Beloved Comedian and ‘SNL’ Personality Norm Macdonald Dies of Cancer at 61; He Battled The Disease Privately for Nine Years

Published Sep 14, 2021

Sydney Schaefer

Keeping a Cancer Battle Private

  • Norm Macdonald, one of Saturday Night Live’s most influential and beloved cast members, died today after a roughly nine-year private battle with cancer, Deadline first reported. He was 61.
  • Macdonald, best known for the five years he spent as a cast member on SNL, started his career in show business at comedy clubs in Canada. In those clubs, he developed a “deadpan style” of comedy that quickly became his trademark.
  • A person’s health is a private matter; a cancer battle is arguably even more private, which is why some people, especially celebrities, choose to keep their health struggles out of the spotlight.

Norm Macdonald, one of Saturday Night Live’s most influential and beloved cast members, died today after a roughly nine-year private battle with cancer. He was 61.

Macdonald’s longtime producing partner and friend, Lori Jo Hoekstra, who was with him at the time of his death this morning, told Deadline that Macdonald had been battling cancer for almost a decade. She also says that Macdonald was “determined to keep his health struggles private, away from family, friends and fans.”  Marc Gurvitz, Macdonald’s manager, reportedly confirmed his death to NBC News.

“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra told Deadline. “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.”

Fellow comedians, such as Conan O’Brien and Anthony Jeselnik, and as well as former SNL cast members like Molly Shannon, Darrell Hammond and Cheri Oteri have taken to social media to express their condolences for Macdonald’s death.

“I am absolutely devastated about Norm Macdonald,” O’Brien writes. “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.”

“Battling cancer for 9 years without telling anyone is the most Norm Macdonald shit ever,” Jeselnik says.

“Norm, may you Rest In Peace. ❤️💔 You were unmistakably intelligent — your 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. You preferred long dead authors like Mark Twain. Your favorite book was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You were always reading!! You poured that love you had of those great authors in your own work. You were one of a kind with a twinkle in your eyes. And a lot of people don’t know this but Norm was a math genius. Great father and friend, old time elegance … love ya baby,” Shannon writes on Instagram.

 

 

“RIP My dazzling friend. God damn you were funny. There was no one funnier than Norm. I will miss you & your friendship,” Hammond says.

 

 

Sharing an old photo of Macdonald, Oteri writes, “I am so very sorry to hear this. RIP Norm♥️”

 

 

Macdonald’s Legacy

Macdonald, best known for the five years he spent as a cast member on SNL, started his career in show business at comedy clubs in Canada. (He’s from Quebec City, Québec.) In those clubs, he developed a “deadpan style” of comedy that quickly became his trademark.

He was a contestant on the show Star Search in 1990; from there he was hired to write for Roseanne Barr’s sitcom Roseanne for the 1992-93 season. After his one-season stint on the show, he landed a gig at NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

While at SNL, he anchored the Weekend Update segment for three seasons over the span of his time on the show, which is where he made his biggest impact. He also refused to “go easy” on O.J. Simpson, who was on trial for allegedly killing his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, at the time. (He was later acquitted of all charges.) Macdonald did this despite reported pressure from NBC network executives, according to Deadline.

Macdonald’s departure from SNL was controversial; he was fired from the show and often said it was because of his criticism of O.J. as a killer, “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.”

He starred in the 1998 film Dirty Work after leaving SNL and went on to create his own sitcom, The Norm Show, from 1999 to 2001. In 2013, he started a video podcast called Norm Macdonald Live, and in 2018, he released Norm Macdonald Has a Show, a Netflix talk show.

Paste magazine named him #31 on its list of 50 Best Stand-up Comics of All Time.

The Benefit of Support Networks for Cancer Patients

Keeping a Cancer Battle Private

A person’s health is a private matter; a cancer battle is arguably even more private, which is why some people, especially celebrities, choose to keep their health struggles out of the spotlight.

Macdonald apparently battled cancer for nine years, unbeknownst to most people; what type of cancer he battled has not been made public. The news that Macdonald even had cancer was only made public today upon the announcement of his death.

People like actress Kelly Preston, who was married to actor John Travolta, kept her cancer battle a secret as well; she died of breast cancer at age 57 last summer. Like Macdonald, Preston’s death was a surprise to many as her cancer diagnosis was widely unknown to the public.

Related: Kelly Preston Dies of Breast Cancer At 57 — Husband, John Travolta Thanks All Those Who Helped And Says ‘Kelly’s Love And Life Will Always Be Remembered’

On announcing her death, Travolta, now 67, noted at the time that he — like his late wife — would opt for a quiet, private road ahead as he began to grieve his wife. The actor posted to Instagram: “I will be taking some time to be there for my children who have lost their mother, so forgive me in advance if you don’t hear from us for a while. But please know that I will feel your outpouring of love in the weeks and months ahead as we heal.”

Actor Stanley Tucci also recently revealed for the first time that he privately fought tongue cancer three years ago. Actress Helen McCroy, wife to actor Damien Lewis, passed away in April at age 52 after a private battle with cancer.

People have different reasons for whether they share the news of their cancer diagnosis or not. For Marquina Iliev-Piselli, she says that sharing the news can be a burden.

Deciding When and Who to Tell About My Diagnosis Became a Burden

“Deciding when and who to tell became quite a burden,” she tells SurvivorNet. “So you have to relive your story over and over again.”

This alone is reason enough for people to keep their cancer diagnosis under wraps; in the end, the decision is up to the person diagnosed with the disease. And it’s important to remember that there’s no right way to deal with cancer; everyone handles it differently.

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Sydney Schaefer is a writer for SurvivorNet. Read More