Norm Macdonald Dies at 61
The Canadian comedian passed away after a nine-year private battle with cancer
Published Sep 14, 2021Norm Macdonald — the Canadian stand-up comedian, writer, screen and voice actor recognized for his work on Saturday Night Live, The Norm Show and more — has died.
Macdonald's management firm, Brillstein Entertainment, confirmed to Deadline that the comedian passed away today following a nine-year private battle with cancer. He was 61.
Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald's friend and longtime producing partner, shared with Deadline that the comedian chose to keep his health struggles private. "He was most proud of his comedy," she told the outlet. "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."
Born and raised in Quebec City, Macdonald began his career performing stand-up comedy at clubs in Ottawa, and would soon tell jokes across the country. After appearing as a contestant on Star Search in 1990, he worked as a writer on the 1992-1993 season of Roseanne before landing a spot on Saturday Night Live.
Macdonald was an SNL cast member from 1993 through 1998, and is perhaps best remembered for his recurring role as a host of news show sketch "Weekend Update." Notable targets of his trademark, incredibly dry sarcasm included Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson and O. J. Simpson — the last of whom he did not hold back on during coverage of the former NFL player's 1994 murder trial.
It was widely believed that Macdonald's skewering of Simpson played a significant part in his removal as a "Weekend Update" anchor in early 1998. Upon news of the athlete's acquittal, Macdonald joked on the ensuing SNL broadcast, "Well, it is finally official: murder is legal in the state of California."
While the material was a hit with audiences, Macdonald and others would later accuse Don Ohlmeyer — the president of NBC's West Coast Division who was friends with Simpson — of removing the comedian based on his jokes. Macdonald would leave SNL shortly afterwards, and would return as host of an episode in 1999, getting the last laugh in his opening monologue:
How did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I'm now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let's face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me: I haven't gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I'm funny compared to, you know, what you'll see later. Okay, so let's recap, the bad news is: I'm still not funny. The good news is: The show blows!
"I was never bitter," Macdonald would tell Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller of his departure in their 2002 book Live From New York: An Uncensored Oral History of Saturday Night Live. "I always understood that Ohlmeyer could fire me because he was the guy that owned the cameras, so that didn't bother me…I was always happy that SNL gave me a chance. Other comics, when they were young, wanted to be on Johnny Carson. To me, it was like that, you get to be on Saturday Night Live, it's a dream come true, and then everything after that is not going to be as good. To me, just getting there was the thing."
Another of Macdonald's most enduring SNL bits is his portrayal of '70s-era Burt Reynolds on "Celebrity Jeopardy!," antagonizing Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek through changing his podium name to "Turd Ferguson" and wearing a hat that's "bigger than a normal hat."
After leaving SNL, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in 1998 comedy Dirty Work, directed by Bob Saget. Ohlmeyer would attempt to nix NBC's deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer to air advertisements for the film, following Macdonald's comments about SNL and the network in interviews with David Letterman and Howard Stern.
Asked about the irony of Ohlmeyer's decision when it came to ads for his new "revenge comedy," Macdonald would tell CNN, "It would be good revenge if everybody went and saw [Dirty Work] if they want to get revenge against Don Ohlmeyer for trying to ban my ads."
Macdonald would go on to star in sitcom The Norm Show (later renamed Norm), which ran for three seasons on ABC between 1999 and 2001. The series finds him playing Norm Henderson, a former NHL hockey player banned from the league for gambling and tax evasion, who is forced to work as a a full-time social worker to complete community service. He would also lead short-lived Fox sitcom A Minute with Stan Hooper, and 2011's Sports Show with Norm Macdonald for Comedy Central.
Macdonald's list of film and television credits includes on-screen appearances in Billy Madison, Man on the Moon, Grown Ups, The Ridiculous Six, My Name Is Earl and more, along with voice acting work in Mike Tyson Mysteries, Family Guy, The Fairly OddParents, Skylanders Academy, The Orville, the Dr. Dolittle trilogy and Klaus.
Macdonald delivered debut stand-up recording Ridiculous in 2006, which would be followed by recorded specials Me Doing Stand-Up (2011) and Hitler's Dog, Gossip & Trickery (2017). He would publish his memoirs in 2016, titled Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir.
Between 2013 and 2017, the comedian would host audio and video podcast Norm Macdonald Live, ahead of hosting Netflix talk production Norm Macdonald Has a Show in 2018. The latter featured special guests including David Spade, Drew Barrymore, M. Night Shyamalan, Billy Joe Shaver and Lorne Michaels.
Last year, Macdonald launched interview series Quarantined with Norm Macdonald on YouTube, where he also shared some coronavirus-themed stand-up.