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The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns, left, and his assistant Smithers are both voiced by Harry Shearer.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

An escalating contract dispute suggests that Harry Shearer may be exiting "The Simpsons," where he has voiced several of its characters since the Fox cartoon series debuted in 1989.

In a pair of Twitter posts on Thursday, Shearer said re-upping with the show would have denied him "what we've always had: the freedom to do other work."

Hours later, "Simpsons" executive producer Al Jean tweeted, "The show will go on, made by people who love it..." In another post, he resolved to "recast if Harry does not return." Yet another tweet seemed to leave the door open for a rapprochement: "In life I never say never."

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Shearer voices characters including Simpsons neighbour Ned Flanders, billionaire Mr. Burns and his kowtowing aide, Smithers.

Fox recently announced picking up "The Simpsons" for two more seasons — its 27th and 28th.

A statement from Jean and fellow "Simpsons" executive producers James L. Brooks and Matt Groening said Shearer "was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed."

Shearer did not respond to a request for comment.

The multi-tasking Shearer, 71, has charted a diverse career as an actor, writer, musician and producer, both before and since becoming part of the "Simpsons" troupe. Also known for his starring role in the 1984 mockumentary classic "This Is Spinal Tap," as well as for hosting public radio's weekly "Le Show" for more than 30 years, he recently produced and starred in "Nixon's The One," portraying President Richard Nixon in a TV dramatization of the secret White House tapes.

Thursday's public acknowledgement of the ongoing dispute, he tweeted, was prompted by word from the lawyer of "Simpsons" executive producer Brooks that declared, "Show will go on, Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best."

Shearer tweeted, "Of course, I wish him the very best."

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