Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, titled "Dairy Queen," is the last that will feature Harry Shearer as the voice of Dr. Julius Hibbert

By Gabrielle Chung
February 22, 2021 06:22 PM
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(From left to right) Harry Shearer, Dr. Julius Hibbert, Kevin Michael Richardson
| Credit: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty; Fox; JC Olivera/WireImage

The Simpsons is recasting one of its iconic roles after last year's decision to no longer have white actors voice characters of color.

Harry Shearer has been replaced by Kevin Michael Richardson as the voice of Dr. Julius Hibbert after more than 30 years since the character's debut on the Fox animated series, PEOPLE can confirm.

Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, titled "Dairy Queen," is the last that will feature Shearer, 77, as the voice of Springfield's trusted physician. The comedian will carry on providing voices for his other roles, including Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner.

Richardson, who's already made appearances on more than 70 episodes of The Simpsons, will take over as Dr. Hibbert starting with the Feb. 28 episode "Wad Goals" and will continue to voice the character moving forward.

Dr. Julius Hibbert
| Credit: 20th Century Fox/Everett

In June, The Simpsons pledged to diversify its cast, with a spokesperson for Fox saying in a statement to PEOPLE, "Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white actors."

The announcement came months after longtime voice actor Hank Azaria announced that he would be stepping down from his role as Apu Nahasapeemapetilon —  who has become a controversial character on the animated franchise — after many argued that the character exploited stereotypes and should not have been voiced by a white actor.

In an interview with The New York Times, Azaria said his decision was made after a years-long process of examining his own feelings and listening to the opinions of people who said they had been offended by Apu.

"Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn't want to participate in it anymore," Azaria, 55, told the outlet. "It just didn't feel right."

Apu from The Simpsons
| Credit: Fox

Controversy has surrounded the character since the release of a 2017 documentary called The Problem with Apu, in which writer Hari Kondabolu argued Apu perpetuates racial stereotypes through mannerisms and an exaggerated accent. Apu has been a character on the Fox television series since 1990.

While the new voice of Apu has yet to be determined, The Simpsons recast the role of Carl Carlson, a Black character originally voiced by Azaria, for the show's 32nd season.

Kumiko Albertson, a Japanese character, was also recast last year with Jenny Yokobori replacing Tress MacNeille on voicing duties.