After nine seasons, more than 100 episodes and thousands of hot lunches served, Chef is apparently hanging up his apron and leaving the tiny town of South Park, Colorado.
Or at least the man who cooks up Chef's voice is. On Monday (March 13) Isaac Hayes -- who's provided the booming baritone for "South Park" 's cafeteria employee and resident ladies' man since the show began in 1997 -- released a statement announcing his desire to be released from his contract with "South Park," blaming the program's "growing insensitivity towards personal spiritual beliefs."
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," Hayes wrote in the statement. "Religious beliefs are sacred to people and at all times should be respected and honored. As a civil-rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."
"South Park" has taken potshots at just about every religion (episodes include such titles as "Christian Rock Hard" and "All About the Mormons?"), but the breaking point for Hayes was apparently "Trapped in the Closet," a November 2005 episode that makes several scathing attacks on Scientology, the religion he practices.
A spokesperson for Hayes confirmed to MTV News that the soul legend is a Scientologist but would not elaborate on whether or not the "Trapped in the Closet" episode had any impact on his decision to leave. However, according to one of the show's creators, that's exactly what happened.
"This has nothing to do with intolerance and bigotry and everything to do with the fact that Isaac Hayes is a Scientologist and that we recently featured Scientology in an episode of 'South Park,' " Matt Stone said. "In 10 years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons and Jews. He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show. To bring the civil-rights struggle into this is just a non sequitur. Of course we will release Isaac from his contract and we wish him well."
In a GQ interview earlier this year, Stone's partner, Trey Parker, said, "To be honest, what kept us from [parodying Scientology] before was Isaac Hayes. We knew he is a Scientologist and he's an awesome guy. We were like, 'Let's just avoid that for now.' ... Finally, we just had to tell Isaac, 'Dude, we totally love working with you and this is nothing personal, it's just we're "South Park," and if we don't do this, we're belittling everything else we've ripped on.' "
The "Trapped" episode is slated to air again at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central. The 10th season of "South Park" begins March 22.