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R.I.P. Norm MacDonald, SNL Weekend Update anchor whose deadpan style influenced a generation of comedians

If there was one thing Norm MacDonald was never afraid of, it was staying quiet. No one was safe from his jabs as an anchor on Saturday Night Live’s mock-news segment Weekend Update, even if it drew the ire of NBC executives. But MacDonald always wanted his comedy to be the focus, so he kept his cancer diagnosis private. After a nine-year battle, MacDonald passed away this week at the age of 61.

MacDonald was born in Quebec City, Canada, in 1959. He started performing comedy in his native city and eventually won a slot as a contestant on Star Search in 1990. 

MacDonald’s first real gig in television would prove prophetic: he joined the writers’ room of The Dennis Miller Show in 1992, a comedy show with a political bent. Miller was just coming of his own long run as Weekend Update anchor. After his time on the short-lived talk show, MacDonald became a writer on the sitcom Roseanne before joining Saturday Night Live in 1993.

MacDonald’s time behind the Weekend Update desk skyrocketed him to fame. His deadpan, sarcastic musings on the news of the day became a staple of the show in the mid-Nineties. His impression of Burt Reynolds sporting a leather jacket and bolo tie in sketches like “Celebrity Jeopardy!” is still one of the best remembered impressions from that era of SNL.

MacDonald could often be seen on late-night TV during the week as well — he was a favorite guest of Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. Their offbeat styles and sarcasm worked well together. His many late-night appearances continued throughout his career.

After his success on Saturday Night Live, MacDonald got his own sitcom, Norm (originally called The Norm Show). It followed a former hockey player who was banned from the league for gambling and tax evasion. To avoid prison, Norm must do five years of community service as a social worker — a job that goes about as well as you might think. The show lasted three seasons from 1999-2001.

MacDonald recently collaborated with his former SNL costar Adam Sandler in movies like Grown Ups and had a recurring role as Rusty Heck on the Patricia Heaton sitcom The Middle. MacDonald also hosted the talk show Norm MacDonald Has a Show for Netflix.

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