The Behind-The-Scenes Drama On South Park That Had Chef Written Off The Show

Over two decades, "South Park" has gone from Comedy Central's rebellious oddball child to a staple of American pop culture. The show's combination of satirical commentary and gross-out humor proved to be a winning one, and it has gone on to become the longest-running scripted show on cable television, renewed through Season 30 in a staggering $900 million deal as of this year (via USA Today).

Now that the show, much like Eminem or many other things that ruffled feathers during the early 2000s, no longer holds the kind of cultural weight it once did, it's easy to forget the circus of controversy which once surrounded the cartoon. Nothing seemed off-limits, no subject too sacred for creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to lampoon, and "South Park" inspired protests from multiple groups who felt the show crossed a line.

It was only a matter of time before the conflict became internal, as happened with voice actor Isaac Hayes II, who played the role of Chef. As his name implies, Chef was the cook at the elementary school where much of "South Park" is set. He was beloved by fans for being the lone voice of reason in a show teeming with bizarro characters but ultimately left with bad blood between himself and showrunners Parker and Stone.

Hayes' decision to leave the show happened much differently than you may think, so here's what we now know about the behind-the-scenes drama.

Voice actor Isaac Hayes appeared to split with South Park over Scientology

It all began in 2005, when "South Park" aired an episode entitled "Trapped in the Closet." The Season 9 episode skewered the religion of Scientology and its most prominent adherent, Tom Cruise. The episode wades boldly into controversial waters and not always in good taste. Still, insofar as the episode depicted religion, that depiction was par for the course on a show that belittled Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity many times prior. Voice actor Isaac Hayes II, himself a member of the church of Scientology, was at first publicly in support of the story but abruptly turned tack, disavowing the episode and announcing his intention to quit acting on the series. "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," read an open letter signed by Hayes. For their part, "South Park" showrunners called Hayes exit hypocritical, with Matt stone saying, "He's cashed plenty of checks with our show making fun of Christians."

With bridges burned and Hayes's contract released, that would seem to be the end of the story. Hayes died in 2008, but a much more sinister truth came to light years after his death.

Hayes may not have quit "South Park" of his own free will

In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Isaac Hayes III, the voice actor's son, accused the Church of Scientology of having forged his father's letter of resignation while a stroke incapacitated the actor. "Isaac Hayes did not quit 'South Park;' someone quit 'South Park' for him," said the younger Hayes, explaining that his father had suffered a stroke, losing even the ability to speak. "He was in no position to resign under his own knowledge. At the time, everybody around my father was involved in Scientology — his assistants, the core group of people. So someone quit South Park on Isaac Hayes' behalf. We don't know who."

Matt Stone claims that Hayes III's account is correct. "We sort of figured out the whole picture a bit later, but that's totally what happened." His writing partner, Trey Parker, affirmed the allegations as well, saying, "We knew in our hearts there was something way more rotten going on."

Before these new claims came to light at the time of his departure, Parker and Stone gave Chef a humiliating and gruesome death in the "South Park" Season 10 premiere. Even by "South Park" standards, the carnage was shockingly gratuitous. Chef is ripped apart by a bear and a mountain lion and dies while his bowels evacuate — leading many to speculate that the scene was Parker and Stone's way of expressing their ire toward Hayes. It wouldn't be the last time they'd use the show to respond to critics.