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Norm Macdonald, the deadpan, caustic comedian who made a name for himself as the host of “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live, as the star of his own sitcoms and from appearances in such films as Dirty Work and Funny People, died Tuesday. He was 61.
Macdonald died after a nine-year, private battle with cancer, his rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
The stand-up comic and Québec City native started out in Hollywood as a writer on The Dennis Miller Show and Roseanne in 1992 before joining SNL a year later. He anchored “Weekend Update” segments for three seasons and was a castmember through 1998.
He was fired from the anchor gig in 1997 during the show’s Christmas hiatus by NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer; Macdonald claimed the reason was his jokes about Ohlmeyer friend O.J. Simpson in the wake of the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman. (Colin Quinn took over on the “Weekend Update” desk.)
Macdonald created and starred as a former hockey player with a gambling problem who becomes a social worker on the ABC sitcom Norm, which ran for three seasons, from 1999-2001. (He admitted to having a gambling problem in real life.) He also starred as a newspaper columnist turned television commentator on the 2003-04 Fox comedy A Minute With Stan Hooper, which lasted just 13 episodes.
Another program, Sports Show With Norm Macdonald for Comedy Central, lasted nine episodes in 2011.
He wrote and starred alongside Artie Lange and Chris Farley in the revenge comedy Dirty Work (1998), directed by Bob Saget, and appeared as himself in Judd Apatow’s Funny People (2009). He also showed up on the big screen in the Milos Forman films The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Man on the Moon (1999) and in less highbrow fare, like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) and Screwed (2000).
More recently, Macdonald recurred as the lazy Rusty Heck on ABC’s The Middle; did voice work on Skylanders Academy, The Orville and Mike Tyson Mysteries; popped up as judge on NBC’s Last Comic Standing; played one of the many Colonel Sanders in a series of KFC ads; and hosted the 2018 Netflix talk program Norm Macdonald Has a Show.
A son of teachers, Norman Gene Macdonald was born in Québec City on Oct. 17, 1959. After doing stand-up in clubs all around Canada for almost a decade — including a four-month stint opening for Sam Kinison in 1984 — he moved to Los Angeles in 1992.
He quickly landed a writing job on Miller’s syndicated late night talk show, and after Roseanne Barr saw him do stand-up, she hired him for her ABC sitcom.
Not long after he was fired from SNL, Macdonald returned to host in October 1999.
“So I wondered, 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?” he said in his opening monologue. “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!”
A statement from SNL read: “Today is a sad day. 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.”
Macdonald also voiced the character of Lucky the Dog in Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle (1998) and its 2001 and 2006 sequels.
A comic’s comic, he was pals with David Letterman and did stand-up — and got all choked up — on the fourth-to-last episode of the host’s CBS show in May 2015.
Survivors include his mother, Ferne; son Dylan; and brothers Neil and Leslie.
According to his rep, Macdonald had a Netflix special he was planning to shoot in March at the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles and a Netflix movie in development adapted from his 2016 book, Based on a True Story: A Memoir.
“Stand-up comedy is a shabby business, made up of shabby fellows like me who cross the country, stay at shabby hotels and tell jokes they no longer find funny,” he wrote in the introduction.
Jackie Strause and Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.
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