Norm Macdonald has died after a long and private battle with cancer, his management team confirmed on Tuesday. The highly influential stand-up comedian and former anchor of “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live was 61.
Macdonald, who was scheduled to perform at the New York Comedy Festival this November, had reportedly been sick with an undisclosed form of cancer for nine years but declined to make his illness public.
“He was most proud of his comedy,” Macdonald’s producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra said in a statement. “He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him. Norm was a pure comic. He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly.”
Born in Quebec City, Canada in 1959, Macdonald spent several years as a working stand-up comic before joining the cast of SNL in 1993. After just one season in the cast, he replaced Kevin Nealon as “Weekend Update” anchor. He was named the all-time best comedian to sit in that chair by Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
Tributes from shocked comedian friends immediately began pouring in on Tuesday afternoon.
“No one could make you break like Norm Macdonald. Hilarious and unique. Fuck cancer,” Jon Stewart tweeted.
“Oh fuck. I was a huge fan of Norm Macdonald and I essentially ripped off his delivery when I first started acting,” Seth Rogen admitted. “I would stay up specifically to watch him on talk shows. He was the funniest guest of all time. We lost a comedy giant today. One of the the all time greats. RIP.”
Macdonald’s deadpan, acerbic and uncompromising joke-telling style was beloved by comedy fans but also caused problems for him behind the scenes at SNL. He was ultimately fired mid-season in 1998 for telling too many jokes about O.J. Simpson, who was friends with NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer.
Among the brutal jokes Macdonald delivered about Simpson were, “After grisly photos of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson were shown in court, O.J. turned his head away and wept. It was at that moment that he realized he would never be able to kill her again.” And, “In a sworn deposition this week, O.J. Simpson claimed that he never beat, choked, or hit his ex-wife with a closed or open fist. Luckily for O.J., lawyers forgot to ask if he had ever cut her head off.”
He opened the first “Weekend Update” after the not guilty verdict came back with, “Well, it’s official: Murder is now legal in the state of California.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast just a few years ago, Macdonald said he’s now “not completely sure he’s guilty anymore,” adding “I’m almost completely sure, but I’m not completely sure.”
“You know how O.J. was the greatest rusher in the history of the NFL?” Macdonald asked. “I guess I was the greatest rusher-to-judgment.” While he said he feels “sorry for the victims of the double murder,” he joked “Although I guess I was a victim also. I guess there were three victims that night. Nicole Simpson, some waiter, and me.”
In his 2011 special Me Doing Stand-Up, Macdonald pointedly joked about the idea of “battling” cancer. Referring to his “Uncle Bert,” the comedian joked, “Here’s how he battled cancer: Lying in a hospital bed watching Matlock.”
More recently, Macdonald was notably one of the first stand-up comedians to joke about the COVID-19 pandemic on stage. In mid-March 2020, he went up at the Irvine Improv and told the audience, “It’s funny how we all now know how we’re going to die. It’s just a matter of what order at this point.”
“Remember the good old days when washing your hands didn’t take three hours?” he asked later in the set. “Just take me now.”
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