "Trapped in the Closet,
" which lampoons, among other things, Scientology, which Hayes was a member. By March of the following year, Hayes wanted out of his contract, and a statement
was released in his name saying, “There is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs begins." While the events were unfolding, South Park
co-creator Matt Stone felt the departure was rooted in an artistic double-standard. "In 10 years and over 150 episodes of South Park
, Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews.”
In 2016, Isaac Hayes III claimed his father was still suffering from the effects of a recent stroke, and he was being taken advantage of when he left South Park. “He was in no position to resign under his own knowledge. At the time, everybody around my father was involved in Scientology -- his assistants, the core group of people. So someone quit South Park on Isaac Hayes' behalf. We don't know who.” Hayes III went on to say his father didn’t have a double-standard when it came to religion, "My father was not that big of a hypocrite to be part of a show that would constantly poke fun at African-American people, Jewish people, gay people -- and only quit when it comes to Scientology."Hayes passed away in 2008 after doing more than 130 episodes for one of the longest-running animated shows in television history. The departure of Chef, and Hayes, was a loss for the series and its fans. But one of the most multi-talented artists of his era still lives on-- every time folks come on down to South Park and leave their woes behind.