4 Real-Life Inspirations for ‘Simpsons’ Characters
If starring as yourself in an episode of The Simpsons is one of the highest honors a celebrity can achieve, then we need something more prestigious than the Hollywood Walk of Fame to commemorate the comedians, actors and crooked doctors who inspired the creation of the most memorable original characters on the show — maybe the Stonecutters can make them honorary members.
Famously, the late Tony Bennett was the first to earn the former distinction in the Season Two episode “Dancing Homer,” but the IRL inspirations of every beloved Simpsons character sadly aren’t listed in the credits of the hundreds of episodes in which their likenesses appear. Thankfully, Simpsons historians and Comic Book Guy-level nerds have kept careful track of every Matt Groening mention of the origins of his most iconic characters, so we’re able to pay them their dues here.
Below are four real-life figures behind your favorite Simpsons characters…
Moe Is An Amalgamation of Comedian Rich Hall and the Most Pranked Bartender in New Jersey
One of the longest-running gags in Simpsons history is directly borrowed from the “Tube Bar Prank Calls” cassette tapes, in which Garden State a-holes Jim Davidson and John Elmo repeatedly called heavyweight boxer and bar owner Louis “Red” Deutsch asking to speak to patrons such as “Al Coholic” and “Mike Hunt.” Groening was such a fan of the tapes that he immortalized them in Bart Simpson’s endless torment of poor Moe Szyslak.
Rich Hall, however, claims that Moe’s appearance is based on his own likeness, having been close friends with influential Simpsons writer George Meyer and looking exactly like Springfield’s loneliest barkeep come to life. Hall claims that Groening privately confirmed that his appearance is the inciting image behind the character — though we don’t know for sure that it wasn’t just a prank caller who told him that.
Bumblebee Man Is Based on a Mexican TV Insectoid Superhero
Ay, ay, ay! Bumblebee Man’s presence may seem like the biggest non sequitur side-character to survive for so long in the Simpsons canon, but there’s actually a good reason for why Pedro Chespirito always seems to be on TV and in costume. In the 1970s, one of the most popular Spanish-speaking television shows was El Chapulín Colorado (The Red Grasshopper), which starred comedian and actor Roberto Gómez Bolaños, better known by his stage name Chespirito, as a parody superhero who was “more agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a lettuce.”
Simpsons producers say that El Chapulín Colorado made a strong impression on them because, whenever they switched the channel to Univision, the show was “always on” — which is why the Simpsons themselves always seem to scroll past Bumblebee Man during their own channel-surfing.
Frank Grimes Was Modeled Off of Michael Douglas in ‘Falling Down’
Springfield should be thankful that ol’ Grimey didn’t go postal when Homer finally broke his brain. One of the most tragic figures in Simpsons history, Frank Grimes Sr. was just a working stiff who wanted the power plant that employed him to have a halfway competent safety inspector — not unlike how Michael Douglas’ William Foster just wanted to get home during a brutal Los Angeles commute.
Both Falling Down and the iconic Simpsons Season Eight episode “Homer’s Enemy” end with the put-upon squares finally breaking all the rules that the rest of the world refused to follow, only to end up in the grave. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned is to never push the guy in the glasses and the short-sleeve button-down too far.
Dr. Nick Is Based on the Quack Doctor Who Doped Up Elvis
Despite his on-screen demise in The Simpsons Movie, Dr. Nick Riviera kept popping up in subsequent episodes — possibly an allusion to how Elvis is secretly still alive. Springfield’s sketchiest doctor got his degree from the Hollywood Upstairs Medical College, a fictional institution that we would still trust more than the word of the late George C. Nichopoulos, Elvis Presley’s personal physician who prescribed The King more than 10,000 doses of amphetamines, sedatives and narcotics in the eight months leading up to his death.
Elvis’ official cause of death is listed as cardiac arrest, but the effects of Nichopoulos’ overprescription of drugs on the King’s declining health have long been thought to be a contributing factor to his demise. Nichopoulos’ medical license was permanently revoked by the Tennessee Medical Board in 1993 after years of passing out pills like candy on Halloween — so, for the last 23 years of his life, every time Nichopolous walked into the room and said, “Hi everybody,” the proper response was, “Hi, Nick!”