Norm Macdonald, comedian and ‘SNL’ alum, dies at 61

His death followed a nine-year private battle with cancer.

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Norm Macdonald performs in San Diego in 2017.

Norm Macdonald performs in San Diego in 2017.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Norm Macdonald died Tuesday after a private battle with cancer, his manager Marc Gurvitz said. He was 61 years old. 

Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald’s friend and producing partner, told Deadline she was with him at the time of his death and that the comedian had been fighting cancer for nine years, but did not wish to share his health struggles with the public. 

“He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him,” she said. “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.”

As an “SNL” cast member from 1993 to 1998, Macdonald was the “Weekend Update” anchor for three seasons and brought a caustic, deadpan style to the segment. He was famously removed from the “Update” desk by then-NBC chief Don Ohlmeyer, and the comedian publicly said he believed it was because Ohlmeyer didn’t like Macdonald’s jokes about O.J. Simpson, who was a friend of Ohlmeyer.

Macdonald was known for his impressions of Larry King, Quentin Tarantino and Bob Dole. “Norm was a great talent, and I loved laughing with him on ‘SNL,’ ” Dole tweeted Tuesday.

Macdonald’s flippant take on Burt Reynolds was an indelible part of the popular “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches, which also featured Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek, and he reprised that role in the “SNL” 40th anniversary celebration in 2015.


Norm Macdonald appears with Ana Gasteyer on a 1996 Weekend Update segment of “Saturday Night Live.”


After his stint on the sketch-comedy institution, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the film “Dirty Work” (1998), and voiced Lucky the Dog in Eddie Murphy’s version of “Doctor Dolittle” (1998). His sitcom “The Norm Show” aired on ABC from 1999-2001, co-starring Laurie Metcalf, and a later Fox sitcom, “A Minute With Stan Hooper,” was canceled after six episodes.

Though polarizing, he was widely admired in the comedy world and was mourned Tuesday by many of its top names. “We loved Norm MacDonald,” Steve Martin tweeted. “One of a kind.”

Jim Gaffigan called MacDonald “a legend” and called him “punishingly funny. A unique special point of view and completely organic.”

“Good bye Norm,” wrote Patton Oswalt. “You were never not 100% hilarious.”

In the last two decades Macdonald made many appearances on late-night shows such as “Late Show with David Letterman” and ”Conan.” He also had a recurring role as Mike Heck’s (Neil Flynn) goofball brother Rusty on the ABC hit series “The Middle.”

One of his last projects was Netflix’s “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” a pared-down talk show that debuted in 2018 in which the comedian interviewed celebrity guests including Jane Fonda, Drew Barrymore and Letterman for wide-ranging, half-hour conversations.

“Whenever I did those sitcoms, I’d be like, ‘Let me just be a side character or not in it at all. Let me just write it for someone,’” Macdonald told USA Today in 2018. “So that’s why this [Netflix] show is good, because this is about as close to stand-up as you can get, just talking to someone without a script, which is what I’m good at. Good at? I’m the best at it.”

The comedian was not without his share of controversy. In the wake of the #MeToo movement he faced backlash for comments defending disgraced comedians Roseanne Barr and Louis CK, and appeared on “The View” in September 2018 to apologize for a joke about Down syndrome. “It’s always bad when you have to apologize for an apology,” he said. 

Macdonald was born Oct. 17, 1959, in Quebec City, Canada, and got his start doing stand-up comedy. He was a writer on ABC’s “Roseanne” from 1992-93 before landing a spot on “SNL.” 


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