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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Comedian Kevin Hart announced Thursday night that he is pulling out as host of the Oscars after a backlash over old tweets and comedy routines that critics labeled as homophobic.

After initially refusing to apologize, Hart, 39, tweeted hours later that he is stepping down "because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past."

Kevin Hart announced on Thursday night that he would be stepping down as Oscars host.NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

"I'm sorry that I hurt people,'' he added in a second tweet. "I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again."

The decision came just three days after Hart had been selected to host the 2019 Academy Awards, a gig he called "the opportunity of a lifetime.''

Critics resurfaced previous tweets and lines from old comedy routines on social media, condemning them as homophobic.

TODAY reached out to Hart, Disney/ABC and the Academy for comment and has not heard back.

One since-deleted post from 2011 read, "Yo if my son comes home & try's 2 play with my daughters doll house I'm going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice 'stop that's gay.'"

Hart told audiences in his 2010 comedy special, "Seriously Funny," that "one of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay. That's a fear. Keep in mind, I'm not homophobic, I have nothing against gay people, do what you want to do, but me, being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will."

Celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis and comedian Billy Eichner, who is gay, expressed their displeasure over Hart's old comments. Eichner later accepted Hart's apology from his message about stepping down as host.

After the old comments resurfaced, Hart initially tried to explain himself in an Instagram video, asking people to "stop looking for reasons to be negative."

"Guys, I'm almost 40 years old,'' he said in the video. "If you don't believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don't know what to tell you."

He followed that with another video in which he indicates that the Academy called and asked him to apologize for the offensive tweets or it would get another host. He declined to apologize, saying he has previously addressed those comments and that he is going to "stand my ground."

Hart then reversed course hours later and announced he was stepping down, leaving the Academy to begin a new search on Friday for the ceremony on Feb. 24, 2019, in Hollywood.

The next host will be faced with the difficult task of reviving a show that has struggled to attract viewers in recent years. For the last two years, Jimmy Kimmel has hosted, but ratings declined. March's broadcast saw a record-low 26.5 million viewers.