The Simpsons is one of the most popular and enduring shows on television, with several hundred episodes under its massive belt. In that time they’ve featured more background characters than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With that many characters, some of the more interesting back-stories sometimes go overlooked, along with the fact that many of them depressing as hell. Here are ten sad-sack characters worthy of your Kleenexes.
10. Eleanor Abernathy
Eleanor, AKA The Crazy Cat Lady, is most recognizable for throwing cats at random people and, for me personally, that one scene where she throws one clear over a roof.
Here’s the weird part though, Eleanor is a secret genius, clearly showing elements of lucidity in various episodes. In the episode Springfield Up, it’s revealed that Eleanor is a fully trained doctor and lawyer, with degrees from Harvard and Yale. She was a bright-eyed child, who fully believed that a woman could be anything she wanted to be. But she simply couldn’t handle the pressure, burned out, and gave up on life. But at least she has not given up on her cats.
Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski (henceforth shortened to Krusty the Clown, because screw typing that again,) is one of the more famous Simpsons background characters. His whole identity revolves around being a clown, as you rarely ever see him without his trademark clown makeup.
And do you know why? Because Krusty doesn’t wear makeup, aside from very early on in the show. It’s a recurring joke on the show that his numerous hearts attacks have given him a permanent chalk-white face. It’s played for laughs, sure, but Krusty is a very, very sick man, who chain-smokes, does drugs, drinks heavily, and has had so much heart surgery that his heart literally cannot pump blood to his face.
8. Bleeding Gums Murphy
Bleeding Gums Murphy stands out as one of the first Simpsons characters ever killed off permanently, in the episode Round Springfield. Being a famous jazz musician, you’d expect a number of people to turn up to his funeral. But, only one person does: Lisa.
Which is weird, and heart-breaking, because it’s heavily insinuated, several times throughout the show’s run, that he is the brother of Dr. Hibbert. The same doctor who treats him for his deadly illness. So this guy had no one turn up to his funeral, save for a seven-year-old girl, and died not knowing his own brother was 10 feet away from him. Cripes, maybe the next one will be a wee but more upbeat.
7. Bumblebee Man
Bumblebee Man, the humble star of Springfield’s Channel Ocho, seems like a harmlessly wacky one-joke character. Except for the part where he’s lonely and a total fraud. Ay Chihuahua!
In 22 Short Stories About Springfield, his wife leaves him, not because he was cheating on her, or because he lost all their money by betting on the bull and not the matador. No, it’s because he’s clumsy and kept breaking things. That’s apparently a deal-breaker in some marriages. Oh, he loses his house too. Ay Dios Mio!
He’s also not even Spanish! In the 110th Simpsons Comic (it’s canon, shut up,) he reveals that he’s actually Belgian. Which would explain why he has a perfect British accent in Bart Gets Famous. It would also explain why our office is suddenly so damn dusty.
6. Disco Stu
Yup, Disco Stu, lover of all things awesome and happy and disco-y, is a sad, sad man. That afro and bell-bottom combo can only hide the truth for so long.
The dam burst in the episode How I Met Your Strummer. On the show-within-a-show, Taxi Cab Confessions, Stu confesses that he hates disco, just despises it. Elaborating that he’s been Disco Stu for long that he doesn’t know what else to do, Stu confirms that he is constantly having to conform to an image that he hates, listen to crappy music that makes him puke, and dress like an utter idiot, because it’s all he knows in life. Great, now they’re chopping onions in the break room.
Judging by the nice house he has, Duffman, the only Simpsons character who responds to everything by thrusting, is very well-paid as a corporate shill, but we all know money doesn’t buy happiness, nor can you bribe death to go away. Duffman is actually referred to by several names during the show’s run. Why? Well, according to Duffman himself, “Duffman can never die, only the actors who play him.”
That’s right; being Duffman is a totally thankless and anonymous job, despite the nice paychecks. You’re not allowed to reveal your identity to the public, as seen in this video, where he’s watering his garden in full Duffman regalia, and there are infinite numbers of you, as shown in this clip, all equally nameless. When you die, you’re never mourned or acknowledged again. The public simply moves on to the next Duffman, or Duffmen as it is. Infinite free beer hardly seems worth it.
Kearney is one of the several bullies who torment the children of Springfield Elementary, characterized by his trademark white shirt and spiked wrist bands. Being a bully would automatically suggest that Kearney didn’t have the best upbringing, but that’s not even scratching the surface. Several quotes from Kearney himself imply a horribly depressing childhood; in O Brother, Where Bart Thou? Kearney himself reveals that both of his parents are in jail.
Kearney’s age is also played for laughs several times throughout the series, including the reveal that he’s 23, pays taxes, and drives. Being the Principal, it’s only reasonable to assume Skinner knows a 23-year-old man is beating the crap out of his students, and does nothing to prevent it. That school really does suck.
3. Melvin Van Horne
Better known as Sideshow Mel, he is the constant sidekick of Krusty the Clown, and a local TV personality. Did you ever wonder why he speaks with such a grand Shakespearean accent?
Well it’s because Mel started out as an incredibly popular and respected theater performer (as revealed in All About Lisa.) However, he developed an addiction to applause, that caused him to abandon theater, and take a demeaning job on Krusty’s show, because applause was easier to come by, thereby satisfying his addiction. Mel is so hopelessly addicted to being applauded, that he’s willing to have himself subjected to physical and mental anguish for the amusement of others. Damn, that’s a character arc you wouldn’t even get on Boardwalk Empire, so kudos to the Simpsons.
2. Groundskeeper Willie
Groundkeeper Willie has more names than everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan combined, having been known as G.K. Willington Esquire, Dr. William MacDougal, William MacMoran and, funnily enough, Greenskeeper Willie, during his many appearances on the show.
The list of problems Willie has is so long he could technically be considered a Third World country. He has intense arthritis in both of his index fingers (revealed in Who Shot Mr Burns,) was voted the ugliest man in Glasgow (Revealed in Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious,) and was fired from his job as swim instructor through no fault of his own (shown in Pranks and Greens). Although Willie’s explosive rage, and seeming inability to accurately recall his own past, are played for laughs, in “The Dad Who Knew Too Little,” it’s revealed that Willie bears a striking resemblance to the Aberdeen Strangler.
Suddenly, the man who threatens to kill people all the time, and constantly drinks near children, seems a little dark.
1. Dolphin Starbeam
Yes, that’s his real name. More commonly known as Dolph, he’s another one of the bullies regularly seen on the show. Unlike Kearney though, Dolph isn’t hopelessly stuck in one grade. He’s actually stupidly, incredibly, unbelievably smart.
In the episode 24 Minutes, a brief glimpse of certain students files is shown. Dolph’s reveals that he can speak “Spanish, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Korean, Latin, Old English, English, Klingon, and Esperanto.” This technically classes Dolph as a hyperpolyglot (a speaker of many languages,) which makes him one of the smartest characters ever featured on the show. Instead of banking on that potential, he spends his time beating people up.
In short, there’s a damn good reason these are background characters. Looking into their stories is positively tear-inducing. Let’s focus on the happier characters from now on, like the brain-dead alcoholic who strangles his son on a daily basis