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By Alexander Smith

Fans of "The Simpsons" may have to learn to live without the original Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner.

Actor Harry Shearer, who voices the characters, tweeted early Thursday that he was leaving the show after 26 seasons.

Shearer suggested that his apparent departure was linked to a dispute over contract terms.

He said in a series of tweets at around 12:30 a.m. ET that the move came "because I wanted what we've always had: the freedom to do other work."

Appearing to confirm the move, "The Simpsons" showrunner Al Jean tweeted later on Thursday that Shearer’s characters would be "recast if Harry does not return."

However, Jean disputed the reasons given by Shearer, saying the actor was offered the contract he wanted — the same deal as the other stars of the show — "and he still passed."

Jean added: "His statements implied he rejected final offer to do other projects, which we always let him do. It's confusing."

He also defended against dismayed fans' accusations that Shearer had been mistreated, adding: "My dream in life is for someone to treat me the way the Simpsons treated Harry."

However, asked if Shearer could return to the show, Jean said: "In life I never say never."

Mr. Burns of "The Simpsons"FOX

Shearer's tweets alleged the news had been delivered to him via the lawyer of executive producer James L. Brooks, who'd said: "Show will go on. Harry will not be part of it, wish him the best."

Fox recently renewed the animated series for another two seasons, with the rest of the cast signing contract extensions and production of season 27 already beginning without Shearer, according to Variety.

Fox did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The actor is also well known for co-writing and starring in the 1984 film "This Is Spinal Tap," a fake documentary about a British heavy metal band.

Following Shearer's announcement, fans flooded Twitter with messages of support, as well as concerns that the "The Simpsons" would not be the same without the loss of some of its key personalities.