Comedian Norm Macdonald, a prolific writer and performer best remembered for an influential stint on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, has reportedly passed away today after a nine-year private battle with cancer. He was 61 years old.
The passing comes as a total shock to fans in the comedy world, as Macdonald’s longtime producing partner Lori Jo Hoekstra said the comic had chosen nearly a decade ago to keep his health struggle with cancer private. Fans should no doubt respect these wishes for privacy, but it certainly adds to the level of shock and grief that is currently being expressed via social media. The comic had been scheduled to perform as part of the New York Comedy Festival lineup in November.
“He was most proud of his comedy,” said Hoekstra to Deadline. “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 an accomplished stand-up who released three albums: 1996’s Ridiculous, 2011’s Me Doing Standup and 2017’s Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery. Despite that, he was no doubt best known to most casual comedy fans for his memorable stint on Saturday Night Live from 1993-1998, where he developed several memorable characters, such as the impersonation of Burt Reynolds who regularly appeared on “Celebrity Jeopardy” and demanded to be known as “Turd Ferguson.”
As an SNL performer, and eventually as sole “Weekend Update” anchor, Macdonald would go on to forge an iconic style—droll, acerbic and right to the point, delivering sharp criticisms with few words but an underlying current of absurdity. His style at the “Weekend Update” desk would prove to be deeply influential on the generations of comics who have followed him, attempting to offer up similarly barbed social and political criticism.
In the years since SNL, Macdonald remained a familiar face, with many appearances on late night TV shows such as Late Night With David Letterman and Conan, in addition to a short-lived series The Norm Show and a talk show for Netflix, Norm Macdonald Has a Show. He also appeared regularly on the ABC sitcom The Middle for the majority of its run.
Twitter tributes are unsurprisingly pouring in for Macdonald—perhaps most vociferously from Seth Rogen, who called him a “comedy giant” and said he based his initial acting delivery on Macdonald. You can also check out an old list of some of Macdonald’s most subversive comedy moments here.