Norm Macdonald, Comedian and ‘Saturday Night Live’ Star, Dies at 61

He was privately battling cancer for nine years

Norm Macdonald
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Norm Macdonald, one of the most famous cast members on “Saturday Night Live,” died Tuesday after a nine-year battle with cancer, according to his management firm. He was 61.

Macdonald was best known during his run on “SNL” from 1993-98 as the anchor of “Weekend Update.” During a tenure that ran through the O.J. Simpson trial and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Macdonald was key in turning the news parody segment into one with a more political tone. His relentless jokes at the expense of Simpson were believed by the comedian to be a major reason why he was shockingly fired from the show, as NBC exec Don Ohlmeyer was a friend of the disgraced Buffalo Bills football star.

Macdonald was also known for starring alongside Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond in the popular “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches, where he impersonated Burt Reynolds. While Hammond’s Sean Connery directly antagonized Ferrell’s Alex Trebek during the segment lampooning the famous game show, Reynolds would irk Trebek with dumb jokes like changing his name to “Turd Ferguson.”

“SNL” lauded Macdonald as the funniest comedian of them all.

“Today is a sad day,” the show said in a statement. “All of us here at SNL mourn the loss of Norm Macdonald, one of the most impactful comedic voices of his or any other generation. There are so many things that we’ll miss about Norm – from his unflinching integrity to his generosity to his consistent ability to surprise. But most of all he was just plain funny. No one was funny like Norm.”

Behind the scenes, Macdonald was the one who came up with the “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketch. He told Howard Stern in 2016 that his idea for the sketch came about simply because he wanted a reason to impersonate Reynolds.

“When it came time to do the sketch, I went down and saw my wardrobe and there was white beard and a bald white cap, and I said, ‘No, no, I want to do Burt Reynolds from 1972,” Macdonald told Stern. “And it’s funny to me, but no one ever mentioned it, that one guy on ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’ is from 40 years ago.”

Macdonald also said in a 2007 TV Guide interview that Reynolds loved the sketch and that there had been plans to have Reynolds appear on “SNL” to kick him out of a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketch and take his place. But the idea was scuttled after Macdonald’s dismissal.

After “SNL,” Macdonald started his own comedy series, “The Norm Show,” which aired on ABC from 1999-2001. He also hosted a short-lived talk show, “Norm Macdonald Has A Show” on Netflix in 2018 and has had recurring appearances on late night shows like “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “Conan.”

Netflix chief Ted Sarandos called Macdonald’s death “a shock and a heartbreaker.”

“He likely never told anyone that he was sick because it wasn’t funny to be sick,” Sarandos said. “He made me laugh as hard as I ever laughed at comedy. There was no such thing as too long a set up. He was the most brilliant joke teller in stand up. Proud of his Netflix special, proud of “Norm Macdonald Has a Show” and proud to have been in his company for awhile. Random texts, hysterical stories and crazy times. Thank you Norm. Your work lives and the bar is set high. A comics comic – he would have hated me repeating that cliche.”