Norm Macdonald loses battle to cancer, passes away at 61

Comedian Norm Macdonald

Comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Norm Macdonald has been reported to have passed away at 61 after quietly and privately battling cancer for the past nine years. 

News of his passing was confirmed by Deadline on Tuesday via Macdonald’s management firm Brillstein Entertainment. The former Weekend Update host’s longtime producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra told Deadline: 

“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. 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 born Norman Gene Macdonald in Québec City, Québec on October 17, 1959. After dropping out of high school at age 15, he began his career in stand-up comedy before landing his first job writing for The Dennis Miller Show.  Macdonald was then hired to write for Roseanne Barr’s sitcom Roseanne for the 1992-93 season before his “big break” on 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 wiseguy attitude, often at hilarious odds with Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek. Macdonald’s roster of impressions included Andy Rooney, Clint Eastwood, David Letterman, Larry King, Quentin Tarantino, Mr. Bean and Rod Serling, among others.

Macdonald is probably remembered most for his anchoring of Weekend Update on SNL and, in particular, his ruthless and relentless coverage of O.J. Simpson during his murder trial. Macdonald later said that these jokes were part of the reason he was fired from Saturday Night Live in 1998, claiming that they upset (then) NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, whom Macdonald believed was friends with Simpson.

After exiting SNL, Macdonald created The Norm Show with Bruce Helford on ABC, which ran from 1999 until 2001. The comedian starred as Norm Henderson, a hockey player who was banned for life from the NFL because of gambling and tax evasion, so he must perform five years of community service as a social worker. The cast included Laurie Metcalf, Ian Gomez, Max Wright, Artie Lange and Faith Ford.

In the 1990s, MacDonald appeared in films like Billy Madison, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle as the voice of Lucky the dog. In 1998, he starred in the film Dirty Work, directed by Bob Saget based on the Roald Dahl short story, about two friends who raise money to pay for heart surgery for one of their fathers by starting a revenge-for-hire business. The cast included Lange, Chris Farley, Jack Warden, Traylor Howard, Chevy Chase and Christopher McDonald, and featured cameos by Don Rickles, Adam Sandler, John Goodman, and more.

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Macdonald also did a talk show for one season on Netflix, Norm Macdonald Has a Show, in 2018. 

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.

Macdonald recently voiced Lieutenant Yaphit, a gelatinous, shape-shifting engineer on Fox’s sci-fi comedy The Orville, starring Seth MacFarlane. A third season of the show is set to release on Hulu.

Dozens of comedians, including Steve Martin, Seth Rogen, Jon Stewart, Ron Funches, Senator Bob Dole, and Jim Gaffigan, paid tribute to Macdonald on social media.

Norm is survived by his son, Dylan.