The Simpsons has been on the air for nearly 25 years. If it followed a normal timeline, Homer would be retired, Bart would be pushing 40, and Santa's Little Helper would be around 175 in dog years.
The Simpsons' incredible longevity has been possible, in large part, because it's an animated sitcom, which allows the show's writers to keep Springfield and its inhabitants in a kind of permanent stasis. We get older, they stay the same age.
That lack of forward momentum is the reason that executive producer Al Jean made such a big splash on a recent conference call when he revealed that The Simpsons will be killing off a regular character in an upcoming episode. Though The Simpsons has occasionally featured the deaths of recurring characters — including Lisa's mentor "Bleeding Gums" Murphy and Ned Flanders' wife, Maude — the potential loss of a major character is enough to make even the fans who abandoned the show years ago sit up and take notice.
When pressed, Jean refused to reveal which character it would be, but said that "the actor playing the character won an Emmy for playing that character" — a revelation that narrows the field down to about two dozen possibilities.
In a later interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jean said that he and the writers "are doing this story for the same reason [they] do all others — [they] think it has a good emotional through line." With that in mind, it's probably safe to eliminate some of the minor characters that the show's voice actors have technically won an Emmy for playing (a list that includes Comic Book Guy, Bumblebee Man, and Itchy the Mouse from the show-within-a-show Itchy & Scratchy). Anne Hathaway's Emmy-winning guest vocal performance as "Princess Penelope" doesn't count as a "regular character," so she's out too. And let's go ahead and eliminate characters that would be too dramatic a loss: There's no chance that The Simpsons will kill off Homer, Marge, Bart, or Lisa.
That leaves a few intriguing possibilities. Homer's dad, Abe Simpson; Bart's teacher, Edna Krabappel; Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu Nahasapeemapetilon; Police Chief Wiggum; and many of Homer's friends and co-workers, including Lou, Carl, Barney, and Moe.
Several years ago, Maude Flanders' death came out of nowhere, but that was due to a contract dispute with voice actress Maggie Roswell (who has since reprised the role in several flashbacks). But it would be unlike The Simpsons to kill off a major character while that voice actor is still around — so I'm betting that it won't be any of the above possibilities, and instead a recurring guest character, like the similar death of the James Earl Jones-voiced "Bleeding Gums" Murphy.
That leaves two possibilities: Bart's nemesis, Sideshow Bob (voiced by 2006 Emmy winner Kelsey Grammar), and Krusty the Clown's once-estranged father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski (voiced by 1992 Emmy winner Jackie Mason). Both characters fit all the clues Jean has given, with repeated appearances over the show's 25-season run.
But Sideshow Bob happens to be at the center of The Simpsons ride at Universal Studios, which replaced the park's long-running Back to the Future ride in 2007. The theme park is investing in The Simpsons brand in a big way, with relatively new attractions like Moe's Tavern and Lard Lad Donuts popping up over the past year. I can't imagine that Universal would be happy if the TV show killed off the villain at the center of one of its newest attractions. That means there's one last name on the list: Rabbi Hyman Krustofski.
Krusty the Clown's dad has been at the center of a number of poignant episodes, from his first appearance (in which he finally reunited with his son) to his appearance at Krusty's adult bar mitzvah. He's a likable and recognizable character, but not so essential to the story that his death will shake up the show's ironclad status quo. And he's old enough that his death can be natural, instead of a jarring accident (like Maude Flanders' unfortunate death by T-shirt cannon).
So say your goodbyes now, Simpsons fans — if we're reading the clues right, Rabbi Krustofski isn't long for this world.