March 13, 2006

Singer Isaac Hayes quits “South Park”

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Soul singer Isaac Hayes said on
Monday he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty
character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park,"
citing the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

But series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording
artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of
Scientology, of which Hayes is an outspoken follower.

"In ten years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac
never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians,
Muslim, Mormons or Jews," Stone said in a statement issued by
the Comedy Central network. "He got a sudden case of religious
sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

He added: "Of course we will release Isaac from his
contract, and we wish him well."

In a statement explaining his departure from the show,
Hayes, 63, did not mention last fall's episode poking fun at
Scientology and some of its celebrity adherents, including
actor Tom Cruise.

Rather, Hayes said the show's parody of religion in general
was part of what he saw as a "growing insensitivity toward
personal spiritual beliefs" in the media, including the recent
controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a
time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward
religious beliefs ... begins," Hayes said.

The crudely animated cartoon, heading into its 10th season
next week as one of Comedy Central's biggest hits, centers on
the antics of four foul-mouthed fourth graders in the town of
South Park, Colorado.

Outlandish religious satire has been a mainstay of the show
since its debut on the Viacom Inc.-owned network in 1997. The
series grew out of two short films by Stone and collaborator
Trey Parker -- "Jesus vs. Frosty" and "The Spirit of
Christmas," the latter featuring a martial-arts duel between
Jesus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.

Hayes, the first black composer to win an Oscar for best
song with his theme to the 1971 film "Shaft," gained renewed
fame on "South Park" as the voice of Jerome "Chef" McElroy, the
school cafeteria cook whom the boys often seek out for advice.

In an episode last fall, one of the gang, Stan, scores so
high on a Scientology test that church followers think he is
the next L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who
founded the religion. Hayes did not take part in that episode.

In an interview with Reuters late last year, Hayes talked
about a foundation he formed to bring Scientology-based study
techniques to disadvantaged inner-city schools, in partnership
with fellow devotee Lisa Marie Presley.

"But it's not religious," he said then, describing himself
as Baptist by birth and Scientology as "an applied religious

Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox said producers have not
decided whether Chef would be dropped from the show or
continued with another actor supplying his voice.