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Dead Celebrities

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"Dead Celebrities"
South Park episode
Episode no.Season 13
Episode 8
Directed byTrey Parker
Written byTrey Parker
Production code1308
Original air dateOctober 7, 2009
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"Dead Celebrities" is the eighth episode of the thirteenth season of the American animated television series South Park. The 189th overall episode of the series, it originally aired on Comedy Central in the United States on October 7, 2009. In the episode, Ike is haunted by the ghosts of dead celebrities until Michael Jackson, who refuses to accept that he is dead, possesses him.

The episode was written and directed by series co-creator Trey Parker, and was rated TV-MA L in the United States (specifically for adults, with coarse language). "Dead Celebrities" included references to several actors, singers and famous people who died before or during the summer of 2009, when South Park was on a mid-season hiatus. Among the celebrities featured in the episode were Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Dom DeLuise, Ted Kennedy, Natasha Richardson, Bea Arthur, David Carradine, DJ AM, Michael Jackson, Ricardo Montalbán, and Steve McNair. "Dead Celebrities" also parodied the films The Sixth Sense and Poltergeist.

The reality series Ghost Hunters and its stars, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, were mocked in the episode. Hawes and Wilson said they loved the parody and encouraged fans to watch the show on their Twitter accounts. A subplot claimed food at the Chipotle Mexican Grill resulted in customers defecating blood, a claim which was disputed by the restaurant chain within days of the episode's broadcast. "Dead Celebrities" received generally mixed reviews. According to Nielsen ratings, "Dead Celebrities" was seen by 2.67 million overall households.


Ike is terrified by frequent encounters with the ghosts of recently deceased celebrities. He is haunted by people such as Farrah Fawcett, David Carradine, Ed McMahon, DJ AM, and especially Billy Mays, who repeatedly tries selling Ike products from the afterlife. Kyle is terrified when he finds out about the ghost his brother is encountering and tells Stan, Cartman and Kenny about the encounters. Cartman, who does not initially care, decides to help when Kyle mentions that one of the ghosts haunting Ike is Billy Mays. Cartman then shows commercials that feature Mays on television, implying that he is an enthusiastic supporter of a product which Mays promoted, called "ChipotlAway", which cleans bloodstains from people's underwear caused by eating food from Chipotle Mexican Grill. The boys call the team from the reality television series Ghost Hunters in to help, but they quickly, fearfully start ascribing supernatural meaning to random, ambient, environmental noises, before urinating and defecating on themselves, and finally running from the house. Eventually, Ike goes into a coma because of his multiple experiences with the ghosts.

The boys seek help from Dr. Philips, a medium (a parody of Zelda Rubinstein's character in Poltergeist), who explains the celebrities are trapped in purgatory, which she compares to being stuck on a plane waiting endlessly on a runway for permission to take off. Dr. Philips manages to contact the spirits and tell them that they have passed on. Much to her surprise, the celebrities say that they all accept the fact. Two deceased celebrities, CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite and Patrick Swayze, tell her that Michael Jackson's refusal to acknowledge his death is the main cause of them being trapped. Some of the celebrities help Dr. Philips and the boys try to convince Jackson that he is dead, but Jackson keeps denying it and insists he is not only alive, but also a little white girl. His denial is so strong that he emits a very powerful force which flings Dr. Philips out the window of Ike's hospital room, where she falls to her death. The ghosts of these annoyed celebrities are shown in purgatory, which resembles the interior of an airplane, complete with seats, flight attendants and pilot voice-over announcements.

After the energy disturbance, Jackson's spirit takes over Ike's body, causing Ike to speak, sing and dance like Jackson himself. The boys find from online research that the only way to make Jackson accept his death is to make him experience the acceptance he sought in life, so they take him to a child beauty pageant for young girls. Dressed like a little girl, Ike/Jackson impresses two of the male judges by singing a tune sounding similar to Jackson's "You Are Not Alone", but they are promptly arrested for masturbating while watching the children, leaving a single, unimpressed female judge (much to the shock of the boys, who were unaware of the men's lewd acts and considered them the best judges). When Cartman notices the judge eating chipotle, he bribes her with knowledge about the ChipotlAway product, and she declares Ike/Jackson the winner as a result. One of the other contestants is physically beaten by her mother for losing. Having found his acceptance, Jackson leaves Ike's body, and Ike is extremely surprised and disgusted to find himself dressed like a little girl.

Later on, Jackson and the other celebrities in purgatory are reunited and they are finally able to lift off. Initially happy, they are soon taken to Hell. To their annoyance, however, the flight attendant tells them that they must again wait as Hell is a tow-in gate.

Production and theme[edit]

Pop singer Michael Jackson (pictured), who died in June 2009, was prominently featured in "Dead Celebrities"

"Dead Celebrities" was written and directed by series co-founder Trey Parker, and was rated TV-MA L in the United States. It first aired on October 7, 2009 in the United States on Comedy Central. The day after "Dead Celebrities" was originally broadcast, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts based on the episode were made available at South Park Studios, the official South Park website. It featured a frightened Ike standing above the phrase, "I see dead celebrities".[1]

"Dead Celebrities" includes references to several actors, singers and other celebrities who died in the summer of 2009, when the thirteenth season of South Park was on a mid-season hiatus.[2][3][4] The episode serves not only to parody the celebrities themselves, but also to provide commentary on the tendency of American media to exploit, idolatrize and excessively report on the lives of celebrities.[4][5] The most prominently featured of these celebrities is pop singer Michael Jackson, who died of multiple drug intoxication on June 25.[2][4]

Billy Mays, a television advertisement salesman, is the first dead celebrity featured in the episode, and plays a large role in the early part of the script.[2][4] Mays' son, Billy Mays III, a self-proclaimed South Park fan, said he loved "Dead Celebrities", and found its portrayal of his father tasteful and respectful. He said, "South Park gets a little edgy sometimes, but at their core, they're just social satire, you know? I think it was natural for them to do a dead celebrities episode with this whole summer and how it's been, and I think the way they did it was pretty tasteful for the most part."[6] The spirit of David Carradine is shown wearing lingerie and with a noose around his neck, a reference to his June 3, 2009, death by autoerotic asphyxiation.[3] Among the others featured in the episode were actress Farrah Fawcett, journalist Walter Cronkite,[4] disc jockey Adam Goldstein (DJ AM), politician Ted Kennedy, actress Beatrice Arthur,[7] television personality Ed McMahon, actor Patrick Swayze,[5] actress Natasha Richardson, hot dog magnate Oscar G. Mayer, Jr. and actor/chef Dom DeLuise.[8]

Cultural references[edit]

"Dead Celebrities" makes frequent mention of the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain, describing the food as extremely tasty, but claiming it resulted in bloody stool. Shortly after the episode first aired, a Chipotle spokesperson said via a Twitter message that the claim was false.[9] In the episode's commentary, Trey Parker and Matt Stone admitted that they loved Chipotle, but found it funnier to use a restaurant with a healthy reputation rather than a place like McDonald's or Taco Bell.[citation needed] Ike's ability to see the spirits of dead celebrities serves as a parody of the 1999 thriller film The Sixth Sense, which stars Haley Joel Osment as a young boy who can see ghosts. Ike's line, "I see dead celebrities", is a reference to that film's most famous line, "I see dead people."[7][8] The old lady psychic with a very high-pitched voice is a reference to the character played by Zelda Rubinstein in the 1982 horror film, Poltergeist.[7] Another film reference is made to The Exorcist when the medium is flung from the window.[2][10] "Dead Celebrities" also mocks the Syfy reality television series Ghost Hunters by featuring the show's stars attempting to contact the celebrity spirits, only to be frightened and run away. Finally, the episode also parodies children's beauty pageants and the tendency of stage mothers to become unhealthily obsessed with their children winning such contests.[4]


"When I first learned of the premise of this episode, I was expecting some biting social commentary on our culture's obsession with celebrities and the hypocrisy of treating them like dirt when they're alive and practically worshiping them when they die. But the writers kept it simple, and just went for the laughs, and enough time had passed for the jokes to not seem too tasteless."

Ramsley Isler, IGN[2]

In its original American broadcast on October 7, 2009, "Dead Celebrities" was watched by 2.67 million overall households, according to Nielsen ratings. It received a 1.8 rating/3 share, and a 1.5 rating/4 share among viewers aged between 18 and 49.[11]

The episode received generally mixed reviews. Ramsley Isler of IGN called "Dead Celebrities" one of the best episodes of the season, adding the jokes at the expense of the deceased were not too tasteless. He praised the parodies of The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist and Ghost Hunters, but said some jokes, like the masturbating judges at the children's beauty contest, were offensive and unfunny.[2] Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, stars of Ghost Hunters, declared that "far from being offended or incensed [...] they loved being made fun of alongside Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.[12] Carlos Delgado of iF Magazine said "Dead Celebrities" was an especially funny episode that also featured a "crapload of story" that was well-timed for the Halloween season.[13] Josh Modell of The A.V. Club called it "a decent episode", but felt the dead celebrities were too obvious targets for South Park satire, adding, "It's easy to make the same jokes that the rest of the world already has." Modell said the Sixth Sense and Poltergeist references "fell a little flat", but he praised the Chipotle subplot, which he called "beautifully random [and] totally ridiculous".[3] Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly said the episode was in bad taste, but added, "I laughed until I choked". Tucker described the Michael Jackson impersonation as "first-rate" and felt the solution to freeing Jackson's spirit served as "a ruthless parody of child beauty pageants".[4]

Ingela Ratledge of TV Guide favorably described the episode as the exact opposite of award show segments that reverentially pay homage to the year's departed celebrities, calling it "a wonderfully tasteless farewell."[14] Sue Bergerstein, an arts and celebrity writer with, called "Dead Celebrities" a "new low" for South Park, adding "It's not only tasteless but this episode just adds to the sadness currently experienced by all the mourning relatives."[5] Newsweek writer Joshua Alston said few of the jokes in "Dead Celebrities" were funny, and so the mocking of celebrities "in the absence of laughs, felt tasteless and unnecessary".[15] Alan Sepinwall, television journalist with The Star-Ledger, said many of the episodes seemed rehashed and predictable, especially those targeting Michael Jackson and children's beauty pageants. Sepinwall added he liked the Chipotle subplot, but commented, "Overall, 'Dead Celebrities' was a misfire."[16] Mitch Norton of the SLC Cartoon Analysis found the episode to be extremely funny. "Genius is not only found in the reference to the deaths of celebrities, but creates a new way to view death as a way to live on. We can view death as the end, or a new beginning to something else."

Home release[edit]

"Dead Celebrities", along with the thirteen other episodes from South Park's thirteenth season, were released on a three-disc DVD set and two-disc Blu-ray set in the United States on March 16, 2010. The sets included brief audio commentaries by Parker and Stone for each episode,[17] a collection of deleted scenes, and a special mini-feature Inside Xbox: A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of South Park Studios, which discussed the process behind animating the show with Inside Xbox host Major Nelson.[18]

A deleted scene from this episode is included on the complete thirteenth season DVD and Blu-ray Disc sets. It shows the boys taking Michael Jackson (in Ike's body) to the Glendale location of Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries to prove he is dead. When they reach the grave, Jackson denies it and Kyle attempts to show him by taking a shovel and digging his grave. Stan at first opposes but he, with Cartman and Kenny take shovels and the scene ends with the boys digging Jackson's grave to show he is dead while Ike/Jackson dances. The reason this scene was cut was due to Jackson's grave showing his date of death as July 25, 2009, as opposed to June 25.[19]

See also[edit]

  • The Jeffersons, an episode of South Park in which Michael Jackson was parodied prior to Dead Celebrities.


  1. ^ "southpark: I See Dead Celebrities". Zazzle. 2009-10-08. Retrieved 2009-11-19.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Isler, Ramsey (October 8, 2009). "South Park: "Dead Celebrities" Review". IGN. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Modell, Josh (October 7, 2009). "South Park: Dead Celebrities". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Tucker, Ken (October 7, 2009). ""South Park" season premiere: "I see dead celebrities"". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Chivers, Tom (October 9, 2009). "South Park shows Michael Jackson and Patrick Swayze in purgatory". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  6. ^ Mays III, Billy (October 9, 2009). "MJ Morning Show: 10/9/2009". The MJ Morning Show. Tampa, Florida. WFLZ-FM.
  7. ^ a b c DiNunno, Gina (October 8, 2009). "South Park Mocks Dead Celebrities". TV Guide. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  8. ^ a b Pedersen, Erik (October 7, 2009). "South Park Sees Dead Celebrities, Then Mocks Them". E!. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  9. ^ Walters, Chris (October 9, 2009). "Chipotle Says Their Food Does Not Cause Underwear Blood". The Consumerist. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  10. ^ Hale, Mike (December 10, 2009). "Consigning Reality to Ghosts". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  11. ^ Seidman, Robert (October 8, 2009). "Wednesday October 7 cable ratings: Mythbusters, South Park, Real World / Road Rules: The Ruins and more". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on November 6, 2010. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  12. ^ Sagers, Aaron (October 29, 2009). "Syfy 'Ghost Hunters': Living Normally Within Paranormal Pop Culture". PopMatters. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  13. ^ Delgado, Carlos (October 8, 2009). "TV Review: South Park: Season 13 – "Dead Celebrities" – Fall Season Premiere". iF Magazine.
  14. ^ Ratledge, Ingela (October 19, 2009). "Watercooler: R.I.P. ...And LOL!". TV Guide. p. 64.
  15. ^ Alston, Joshua (March 24, 2010). "The 'South Park' Death Knell?". Newsweek. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  16. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (October 8, 2010). "South Park, "Dead Celebrities": Ignorance, not bliss". What's Alan Watching?. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  17. ^ Foster, Dave (December 14, 2009). "South Park Season 13 (R1/US BD) in March". DVD Times. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  18. ^ Liebman, Martin (March 5, 2010). "South Park: The Complete Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review". Retrieved March 25, 2010.
  19. ^ Stone, Matt; Parker, Trey (2010). Deleted scene from the South Park episode "Dead Celebrities" (DVD and Blu-ray Disc). Comedy Central.

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