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R.I.P. Norm Macdonald

The '90s SNL star died after privately battling cancer for nearly a decade

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Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)

Norm Macdonald, a veteran stand-up comedian, renowned cast member on Saturday Night Live on seasons 20 through 23, star of his own series The Norm Show, has died after privately battling cancer. He was 61.

His management firm Brillstein Entertainment confirmed his passing to Deadline. Lori Jo Hoekstra, who was with Macdonald when he died, told the publication that the comedian had cancer for nearly a decade, though decided to keep it a secret between those closest to him. “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,” Hoekstra said in a statement to Deadline.


Macdonald was born in Quebec City, Canada on October 17, 1959. He began his stand-up career in his native country, and moved to the United States to work as a writer on TV series such as The Dennis Miller Show and Roseanne, and joined the cast of SNL in 1993. His main gig at SNL was as the Weekend Update anchor, taking over for Kevin Nealon in 1994. But he also did plenty of notable impressions in sketches, including Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeopardy, presidential candidate Bob Dole, and David Letterman.

Macdonald was known for his deadpan humor and while on the Weekend Update desk, he had no qualms poking fun at politicians and celebrities. During the OJ Simpson trial, Macdonald made jokes that heavily implied Simpson was guilty, much to the chagrin of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC’s West Coast division, who was friends with Simpson. Macdonald said on numerous occasions—including on Late Show With David Letterman and Howard Stern— that his comments about Simpson were the reason behind him being taken off Weekend Update. Though he stayed on as a cast member for a short time after, he was ultimately let go from the show.


He did get a moment of vindication when he hosted the show in October 1999, speaking out about his firing in his monologue. “They fired me because they said that I wasn’t funny. Now, with most jobs, I could have had a hell of a lawsuit on my hands for that, but see, this is a comedy show. So, they got me,” he said. “But, now, this is the weird part, it’s only a year and a half later, and now, they ask me to host the show. So I wondered, how did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I’m now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let’s face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me, I haven’t gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad!”

In a 2011 interview with The A.V. Club, Macdonald talked further about the firing, saying, “I completely understand why a businessman would fire me from [Saturday Night Live]. Because he was seeing Jay Leno kill 10 minutes a night, doing his monologue with wall-to-wall laughs and applause, then I do 10 minutes a week to, sometimes, breathtaking silence. He’s just listening for the laughs. But fortunately, I don’t really care about success or money or shit. I could give a fuck. I hate fame. I hate being recognized, because I don’t know how to talk to people. I see Sandler, man, and I’m like fuck, goddamn, I don’t know how he does it, those people are fucking everywhere he walks. If you’re walking with him, all you hear behind is people whispering.”

After leaving SNL, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the Bob Saget-directed movie Dirty Work, and voiced Lucky The Dog in Dr. Doolittle, reprising the role in the sequels. He also became a recurring presence in the films of SNL castmate Adam Sandler, including Billy Madison, Grown Ups, and Jack & Jill. He also got his own sitcom The Norm Show in 1999, that ran for three seasons on ABC. After Norm, Macdonald continued racking up acting roles and voiceover work and touring his stand-up act. In 2016, he published a semi-fictional memoir, Based On A True Story.

Macdonald was a favorite guest of late-night talk shows: He provided Late Night With Conan O’Brien with one of its funniest segments by roasting the Carrot Top comedy Chairman Of The Board while seated next to Chairman Of The Board co-star Courtney Thorne-Smith, and performed the final stand-up segment on David Letterman’s Late Show. Appearing on Comedy Central’s Bob Saget roast in 2008, he stood out amongst the other comics for doing corny, G-rated “anti-jokes,” with his segment becoming one of the most memorable roasts of all time. As one of his final projects, he was given his own talk show on Netflix in 2018, called Norm Macdonald Has A Show, that ran for one season.