Saturday Night Live alum Norm Macdonald died Tuesday at age 61 after a nine-year private battle with cancer.
Macdonald’s longtime friend Lori Jo Hoekstra, who was with him when died, told Deadline that the comedian “had been battling cancer for nearly a decade but was determined to keep his health struggles private, away from family, friends and fans.”
“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra said. “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.”
Macdonald, who was known for his, wry, acerbic wit, was scheduled to perform in a New York Comedy Festival in November.
Macdonald was an SNL cast member from 1993-98, making his greatest impact as the anchor of the show’s “Weekend Update” segments for three seasons. Remembered both for his droll style — and for his refusal to go easy on O.J. Simpson despite reported pressure from NBC execs — Macdonald would prove one of the most impactful “Update” anchors, pivoting away from the slapstick approach of Chevy Chase and toward the more barbed political approach of his successor Colin Quinn.
Born on October 17, 1959, in Quebec City, Macdonald started his show business career in the comedy clubs of Canada, developing the deadpan style that would become both his trademark and a highly influential touchstone for a generation of comics. A contestant on Star Search in 1990, he was hired to write for Roseanne Barr’s sitcom Roseanne for the 1992-93 season before landing the coveted gig at NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Macdonald’s departure from the show was controversial in itself, and he often attributed his firing to his continued lambasting of Simpson as a murderer despite what he said was the displeasure of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC’s West Coast division, who Macdonald said was a friend of the former football great.
After leaving SNL in 1998, Macdonald starred in his own comedy series, The Norm Show, from 1999-2001. He also did a one-season talk show for Netflix, Norm Macdonald Has a Show, in 2018.
While he’ll be remembered best for his comedy, MacDonald was also a Christian who didn’t shy away from talking about his faith. “Scripture. Faith. Grace. Christ, Glory of God,” he tweeted in 2017. “Smart man says nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.”
Scripture. Faith. Grace. Christ, Glory of God. Smart man says nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.
— Norm Macdonald (@normmacdonald) October 31, 2017
The announcement of MacDonald’s death sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment world as friends, fans and colleagues grieved on social media, and paid tribute to some of his funniest moments.
NOOOOO GODDAMIT. Oh my God what is even happening.
Good bye, Norm. You were never not 100% hilarious. https://t.co/loW3QsEjgW
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 14, 2021
This photo was taken after I was a guest on Norm's show. At dinner the laughs just continued nonstop. He will be missed. RIP Norm Macdonald pic.twitter.com/DToJCUBdU2
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) September 14, 2021
One of the hardest times I’ve ever laughed was during the Bob Saget Roast as @normmacdonald ate it on purpose, gleefully digging in on a bit that the live audience wasn’t buying. Meanwhile, the other comics and myself were in tears and in awe of one of the funniest humans ever.
— Brian Posehn (@thebrianposehn) September 14, 2021
Here is that performance:
Here's another clip of how great Norm Macdonald was at taking the most awkward comedy and making it so funny you couldn't help but laugh.
Norm is doing a bit about Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter) dying… 10 days after it happened. pic.twitter.com/bSP83bqQrg
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) September 14, 2021
Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds as "Turd Ferguson." The best.pic.twitter.com/pGwJFuTRiS
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 14, 2021
MacDonald’s appearance on Conan in 1997, is also considered a classic.
This is the brilliance of Norm MacDonald. Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/MyIgjB6ZeG
— Herb Lawrence (@Ecnerwal23) September 14, 2021
The Moth Joke lives forever https://t.co/IMEvfLbtco
— Perry Bentley (@PerryBentleyPA) September 14, 2021
one of his funniest jokes pic.twitter.com/3iBDuAlvLh
— Jared Johnson (@asianjared) September 14, 2021
Norm MacDonald was not only the funniest person of our age but also among the wisest. A longtime fan, I had the unexpected privilege of a lengthy, private correspondence with him—mostly about religion. The certain knowledge of his humility and profound faith are a great comfort!
— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) September 14, 2021
Here is MacDonald talking about his faith on the Larry King Show.
Norm MacDonald on his Christian Faith. Pray for his repose. pic.twitter.com/ExUZyAkiMg
— Hirsty ☧ (@realHirsty) September 14, 2021
Here is over an hour and a half of MacDonald’s comedic genius.