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Marge. . .are you okay???

“What happened to Marge Simpson’s voice?”

This question lit up social media and the internet after a recent episode of The Simpsons.

Marge has always had a distinctively raspy, gravelly sound, but fans of the popular long-running TV series have noticed that lately her voice is considerably rougher – some say even sickly and worn out. It prompted many to ask if Julie Kavner, the actress who has voiced Marge (and her even raspier, chain-smoking sisters Patty and Selma) since 1987, is okay.

After 35 seasons and nearly 800 episodes, could it be that the vocal strain from doing these characters this long has caused permanent injury? We sure hope not.

This got me thinking about the topic of vocal cord damage, which for those of you who don’t know, is an actual thing in the voiceover world. It’s particularly worrisome for voice actors involved in video games, where they’re often called upon to deliver all kinds of screaming, grunting, projecting and other exertions, often sustained over long periods, and multiple takes. The big fear: they risk blowing out their voice and possibly doing long-term physical harm. (Yes, it has happened.)

If you study the business side of voice acting, you’ll learn that this issue has come up whenever there have been strikes or negotiations between the SAG-AFTRA union and video game companies. The more established pro voice actors specializing in video games will tell you they aren’t shy about negotiating upfront with clients about how and when to perform those physically taxing tasks, and when to stop due to vocal fatigue.

There are all kinds of coaches who advise actors and performers as if they’re athletes – and they strongly urge that those who rely on their voices think of themselves that way. That means doing all the things serious athletes do:  daily warm-up and cool-down exercises, proper nutrition, and plenty of sleep and hydration. All this, plus training in optimal, safe ways to perform all those screams and vocalizations, helps prevent strain and injury.

Or does it? Honestly, I don’t know, because this is not an area of voiceover that I do. And I certainly don’t know how this applies to those who have done this for ten, twenty, thirty years straight.

Where does that leave our beloved actor Julie, or others who have spent decades bringing us our favorite characters? I’ll grant you, there aren’t very many people out there who have been performing an iconic but vocally challenging character for such a long time.  That doesn’t stop me from being concerned for their well-being.

Some are saying The Simpsons are getting a bit long in the tooth, the cast is aging out and it may be time to mercifully close out the series entirely. As someone who still vividly recalls Episode #1 way back in 1989, it’d be sad to see. Yet all good things must eventually come to an end.

I seriously hate to even say this, but perhaps the time has come to retire Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and the entire yellow-faced population of Springfield, with gratitude and respect for the actors and the years of entertainment they have given us.