The August 10 death of Isaac Hayes at age 65 spurred warm statements from individuals throughout the entertainment industry -- but apparently nothing thus far from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the Coloradans who created South Park, the Comedy Central animated season on which Hayes voiced the ribald character Chef for nearly a decade. The South Park website? Nope. The individual MySpace pages of Parker and Stone? Uh-uh -- but that's no surprise, since their last log-ins are listed as 2006 and 2007, respectively. And I was unable to find a single contemporary comment from either in any of the press coverage that's flooded out in the wake of Hayes' passing.
Under the circumstances, this oversight has a certain classlessness about it -- but it's not especially surprising given the split a few years back between Hayes and the South Parkers, whose first major interview appeared in Westword a full four years before their signature program's debut turned them into celebrities.
The trouble bubbled in connection with South Park's infamous 2005 "Trapped in the Closet" episode, which hilariously satirized Scientology, along with one of its most famous boosters, a certain Tom Cruise. Months later, in March 2006, Hayes, who also was a Scientologist, very publicly quit the show, claiming that the storyline was an example of "growing insensivity toward personal spiritual beliefs," adding, "Religious beliefs are sacred to people and at all times should be respected and honored... As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."
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Stone fired back immediately in an Associated Press interview, declaring, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology." He asserted that "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. He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show." Comedy Central responded by yanking a planned repeat of the episode, which prompted Parker and Stone to release a statement to Variety, an entertainment industry trade publication. "So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun!" they declared. "Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"
The fight continued with the next season's opening show, "The Return of Chef," in which Chef leaves South Park to join the "Super Adventure Club" -- a thinly veiled Scientology surrogate. Main characters such as Kyle and Kenny subsequently discover that Chef (whose dialogue is made up of reassembled snippets from previous programs) only did so after being brainwashed by the organization's leaders, and they try to free him -- but they fail. In the end, Chef is struck by lightning, impaled on a tree stump, attacked by a mountain lion and a grizzly bear and then shot -- and while he's resurrected toward the end of the episode as Darth Vader, more or less, he hasn't been part of another South Park salvo since.
The episode includes a funeral at which Kyle delivers an understanding eulogy. "A lot of us don’t agree with the choices the Chef has made in the last few days. Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can’t let the events of the past few weeks take away the memories of how Chef made us smile... We shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains."
Parker and Stone don't have to say the same thing at Hayes' real-life service, but they should deliver this message somewhere, and soon. Hayes may have pissed them off by the way he left, but he was a big part of South Park's success, and he deserves a few kind words from the boys before he boards a spaceship piloted by L. Ron Hubbard and zooms off to the next dimension. -- Michael Roberts