Norm Macdonald, whose laconic delivery of sharp and incisive observations made him one of Saturday Night Live‘s most influential and beloved cast members, died today after a nine-year private battle with cancer. He was 61.
Macdonald’s death was announced to Deadline by his management firm Brillstein Entertainment. The comedian’s longtime producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra, who was with him when died, said Macdonald had been battling cancer for nearly a decade but was determined to keep his health struggles private, away from family, friends and fans.
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“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra said. “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.”
Macdonald was scheduled to be in the New York Comedy Festival lineup in November.
Macdonald was an SNL cast member from 1993-98, making his greatest impact as the anchor of the show’s “Weekend Update” segments for three seasons. Remembered both for his droll style — and for his refusal to go easy on O.J. Simpson despite reported pressure from NBC execs — Macdonald would prove one of the most impactful “Update” anchors, pivoting away from the slapstick approach of Chevy Chase and toward the more barbed political approach of his successor Colin Quinn.
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Born on October 17, 1959, in Quebec City, Macdonald started his show business career in the comedy clubs of Canada, developing the deadpan style that would become both his trademark and a highly influential touchstone for a generation of comics. A contestant on Star Search in 1990, he landed his first regular TV writing gig on The Dennis Miller Show, fronted by the man who anchored “Weekend Update” from 1986-91.
Macdonald was hired to write for Roseanne Barr’s sitcom Roseanne for the 1992-93 season before landing the coveted gig at NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Among his most popular SNL bits was a gun-chomping impression of Burt Reynolds, complete with charming smile, bolo tie and attendant attitude.
Macdonald’s departure from the show was controversial in itself, and he often attributed his firing to his continued lambasting of Simpson as a murderer despite what he said was the displeasure of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC’s West Coast division, who Macdonald said was a friend of the former football great.
After leaving SNL in 1998, Macdonald starred in his own comedy series, The Norm Show, from 1999-2001. He also did a one-season talk show for Netflix, Norm Macdonald Has a Show, in 2018. He also earned a CableACE Award nomination as part of the writing team for the 1992 variety special Free to Laugh: A Comedy and Music Special for Amnesty International.
Over the years he made numerous appearances on various late-night shows, including Late Night With David Letterman and Conan, and had a recurring role on The Middle.
He also released three stand-up comedy albums: Ridiculous (1996), Me Doing Standup (2011) and Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery (2017), the latter taken from a Netflix special.
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Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.
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