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Comedian Norm Macdonald Has Died At 61

Sep 14, 2021
Originally published on September 14, 2021 6:33 pm

Comedian Norm Macdonald, a beloved Saturday Night Live cast member in the 1990s, has died. His management company confirmed that the 61-year-old had battled cancer for nine years.

"He was most proud of his comedy," his producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra told Deadline. "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."

SNL fans may remember Macdonald as an anchor on the show's "Weekend Update" segments. He was known for his impressions, particularly that of Burt Reynolds. In his signature droll manner, he lampooned former superstar Michael Jackson and former football star and actor O.J. Simpson throughout the latter's murder trial. Macdonald later said he was pressured by network executives to stop blasting Simpson, who was eventually acquitted, as a murderer, and he attributed getting fired from the show for his refusal to stop.

Norm Macdonald plays Burt Reynolds, one of his signature character impressions, in a "Celebrity Jeopardy" SNL sketch.
Saturday Night Live/NBC / YouTube

After SNL, Macdonald had his own comedy series, The Norm Show, where he played an NHL player who had to perform community service after being busted for gambling and tax evasion. He also had his own talk show, Norm Macdonald Has a Show, on Netflix.

Macdonald was born in Quebec City in 1959, and started his career doing stand-up in Canadian comedy clubs, where he developed his deadpan style. After competing on Star Search in 1990, he was hired to write for The Dennis Miller Show, then the sitcom Roseanne. Macdonald made appearances on late night shows with David Letterman and Conan O'Brian and had a recurring role on the show The Middle. He also appeared in films such as The People vs. Larry Flynt, and he was the voice of Lucky the Dog in the Eddie Murphy comedy Dr. Dolittle.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Comedian Norm Macdonald, beloved cast member on "Saturday Night Live" in the mid-'90s, has died. His management company confirmed that the 61-year-old fought cancer for nine years. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this appreciation.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: "SNL" fans may remember Norm Macdonald impersonating actor Burt Reynolds in a satire of "Celebrity Jeopardy."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WILL FERRELL: (As Alex Trebek) Burt Reynolds.

NORM MACDONALD: (As Burt Reynolds) Who is Scooby-Doo?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

FERRELL: (As Alex Trebek) No.

MACDONALD: (As Burt Reynolds) That was a funny dog, Scooby-Doo. He drove around in a van and solved mysteries.

FERRELL: (As Alex Trebek) That is incorrect.

MACDONALD: (As Burt Reynolds) No, that's correct. I remember he had a pal, Scrappy.

FERRELL: (As Alex Trebek) No.

DEL BARCO: Macdonald was also an anchor on "SNL's" Weekend Update news segments. In his usual droll manner, he lampooned former superstar Michael Jackson and former football star and actor O.J. Simpson throughout his murder trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

MACDONALD: And in court this week, Kato Kaelin testified that O.J. Simpson did not appear angry before or after the period of his wife's murder, but Kaelin admitted he could have been a touch edgy while he was actually murdering her.

DEL BARCO: Macdonald later said he was pressured by network executives to stop blasting Simpson as a murderer. He attributed getting fired from the show to his refusal to stop. Norm Macdonald was born in Quebec City in 1959, and he developed his deadpan style while doing standup in Canadian comedy clubs. In 1990, he competed on "Star Search," then was hired to write for "The Dennis Miller Show" and the sitcom "Roseanne." In addition to his five years on "SNL," Macdonald made appearances on late-night shows with David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. He also had a recurring role on the show "The Middle." Macdonald was in films as well, appearing in "The People Vs. Larry Flynt," and he was the voice of Lucky the dog in the Eddie Murphy comedy "Dr. Dolittle."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DR. DOLITTLE")

MACDONALD: (As Lucky) Oh, my Lord. Oh, oh, this is not good. Oh, Lassie, go home.

DEL BARCO: In 1999, Macdonald had his own comedy series, "The Norm Show." He played an NHL player who had to perform community service after being busted for gambling and tax evasion. He also had his own talk show on Netflix titled "Norm Macdonald Has A Show." Most recently, on the animated series "Mike Tyson Mysteries," his deadpan voice gave life to the sarcastic, foul-mouthed character Pigeon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MIKE TYSON MYSTERIES")

MACDONALD: (As Pigeon) It appears that you have taken this news while sitting in a pile of your own excrement - condolences.

DEL BARCO: Macdonald never stopped joking about things that might seem inappropriate. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, he did a stand-up routine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MACDONALD: Remember the good old days when washing your hands didn't take three hours? Like, A, B, C, D...

(LAUGHTER)

MACDONALD: Just take me now.

DEL BARCO: Macdonald's producing partner Lori Jo Hoekstra told Deadline she would miss her friend, who wanted to keep his diagnosis private. "He once wrote that a joke should catch someone by surprise. It should never pander," she was quoted saying. "He certainly never pandered."

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARIBOU'S "BEES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.