Sixteen years ago today, four precocious kids named Stan, Kyle, Eric and Kenny entered our living (and dorm) rooms with foul-mouthed authority, as South Park debuted on Comedy Central. It’s so hard to believe that a couple that may have given birth to a baby boy as Cartman screamed, “BEEFCAKE!” is now watching that kid learn how to drive, but then that’s how life works. Time passes, we grow up and several years later, we put together listicles to remind us of the past because today’s reality blows.
As for South Park, it’s simply remarkable to think that what started as a funny little animated short between Trey Parker and Matt Stone has grown into a Comedy Central cornerstone and a cartoon empire. Of course, like any TV series, South Park has had its highs and lows, as not every episode was a home run, nor was every joke the kind that made us double over in pain with laughter. But for a lot of us, South Park has been every bit as important to pop culture and, more importantly, our own comedy influences and senses of humor as The Simpsons and other animated shows, so to see it doing so well after all these years is a great feeling. No matter how old it makes us feel.
That’s why I wanted to take a moment or 17 to celebrate one of South Park’s original recurring jokes, Kenny’s ridiculous deaths, that evolved over the years from a hilarious expectation to an eye-rolling “all right already” and eventually to a whole new level of absurdity and creativity as the show not only created Imaginationland, but also invited us to take up residence while Cartman and Co. kept the adventures fresh and borderline insane.
Blasted by an alien space ship, trampled by a herd of cattle, then run over by Officer Barbrady's police cruiser. (Kenny was still alive after being shot and trampled, it was Barbrady who delivered the fatal blow.)
It was the first of approximately 83 deaths for Kenny (maybe add a few for the episodes where he had multiple deaths and the original shorts and other various sketches that didn’t air in episodes). Each one was more ridiculous or bizarre than the last, but it all began on August 13, 1997 with Officer Barbrady’s backwoods stupidity.
Arms ripped off by two Middle Park Cowboy players before a third tackles him, decapitating him in the process. The "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" line is said by Kyle in this episode.
Decapitation, limbs being torn from a child’s lifeless body – this was par for the course for the first season. We watched this and laughed along, all while wondering how Kenny would meet his demise next. Soon, “They killed Kenny!” joined “I didn’t do it” in the primetime animated series Hall of Fame.
Cut in half with a chainsaw by Kyle to end the zombie curse. The "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" line is said by Kyle, though "they" is changed to "I", reflecting the fact that it is he who kills Kenny this time. Kyle says to himself "You bastard!" when he should've said "I'm a bastard!". This is the same episode where Stan says the line as usual (when the Mir space station crashes upon him earlier in the episode) making this the only time both Stan and Kyle have said the line in the same episode. Sometimes the line is cut.
It was the first time that Kenny was killed two times in one episode, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But for it still being only the first season, it was hard to believe that they could have topped cutting Kenny in half with a chainsaw.
While Mecha-Streisand is wrecking the town, Kenny dodges several things that would be the perfect cause for his death. Instead, it comes when he finds himself in a playground and begins to play tetherball with himself. He is tied to the pole and asphyxiated.
It was one of the first times that an awareness was shown for the joke, at least by Kenny, as instead of his death being a centerpiece of the episode, it was simply a side joke. Sure enough, it was still hilarious, even if it didn’t matter to the plot.
Killed by an overpowered dodgeball throw from a Chinese opponent. Kyle, in pain, weakly says the "You bastards" line.
This wasn’t a remarkable death by any means, but the episode’s callback to the careless, racist football announcer from “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” was revived as a careless, racist Chinese dodgeball announcer, who hilariously mocked Americans. In both episodes, barely anyone even noticed Kenny’s deaths.
Ozzy Osbourne bites his head off. The regular post-death line is changed to "Oh my God, Ozzy Osbourne bit Kenny's head off!". However, he is spontaneously revived moments later and can be seen standing next to Stan and Kyle in the crowd. Whether this is his immortality coming into effect sooner than usual or just a continuity error is open to debate. This is a reference to two incidents where Ozzy bit the heads off of live animals. One was a dove at a contract signing, and the other was he bit the head off a bat in concert.
This might have been my favorite of Kenny’s deaths, at least for the first five seasons. Of course, any throwback to when Ozzy Osbourne was rock n’ roll’s badass and not Sharon’s goofy husband makes me happy.
Sacrifices himself to open the conch shell that Moses is trapped in, saving the Jews. The usual post-death lines are not said, partially due to Stan being absent in this episode.
This episode really set the standard for just how ridiculous South Park was going to get with not only Judaism, but all religions in general. And this was tame compared to the later episodes about Mormons and Scientology, among others. It was also one of the first times that Kenny actually gave his own life to save others. I don’t know that this was a point that made Parker and Stone say, “Hey let’s make him immortal,” but it was brewing by then.
Crushed by an ambulance after Stewart is loaded therein.
Earlier in the episode, he is also killed in a dream by his newborn alien-like brother. His father says "Oh my God, it killed Kenny!" and his mother shouts "Bad baby."
His parents have another child, which is born dressed in an orange hoody, just before the credits and name him Kenny (in honor of his 'dead' brother); his father comments that this must be the 50th time this has happened and his mother specifies that it's the 52nd because this is the 52nd time Kenny has died.
Another episode that involved multiple deaths, it was also the first time that we witnessed Kenny’s “re-birth.” Again, I’m not sure if that was something that Parker and Stone were toying with by that point, but it’s interesting to see how it connects to the Mysterion plot in the last several seasons.
Laughs himself to death after seeing Cartman's "I'm a little piggy" video. His spirit is then seen coming out of his body, still laughing (similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit). (When the episode is first aired, his spirit was not shown.)
Another meaningless death, sure, but it was sparked by Cartman’s first transformation into one of the most evil and diabolical characters in television history. To recap, the older kid, Scott Tenorman, scammed him with pubes for cash, so he tricked Mr. Denkins into shooting Scott’s parents and then chopped them up into pieces and cooked them into chili that he eventually fed to Scott. All over $10. Kenny may have laughed himself to death, but Cartman was truly born in this episode.
Explosion kills Kenny and his Afghan counterpart. Stan and Kyle's Afghan counterparts say “Ya Allah! Koshtaen Keyvano! Tol dayoos!”, which translates to “Oh God, they killed Keyvan! You bastards!” in Persian . Kenny is also seen talking with Kyle, Stan, and the Afghanies in the background, although his alter ego is not.
Kenny’s death was funny paired with Keyvan, but Cartman’s Bugs Bunny routine with Bin Laden in this episode is definitely one of the show’s most absurd and hilarious topical bits. And that says a lot, because this show routinely showed how tapped into the news and pop culture it was with quick turnarounds on huge subjects.
Rob Schneider eats a roast beef joint containing Kenny's recently-exorcised soul (Kenny possesses Cartman's body for a few episodes this season) and dies when Rob Schneider gets impaled by a flagpole in a movie trailer (in reference to one of Kenny's deaths in "Weight Gain 4000").
This isn’t necessarily Kenny’s death – as he’d been given a little vacation in the afterlife once this recurring death bit had sort of run its course – but watching Rob Schneider be impaled on a flag pole while mocking his terrible movies? Magnificent.
He is hit by an ice cream van and brought to Heaven but is resuscitated and kept alive on a feeding tube (à la Terri Schiavo), which is removed and he finally dies. It's worthy to note that this is one of the very few times (including the movie) that Kenny continues to appear on-screen and play a significant part even after he is killed.
One of the perfect examples of just how in touch South Park was with the hot button issues, from politics to personal rights, and for once Kenny’s death was taken to a new level and given actual significance, as it both made us laugh (a lot) and especially made us think. Well, at least some of us. It was also the last time that Kenny would die for almost two seasons.
Shot in the head in his house by a stray bullet fired by Bebe Stevens. No lines are said for his death, though two pop tarts pop out of the toaster seconds after. This is the second time Bebe has killed Kenny (the first being in "Proper Condom Use").
Kenny spent the entire 10th and 11th seasons free of pain and brutal slaughter, which allowed for new adventures, stories and especially jokes. So when Bebe’s stray bullet blasted through Kenny’s kitchen window and struck him in the head, it made the final episode of the 11th season all the more pants-wettingly hilarious.
Dies from syphilis after receiving a blowjob from his girlfriend Tammy Warner. The line, "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" "You bastards!" were not used.
This takedown of the Disney empire with the Jonas Brothers at the center was phenomenal, with Kenny’s death from syphilis serving as the punchline to one of the show’s most absurd plots, and that’s not just misguided hyperbole. This was the first episode of the 13th season and the death was once again a pleasant surprise, as Kenny didn’t die at all in the 12th season, despite making it seem like he would several times.
Dies as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation, after choking himself with a belt while dressed as Batman upon the suggestion of a Center for Disease Control agent testing for sex addiction.
Butters was the star of this episode that was a takedown of the celebrity scapegoat of sex addiction, as he was both fascinated and terrified after seeing some good, old 70s porn bush. But Kenny’s death was a tasteless mocking of David Carradine’s apparent accidental death from autoerotic asphyxiation in a Bangkok hotel, but it wasn’t any worse than the stories of "self-bondage," sexual deviance and conspiracies of ninja murder.
Just as the school children praise Kenny for his accomplishments (and Cartman sings with glee about how he is no longer the poorest kid in the school), a gigantic "reptilian" bird breaks through the ceiling and tosses Kenny around with its' mouth, right before he eats him whole, and flies away. The normal lines are not used; Stan simply replies, "What the fuck?"
Maybe my favorite of all of Kenny’s deaths to date, the giant bird eating him after he played such a sweet and inspirational role was so amazingly stupid and ridiculous that it basically summed the entire series up in one quick snack.
Sixteen years later, I still love this show so much. Even after the video you’re about to watch…
I honestly forgot this existed until today. Consider this a bonus.
Set to, what else? "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor." Naturally.