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The Most Tragic Way Kenny Has Ever Died On South Park

The iconic, long-running Comedy Central animated series South Park has seen its foul-mouthed young protagonists get into more bizarre situations over the years than it even seems possible to count. Kyle Broflovski, Stan Marsh, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick always seem to find themselves smack in the middle of whatever topically relevant circumstance is currently threatening to upend daily life in their "quiet mountain town," which is apparently the epicenter of all weirdness in the universe. 

The show is and has always been wildly unpredictable, but there's one thing viewers have been able to predict with a reasonable degree of certainty during South Park's two-decade-plus run: at any given moment, Kenny just might bite the dust. The character's tendency to get himself killed over and over again was established early on, and up until season six, he died in nearly every episode, always returning unscathed in the next (with his friends seemingly having no memory of his demise). Just as predictably, his death was almost always followed by Stan exclaiming, "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" and Kyle following up with "You bastards!" or some variation thereof.

The series' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have said that they simply got tired of coming up with new ways for Kenny to die, and the gag has been deployed only sparingly in recent years. But repeatedly suffering gruesome deaths is still the trait most commonly associated with Kenny, a fact which got us thinking: what is the most tragic way Kenny has ever met his end on South Park?

Well, since the poor kid has literally died dozens and dozens of times on the series, there are going to be a few pretty strong candidates. Of course, many of these are bound to be just as hilarious as they are tragic, which is totally by design; it often seems that the more violent and shocking Kenny's end, the more nonchalantly it's received by his friends and other characters. 

The reason that's been offered up for Kenny's... er... condition carries a strong tragic element in itself. In the season 14 episode "Mysterion Rises," Kenny takes on the titular superheroic identity (inadvertently stealing the thunder of Cartman, who is attempting and failing to carve out a niche for himself as South Park's heroic protector "The Coon"). In a voiceover — one of the only times we actually hear Kenny's voice, although he's speaking in a gravelly tone much like Christian Bale in the Dark Knight series — Kenny explains that his repeated death and resurrection is an actual superpower, one that he regards as a curse. 

In the following episode "Coon vs. Coon and Friends," Kenny even kills himself in front of his friends repeatedly, in an attempt to get them to remember his "power," but no dice: every time he returns, his buddies simply carry on as if it had never happened.

It's just kind of a tragic existence for the boy — but the worst of Kenny's deaths are the ones which add a healthy dose of insult to injury, and of course, these tend to occur fairly often. Take, for example, the season 13 episode "The Ring," in which Kenny finally gets a girlfriend, Tammy. She's pretty, fun, and likes Kenny a lot — but Butters attempts to burst his friend's bubble by announcing that Tammy is a slut, because she... how do we put this delicately... performed a sexual act, which can be identified with two letters, on another boy in a T.G.I. Friday's parking lot.

Kenny, of course, reacts to this news with overwhelming glee. But he's sternly warned by Cartman that a woman's mouth is the most disgusting, filthy place on Earth, a warning which Kenny flatly ignores. After Tammy tells her new boyfriend that she only agreed to the act because she had gotten so hot and bothered watching the Jonas Brothers on television, Kenny promptly buys tickets to an upcoming concert by the band. 

His plans go awry when Tammy becomes obsessed with purity rings (which the Jonas Brothers are promoting at the behest of an evil, profanity-spewing Mickey Mouse), and she insists that she and Kenny keep their relationship chaste. But after devolving into the fourth-grade equivalent of an old married couple, the pair finally resolve to do away with their rings, and Tammy offers to take Kenny out for a wild time at T.G.I. Friday's, to which he ecstatically agrees.

Smash cut to Kenny's funeral, where the priest is delivering his eulogy: "And so, as we commit this young child to the earth, let us all be reminded that syphilis is still a deadly disease, and it can be caught even if using protection," he says. Cartman remarks, "I told him. A woman's mouth is the most germ-ridden place on earth, I said." Yes, there are dual tragedies here: first, that Kenny passed away from such an awful disease so soon after his first, youthful sexual experience. Second, Cartman was right.

Speaking of Cartman, consider the events of the season 9 episode "Best Friends Forever," in which the insults just keep piling up for poor Kenny. Despite famously being the poorest kid in town, he improbably becomes the first to acquire a PlayStation Portable (PSP), and spends hours playing a strategy game called Heaven vs. Hell. He becomes absurdly good at the game, and is just about to reach the vaunted 60th level when he is struck and killed by an ice cream truck.

It turns out that Heaven vs. Hell was created by God as a means to find the one capable of leading Heaven's armies against the forces of Satan, and that Kenny is "basically... Keanu Reeves" (a reference to the actor's role as Neo in the Matrix movies). But back on Earth, the reading of Kenny's will (which leaves the PSP to Cartman, purely out of pity) is interrupted by the revelation that doctors have managed to bring the boy back to life — although he is in a persistent vegetative state, and cannot move, speak, or communicate at all.

This development screws up two separate plans: God's (to use Kenny to defeat Satan's armies) and Cartman's (to get that freakin' PSP). Cartman, claiming to be Kenny's "BFF," becomes the center of a debate over whether or not to remove Kenny's feeding tube and allow him to die with dignity, a debate which spills over onto the national stage. (Prepare for a shock: Cartman is in favor of letting Kenny die).

The debate rages on, complicated by the fact that the final page of Kenny's will is missing — a page which contains Kenny's wishes if he should ever be incapacitated. So riveted is the nation by the situation that up-to-the-minute developments are broadcast live from Kenny's hospital room, and it's during such a broadcast that Kenny's lawyer announces that the missing page of the will has been found. It completes Kenny's instructions as to his current plight: "If I should ever be in a vegetative state and kept alive on life support, please, for the love of God, don't ever show me in that condition on national television."

Wow. That's pretty awful, but the final insult is delivered when Kenny is finally allowed to die, and he assists the angels of Heaven in turning back Satan's minions. (The battle isn't seen, but it's described in detail as it's happening by the archangel Michael, who proclaims it to be "even bigger than the final battle in the Lord of the Rings movie! It's like, it's like ten times bigger than that battle!") For his prolonged suffering, national humiliation, and crucial role in saving Heaven from being sacked and plundered, Kenny is given the ultimate prize: a ten-foot statue of Keanu Reeves.

Yes, even when Kenny is forced into crucial roles in otherworldly plots in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance, he's rarely rewarded appropriately — and the one time he was, it was Satan himself doing the rewarding. Kenny's death in the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was about as tragic (and hilarious) as it gets, but at the movie's shockingly heartstring-tugging conclusion, we got to see two things we'd never seen before: Kenny finally achieving a measure of peace and happiness, and the boy's face.

At the beginning of the movie, Kenny attempts to prove to Cartman that it's possible to light a fart (a stunt which they had just seen performed in the Terrance and Phillip movie, Asses of Fire). It works, of course, and Kenny lights himself on fire; he's temporarily saved by a runaway salt truck, which dumps its load all over him and extinguishes the blaze.

Kenny is rushed to the hospital, where the doctor (voiced by George Clooney) is able to save him. Unfortunately, one of the orderlies skipped lunch that day, and in all the confusion, Kenny's heart was replaced with the baked potato he'd been saving for a snack. The doctor gently informed Kenny that he had three seconds to live, but the poor boy didn't make it quite that long.

Kenny was sent to Hell, where he improbably befriended Satan, who was in an abusive romantic relationship with Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, back on Earth, military tensions were escalating between the U.S. and Canada over Terrance and Phillip (who are Canadian; you can tell by their beady eyes and flapping heads). As war loomed, Hussein planned to use the conflict to "[bring] enough intolerance to the world" to allow him and Satan to escape Hell and take over the Earth — a plan which almost worked.

Satan and Hussein managed to unleash Hell's minions on the world, but they were held in check by Cartman, whose malfunctioning "V-Chip" had the effect of weaponizing his swearing. As Cartman prepared to finish off Hussein, the abusive scoundrel made one last vulgar, disrespectful entreaty to Satan to help him — which proved to be the last straw.

Satan cast Hussein back into Hell, and he credited Kenny with helping him regain his self-esteem. He then offered Kenny one wish, anything the boy wanted — and Kenny wished for everything to go back to the way it was before the war, knowing full well that it would mean that he would have to return to Hell. 

Kenny then removed his ever-present hood, revealing an ordinary, blond-haired mug, and uttered the clearest words we had ever heard him say up to that point: "Goodbye, you guys." (The vocal performance for this one line was provided by Beavis and Butt-Head and Office Space creator Mike Judge.) He then vanished, and as everyone participated in a celebratory, movie-ending musical number, his spirit was seen streaking across the sky — and, having earned his wings and halo with his selfless action, he was admitted to Heaven.

Of course, we know that didn't take, because none of Kenny's deaths are permanent, and his heroic sacrifice was never mentioned again. One of those deaths, though, was at least meant to be permanent — and it was a tragic, heartbreaking end indeed.

In the penultimate episode of South Park's fifth season, "Kenny Dies," the boy is diagnosed with a terminal disease, and can only wait for the end in the hospital. This, despite the fact that he likely could have been saved by Stem Cell Therapy, which had recently been made illegal.

Cartman embarks on a campaign to legalize Stem Cell research — ostensibly to save Kenny, but in reality due to the fact that he had recently come upon a giant trove of aborted fetuses, and was seeing untold dollar signs. Kyle holds vigil in Kenny's room, while Stan is too upset over his friend's condition to visit.

Stan is able to come to terms with the situation after a conversation with Chef, while Cartman manages to convince legislators to give Stem Cell research another chance (with a spirited rendition of the '80s pop tune "Heat of the Moment"). Tragically, though, they're both too late: Stan arrives at Kenny's hospital room only to find it empty, and Kyle informs him that their buddy had simply stopped breathing. His last words: "Where's Stan?"

Yes, sometimes Parker and Stone can just punch you in the gut like that. But after being referred to only occasionally for the entirety of season six, Kenny returned in that season's final episode "Red Sleigh Down," and since that return, South Park's creators have only seen fit to off him a relative handful of times. Still, though, it's a gag that the pair just can't seem to bring themselves to permanently shelve... those bastards.