Comedian Norm Macdonald, a former Saturday Night Live writer and performer, has died at the age of 61.
Macdonald died on Tuesday after having cancer for nine years, but keeping it private, according to Brillstein Entertainment Partners, his management firm in Los Angeles.
He never reached the same television heights after being fired from SNL in 1998, but was an indefatigable stand-up comic and popular talk show guest whose death provoked an outpouring from fellow comedians.
“Norm was in a comedy genre of his own,” tweeted Sarah Silverman.
“No one like him on this planet. Please do yourself a favour and watch his stuff”.
Macdonald, the son of two schoolteachers, was raised in Quebec City, Canada. He was a stand-up comic and briefly a writer for the sitcom Roseanne when he was picked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1993.
He became known for his esoteric impressions, including Burt Reynolds, who gave Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek character grief on Celebrity Jeopardy. He also impersonated Bob Dole, Larry King and David Letterman.
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His deadpan style and skills as a writer made him the choice to host Weekend Update. OJ Simpson was a favourite target. Macdonald opened the fake newscast the week of the former football star’s acquittal on murder charges by saying: “Well, it’s finally official. Murder is legal in the state of California."
Macdonald was fired in the middle of the season in 1998 by NBC Entertainment executive Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of Simpson’s who reportedly did not appreciate the SNL star making Simpson the near-constant butt of jokes.
“I was never bitter,” Macdonald said in the oral history Live From New York, released in 2002.
“I always understood that Ohlmeyer could fire me, because he was the guy who owned the cameras, so that didn’t bother me. I was always happy that SNL gave me a chance”.
He went on David Letterman’s show to announce that he was fired. During a commercial break, Letterman asked him, “This is like some Andy Kaufman thing with fake wrestling, right?” Macdonald recalled. But it was not.
Letterman was a fan who made Macdonald one of the guests in the CBS Late Show host’s final run of shows.
In 2016, Letterman told The Washington Post, that the show would have had Macdonald on every week “if we could”.
“He is funny in a way that some people inhale and exhale, “ Letterman told The Post. “With others, you can tell the comedy, the humour is considered. With Norm, he exudes it … There may be people as funny as Norm, but I don’t know anybody who is funnier”.