The news of Norm Macdonald’s untimely death seemed to catch everyone off guard. The comedian had secretly been battling acute leukemia for the past nine years, and had succumbed to the disease on September 14th of this year, at just 61.
Norm, who is best remembered for his five year stint as a cast member on Saturday Night Live during the 90s, has been lauded for his brave, deadpan comedy. Case in point, after his death a joke he made in one of his previous stand-up routines began making its rounds on the internet. “Now I’m not a doctor,” the comedian stated, “But I’m pretty sure that when you die the cancer also dies at exactly the same time. So that to me is not a loss, that’s a draw.” It was as though the comedian was setting up a posthumous punchline just in case his battle with cancer did, indeed, end in a ‘draw.’
Norm Macdonald’s career was shaped by his inability to follow the rules— which may have been both his undoing and his best quality as a comedian. He was fired from Saturday Night Live for making too many O.J. Simpson jokes while hosting Weekend Update. Allegedly NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, who was a longtime O.J. Simpson friend, fired both Macdonald and writer Jim Downey for their brutal treatment of O.J. during their time on the show. When opening the show after the O.J. verdict came back, Norm Macdonald stated: “Well, it’s official: Murder is now legal in the state of California.” This may not seem particularly harsh in retrospect, but again this was back in the 90s, when it was a little bit harder to make jokes about the now disgraced football star.
Following his stint on SNL, Macdonald found a whole host of other ventures to keep him busy. He briefly starred in his own comedy series, entitled Norm, from 1999 to 2001; and found roles in shows such as Netflix’s Girl Boss, My Name Is Earl, The Drew Carey Show, and NewsRadio. He also voiced characters in several animated projects including: Dr. Dolittle, Fairly Oddparents, and, most famously, voiced the Grim Reaper in a few episodes of Family Guy.
In recent years, Norm Macdonald has made many appearances on various late night shows, such as Late Night With David Letterman and Conan. In 2016, he published a memoir entitled Based On A True Story, in which he reflected on his love for stand up comedy and his career after SNL. “I think a lot of people feel sorry for you if you were on SNL and emerged from the show anything less than a superstar,” he explained. “They assume you must be bitter. But it is impossible for me to be bitter. I’ve been lucky.”
Looking back on his career in retrospect, it is impossible to chalk his success up to simple luck. Norm Macdonald was a rule-bending, daring comedian, who will be thoroughly remembered long after his battle with cancer ended in a ‘draw.’