Recording artist Isaac Hayes earned an Oscar for his theme song to the 1971 hit action film Shaft, but for an entire generation of television viewers he’ll be remembered primarily as the voice of Chef on Comedy Central’s irreverent animated comedy South Park. Hayes was found dead in his Memphis, Tenn. home on Sunday. The cause of death has not yet been released.
Hayes was an original member of the South Park cast, tickling funny bones each week as the singing school cook and smooth ladies man who often dispensed questionable advice to youngsters Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Cartman. He stayed with the show until late 2005. His highly publicized departure came when series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker produced an episode poking fun at Scientology. A Scientologist himself, Hayes felt the toon duo had gone too far and tendered his resignation. Stone and Parker quickly went into production on an episode were Chef becomes brainwashed by a bizarre cult and ultimately dies.
Before creating an animated icon, Hayes helped shape the face of black American music in the 1960s and ’70s as a songwriter and performer for the now legendary Stax Records. During his tenure with the label, he wrote such hits as Soul Man and Hold On, I’m Comin’. He late signed with ABC Records, through which he launched his Hot Buttered Soul label.
Later in his career, Hayes stepped out of the recording studio and in front of the camera with roles on TV’s The Rockford Files, Miami Vice, Hunter and The A-Team, to name a few. He also appeared in such films as Escape From New York, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Johnny Mnemonic, Reindeer Games, and, more recently, the critically acclaimed Terrance Howard vehicle Hustle & Flow.
Hayes was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Married four times, he leaves behind 12 children.