Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald, a former Saturday Night Live writer and performer who was the Weekend Update host when Bill Clinton and OJ Simpson provided comic fodder during the 1990s, has died.
Macdonald, who was 61, 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. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences, calling him “a comedic genius and a great Canadian”.
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.
His deadpan style and skills as a writer made him the choice to host Weekend Update. 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."
Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels, speaking for the show, called 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,” he said. “But most of all he was just plain funny. No one was funny like Norm.”
Macdonald was fired in the middle of the season in 1998 by NBC Entertainment executive Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of Simpson’s who reportedly didn’t 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.
“I just like doing jokes I like, and if the audience doesn’t like them, they’re wrong, not me.”
Reactions to the death of Norm Macdonald
Fellow comedians and SNL stars have reacted to Macdonald's death on social media.
“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," Saturday Night Live wrote in tribute to the former star.
"I am absolutely devastated about Norm Macdonald. Norm had the most unique comedic voice I have ever encountered and he was so relentlessly and uncompromisingly funny. I will never laugh that hard again. I'm so sad for all of us today," wrote Conan O'Brien.
"Every one of us loved Norm. Some of the hardest laughs of my life with this man. Most fearless funny original guy we knew. An incredible dad. A great friend. A legend. Love u pal," Adam Sandler posted with two images on Instagram.
Jim Carrey took to Twitter to write, "He was one of our most precious gems. An honest and courageous comedy genius. I love him."
"The world was a much funnier place because Norm Macdonald was in it. We've lost a comedic genius, and a great Canadian. Sending my condolences to his loved ones and countless fans mourning his passing," wrote Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, on Twitter.
"We loved Norm MacDonald. One of a kind," Steve Martin tweeted.
"Your intelligent comedy and the way you cared so much about words and sentences and storytelling was like no one else. Just brilliant. Your writing was like poetry," Molly Shannon wrote on Instagram.
"I was a huge fan of Norm Macdonald and I essentially ripped off his delivery when I first started acting, I would stay up specifically to watch him on talk shows. He was the funniest guest of all time. We lost a comedy giant today. One of the all-time greats," Seth Rogen posted on Twitter.
"No one could make you break like Norm Macdonald. Hilarious and unique," wrote Jon Stewart on Twitter.
"Today the world lost a very, very funny man. We miss him already," Eugene Levy wrote on Twitter.
"Oh my God what is even happening. Good bye, Norm. You were never not 100 per cent hilarious," Patton Oswalt wrote on Twitter.