TV Legends Revealed: Which 'Simpsons' Episode Actually Saved Lives?

TV URBAN LEGEND: An episode of “The Simpsons” helped two boys each save someone's life.

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of just how much influence popular films and television shows have. Whether it’s teens killing themselves trying to emulate a scene in “The Program" or the public causing a toilet paper shortage because of an errant comment by Johnny Carson, people can be influenced to a surprising degree by popular culture. Heck, for years, "Ameche" was actually a slang term for the telephone, simply because Don Ameche played Alexander Graham Bell in a popular movie!

Luckily, though, the pervasive influence of pop culture can be a good thing. In fact, sometimes it can even save lives, which was the case with one episode of the long-running animated TV series "The Simpsons."

Titled “Homer at the Bat,” the 17th episode of "The Simpsons"' third season debuted in February 1992. The plot involves Mr. Burns hiring a number of famous Major League Baseball players ringers for the Springfield nuclear power plant's softball team. It was the first time "The Simpsons" used multiple famous people guest stars in a single episode (it inspired the classic episode in which a bunch of celebrities, including one talk show host who'd only appear if “The Simpsons” didn’t make fun of him, participate in a tribute to help Krusty the Clown). "Homer at the Bat" is one of the most important episodes in the history of "The Simpsons." Longtime writer and producer Al Jean named it as one of the show's five most essential episodes.

However, the episode has another legacy unrelated to the history of the show itself. You see, the opening depicts Homer choking on a doughnut. As his co-workers try to figure out what to do when someone is choking, Lenny looks past the big sign that demonstrates how to perform the Heimlich maneuver to see a softball sign-up sheet.

Although it was a gag, the episode did depict the correct way to perform the Heimlich maneuver, and placed it within a context so viewers could understand that was what you’re supposed to do if someone is choking. A few months later, that’s exactly what happened with two young boys in Auburn, Washington.

From the Associated Press:

A woman credits an episode of “The Simpsons” with helping to save her 8-year-old son's life. Karen Bencze said her 10-year-old son used the Heimlich maneuver on his choking brother. He learned the lifesaving maneuver by watching the show. Chris and Alex Bencze were home alone when Alex began choking on an orange. Chris stood behind his brother and squeezed his chest until the fruit popped out.

Reruns of "The Simpsons" have aired consistently since the show’s debut, and as a result, the influence of the episode carried on even decades later.

In 2007, while in the cafeteria at a school in England, Alex Hardy began to choke on a sandwich. The nearby adults around didn’t know what to do, but luckily Alex’s best friend Aiden was a “Simpsons” fan. The Guardian related in 2009:

Alex was 10 when he was rescued by best friend Aiden Bateman after he choked on a sandwich.

He was struggling for breath and had turned purple as dinner ladies patted him on the back in a vain bid to dislodge the offending sandwich.

But his friend then performed the Heimlich Manoeuvre he had seen the technique performed on The Simpson's third season episode "Homer at the Bat".

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock later talked with the boys about their story for the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons”:

Those are only the reported versions of this story! I bet there are other examples that we don't know about simply because they didn't make the news.

Whether that part’s true or not, the legend is still ...


Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television. Click here for more legends specifically about the Simpsons! There's been a lot of them over the years!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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