Norm Macdonald, the writer, actor, straight-faced comedian, and one of the most beloved and iconic cast members of Saturday Night Live passed away on Tuesday at 61. His manager, Marc Gurvitz, confirmed his death after the news was first reported by Deadline.
Macdonald had endured a private battle with cancer for nine years, determined to keep his health challenges private, away from friends and the media. “He was most proud of his comedy. He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him,” His producing partner and friend, Lori Jo Hoekstra, stated. “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,” she added.
Macdonald was born in Quebec City, Canada, and began his entertainment journey as a standup comedian, working the Ottawa club circuit before striking out and making his way to other clubs across the country and in the United States. He became known for his incisive and acerbic comedic delivery, eventually landing a job as a writer for the sitcom Rosanne and the Dennis Miller Show in 1992. However, when he began anchoring Saturday Night Live’s popular “Weekend Update” segment, Macdonald truly came into his own.
Macdonald anchored the program until 1998, gaining recognition for his esoteric impressions of Burt Reynolds, David Letterman, Larry King, and Quentin Tarantino. Then, however, he was unceremoniously dropped in the middle of the 1998 season, at the behest of the President of NBC’s West Coast division, Don Ohlmeyer, reportedly for constantly making O. J. Simpson—one of Ohlmeyer’s longtime friends—the butt of his jokes. Although, in an interview with the New York Times, later on, Macdonald attributed his firing to the “experimental” nature of his material rather than anything to do with Simpson.
In the opinion of many, Macdonald would turn out to be one of the best decisions for an anchor, ushering in an era of sharp-witted, polarizing, and politically tinged approach to comedy, carried on by his successor, Colin Quinn, and inadvertently becoming the benchmark for an upcoming generation of comics.
After he departed from SNL, he went on to star in a number of projects, even though some would argue that he never attained the same television heights again. He starred in his own comedy series, The Norm Show, then had a stint as the host of the Netflix talk show Norm Macdonald Has a Show in 2018. Additionally, Macdonald was also an accomplished voice actor, featuring in several episodes of Family Guy, the Mike Tyson Mysteries on Comedy Central, and multiple Dr. Doolittle films.
Since the news of his death, there has been an outpouring of messages and condolences from other standup comedians, celebrities, and industry stakeholders. Emmy award winner Seth Meyers took out time on his late night show to pay tribute to Macdonald’s work. “He was the gold standard, and he will continue to be the gold standard,” he shared. “Go watch any number of Norm Macdonald things tonight because they are really, truly timeless.”
Norm Macdonald remained one of the industry’s all-time greats and was billed to appear at the New York Comedy Festival in a couple of months.