NEW YORK (AP) — Comedian Norm Macdonald, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer who was the “Weekend Update” host when Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson provided comic fodder during the 1990s, has died.
Macdonald, who was 61, died 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 favor and watch his stuff.”
“No one could make you break like Norm Macdonald,” Jon Stewart said on Twitter. “Hilarious and unique.” Jim Carrey tweeted that Macdonald was “an honest and courageous comedy genius.”
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.
His deadpan style and skills as a writer made him the choice to host the “Weekend Update.” Simpson was a favorite target. Macdonald opened the show’s 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 didn’t appreciate the ‘”SNL” star making Simpson the near-constant butt of jokes.
He went on 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 wasn’t.
In 2016, Letterman told The Washington Post that his 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 newspaper. “With others, you can tell the comedy, the humor, is considered. With Norm, he exudes it. ... There may be people as funny as Norm, but I don’t know anybody who is funnier.”