The Simpsons has managed to nab some incredibly impressive cameos over the years, but which famous folks turned down an appearance on the iconic animated series? In its many decades on the air, The Simpsons has never felt the need to play it safe. While recent seasons of the once-beloved sitcom may earn ire from some critics for being forgettable or bland, The Simpsons has been flouting TV conventions since their very first episode, the unusually cynical and crude Christmas special “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”.
The anarchic attitude and inspired humor of The Simpsons attracted a lot of high-profile fans to the series, with an appearance on The Simpsons being something of a rite of passage for ‘90s celebrities. That said, not everyone approached to act alongside Springfield’s favorite family was thrilled with the invite.
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Over the years, roles on The Simpsons have been rejected by former US presidents, Star Trek stars, blockbuster actors, and famous musicians alike. Some were insulted by the material, others were simply too busy to put in a Simpsons cameo appearance, but everyone here ended up missing out on being a part of The Simpsons’ unique place in television history.
George Takei — Himself
Although Star Trek star George Takei had already guest-starred on the series and went on to play himself in later Simpsons episodes too, he turned down one appearance in the iconic Conan O’Brien-scripted outing “Marge Vs The Monorail” (season 4, episode 12). The role went to his former co-star Leonard Nimoy and spawned numerous enduring Simpsons memes, so why did Takei turn down the part? Charmingly enough, the actor didn’t like mocking the institution of public transport because he was on a committee for mass public transport.
Tom Cruise – Tom (Bart’s Big Brother)
Top Gun star Tom Cruise was offered the role of Bart’s Big Brother who unearths a world of insecurities for Homer in “Brother From the Same Planet” (season 4, episode 14). However, the writers claim that Cruise turned down the role numerous times, with the part eventually going to Phil Hartman. There was one trace of Cruise in the role, though, with Bart claiming Tom is an F-14 pilot in the episode.
Jim Carrey – Tall Tale Telling Hobo
The rubber-faced funnyman was originally penciled in to play the lovable hobo who regales the Simpsons with the titular tall tales in the later-season installment “Simpsons Tall Tales” (season 12, episode 21). Carrey specifically asked the producers for a role on the show but, like “Insane Clown Poppy”’s Christopher Walken cameo, during production, he was too busy and needed to be replaced in the role last-minute. As a result, series regular Hank Azaria ended up playing the part instead.
Ronald Reagan (and Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford, etc) – Himself
Every living U.S. president was offered the chance to appear in “Krusty Gets Cancelled” (season 4, episode 22) alongside the likes of Bette Middler and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, as the show’s writers reached out to all of their representatives. However, only former actor Ronald Reagan got in touch to formally turn down the offer from The Simpsons, although this didn’t stop the show from depicting him anyway. Reagan was in good company, with the show also spoofing Gerald Ford, George H.W Bush, and Jimmy Carter.
Shirley Temple – Vicky Valentine
Understandably enough (given that the part is a thinly-veiled parody of her most famous screen roles), Shirley Temple had no interest in playing a bitter, aging dance instructor in “Last Tap Dance In Springfield” (season 11, episode 20). As a result, the part went to series staple Tress MacNeille. Interestingly enough, the role that Temple was originally offered was explicitly intended to be Temple playing herself, rather than the parody “Vicki Valentine,” and the aging actor responded with a curt answer too obscene to reprint here.
Michael Caine – Himself
Before James Woods put in a stellar guest appearance playing himself as the Kwik-E-Mart’s neurotic cashier in “Homer and Apu” (season 5, episode 13), the role was rejected by Michael Caine. Woods went on to make the part his own and this self-parody led to a string of appearances on one of The Simpsons‘ most famous rival series, Family Guy, wherein Woods played an even more unhinged version of himself. Caine, meanwhile, was later parodied on The Simpsons, but never appeared on the series.
Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone – Themselves
The trio of ‘80s leading men who set up Planet Hollywood assured the creators of The Simpsons that they would appear on the show provided their brand put in an appearance, too. All the writers needed to do was work Planet Hollywood into an episode and the three famous leading men would follow – only for them to back out when their schedules proved too busy. The Simpsons’ writers, left with the draft, reworked the script and ended up with “$pringfield (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)” (season 5, episode 10), frequently listed as one of the show’s finest hours.
Bruce Springsteen – Himself
Sting may have seen the funny side of the charity single “Sending Our Love Down The Well,” but the cameo was originally written for the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen. Rarely seen onscreen outside of concert films and High Fidelity, Springsteen wasn’t interested in the part. Brutally, Springsteen went on to reject The Simpsons twice again after Sting’s appearance in “Radio Bart” (season 3, episode 13). Only time will tell whether the series will ever win over the rock legend.
Al Gore – Treehouse of Horror Host
Not known for his sense of humor, former Vice President/frequent South Park target Al Gore was offered a chance to improve his often-spoofed dull demeanor by hosting a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Halloween special. Gore turned down the role, only for the creators to get their own back on him when the politician asked to appear years later and was himself rejected. Still, Gore will always have his “celebrate good times” Simpsons cameo.
Courtney Love, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young – Themselves
“Homerpalooza” (season 7, episode 24) may have attracted some legendary ‘90s musicians in the form of Cypress Hill and Smashing Pumpkins, but at one point folks icon Neil Young, Hole’s Courtney Love, and even Bob Dylan were written into the episode. All three turned down The Simpsons, and there’s no doubt Young and Dylan’s presence would have helped the episode feel less dated. However, the episode in question remained a firm fan favorite nonetheless, and the presence of Cypress Hill and Billy Corgan situates its action firmly in The Simpsons‘ nostalgic ’90s heyday.
Quentin Tarantino – Himself
When the infamously motor-mouthed Reservoir Dogs helmer showed up on The Simpsons, it was in a brief cameo during the Golden Age era outing “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious,” (season 8, episode 13). In the episode, Tarantino is portrayed as the guest director of a particularly stylized Itchy and Scratchy episode. Tarantino himself was approached, but Homer’s voice actor took the part (as he did later when re-recording Edward Norton’s Simpsons Movie cameo) because the director didn’t like his dialogue.
The Backstreet Boys – Themselves
The surreal installment “New Kids On The Blecch,” (season 12, episode 14) which sees Bart, Milhouse, Ralph, and Nelson become a boyband and accidental military propagandists, may be considered a classic from the show’s uneven later seasons. But one group who wasn’t left laughing by this Simpsons script was The Backstreet Boys. The group said they wouldn’t embarrass themselves by appearing on the beloved series, leading the writers to turn their appearance into N*Sync’s famously funny cameo. Word.
Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins – Dr. Wolfe (Lisa’s Dentist)
Both Hannibal Lecter and the iconic Western star almost appeared in “Last Exit To Springfield” (season 4, episode 17), another episode often singled out as one of The Simpsons‘ greatest ever. The role of Lisa’s demented dentist was turned down by both Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins before the writers went on to offer the part to iconic Psycho star/ Andrew Garfield lookalike Anthony Perkins. Perkins isn’t included in this rundown as he was happy to take the part when approached but tragically died before recording his lines, leaving The Simpsons regular Hank Azaria to step in.
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