“He was most proud of his comedy. He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him. Norm was a pure comic,” Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald’s longtime producing partner, said in a statement.
“He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly.”
Born in Quebec City on October 17, 1959, Macdonald cut his teeth as a stand-up comic at comedy clubs in Canada before appearing as a contestant on the show Star Search in 1990, which helped him get a foothold in Hollywood. He spent a season writing for Roseanne before landing a role on SNL as a cast member in 1993.
Macdonald became a fixture as host of SNL‘s “Weekend Update” segment for three seasons, and ultimately stayed with the cast until 1998. He was known for doing impressions of various celebrities including Burt Reynolds, whom he played opposite Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek in “Celebrity Jeopardy!”
MacDonald left the show amid controversy for his take-no-prisoners approach to O.J. Simpson on Weekend Update.
He went on to launch The Norm Show, a hockey-inspired comedy which ran from 1999-2001, and later made a number of appearances on late-night TV shows. He also did voice work on several TV shows, including the recurring role of Death on Family Guy.
Macdonald provoked backlash while promoting his self-titled Netflix show in late 2018, when he said he was happy that the #MeToo revelations had “slowed down a little bit.” He followed that with an apology that mocked people with Down syndrome, prompting him to make yet another apology on The View.
“It’s always bad when you have to apologize for the apology,” Macdonald said.
Fans and celebrities mourned Macdonald’s passing on social media, where they hailed his style and shared his more memorable late-night talk show appearances.
“My dear friend Norm MacDonald passed after a brave 10 year battle,” fellow Canadian Jim Carrey tweeted. “He was one of our most precious gems. An honest and courageous comedy genius. I love him.”
“I was a huge fan of Norm Macdonald and I essentially ripped off his delivery when I first started acting,” Canada’s Seth Rogen wrote on Twitter. “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 the all time greats. RIP.”
Tom Green also joined the Canadian comedians mourning one of their own.
“Words can’t describe how saddened I am to hear of the passing of my friend,” he wrote.
Many also shared YouTube clips from Macdonald’s last stand-up performance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Macdonald used part of the performance to thank Letterman for inspiring his own comedy career.
“If something is true it is not sentimental,” Macdonald says, while fighting back tears. “And I say in truth that I love you.”
Macdonald’s SNL stint proved to be the height of his fame, but on-screen attention wasn’t his career goal.
“In my mind, I’m just a stand-up,” Macdonald told the New York Times Magazine in 2018. “But other people don’t think that. They go, oh, the guy from SNL is doing stand-up now.”