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The Odd Real-Life Inspiration Behind Kenny On South Park

The long-running comedy "South Park" became a controversial and downright iconic part of the television landscape in the 1990s and early 2000s thanks to the animated series' gleeful willingness to break taboos about what could be shown on primetime. Episodes were given explicit, often unpublishable titles, and featured child character — like the bigoted Eric Cartman — cursing and exchanging vicious insults, all while getting wrapped up in hilarious, violent misadventures. Influenced by "Monty Python," the show's creators placed the Colorado town of South Park in a universe that's similar to ours but where anything can happen, including Jesus being the host of a talk show (via NPR). 

Crucial to the show's absurd humor is the recurring tragic fate of Kenny, who is best friends with fellow eight-year-old South Park kids Cartman, Stan, and Kyle. A running joke throughout the series is that Kenny dies, often horrifically, at some point in an episode. There have been variations on the gag, but usually Stan then screams "Oh my god, they killed Kenny!"

While Kenny's endless deaths are obviously a joke, Kenny's character is actually based on a real-life person, as the creators disclosed back in 2000.

There was a real Kenny who Trey Parker was friends with

In a Paley Fest interview from the turn of the millennium, "South Park" co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone disclosed that Kenny is based on a boy Parker knew when he was growing up in Colorado.

Parker commented, "There was actually a friend of mine whose name was Kenny. Seriously, we should have changed names more than we did." Like the fictionalized Kenny, he wore a big orange coat that muffled whatever he was saying. The actual Kenny's similar poverty also inspired the animated character's cruel fate: "He was the poorest kid in the neighborhood and he would always sort of like disappear, like 'what happened to Kenny, is he dead?'" He'd always pop back up a few days later too, just like the cartoon version.

Parker and Stone eventually tired of the running gag, so they killed him for good in the Season 5 episode "Kenny Dies," and filled his absence in the main cast with characters like Butters and Tweek. Although Matt Stone later told the Knoxville News-Sentinel (via Lad Bible) that it was "that easy of a decision" to kill Kenny permanently because he was "so sick of that character," Season 6's finale saw Kenny get resurrected once again. Subsequent episodes like Season 14's "Mysterion Rises" would later explore why Kenny continues to die and return to life. He doesn't expire every episode, but Kenny's mortality is, to this day, one of the most-known recurring jokes in television history