He was 61.
Macdonald had been battling cancer for several years but kept his diagnosis private, his friend and producing partner, Lori Jo Hoekstra, told CNN in a statement.
“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,” Hoekstra said. “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.”
Born in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, he started in entertainment as a standup comedian who worked the Ottawa club circuit before branching out to clubs across Canada.
He quickly became known for his deadpan and sardonic delivery and in 1987 was given the opportunity to perform at the “Just For Laughs” Comedy Festival in Los Angeles.
That first taste of LA made an impression and Macdonald moved to the city, intent on breaking into Hollywood. He found work writing for the sitcom “Roseanne” in 1992.
He joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live”
the following year, where he became known for his impressions of David Letterman, Larry King, Burt Reynolds, Quentin Tarantino and others.
But it was as the anchor of the news satire segment “Weekend Update” where Macdonald hit his stride.
He held the position from 1994 to 1998.
Macdonald was rather abruptly and unceremoniously dropped from “Weekend Update,” a decision made by then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer. Although it was reported that the executive simply didn’t like Macdonald in that role, there were reports that it had to do jokes that Macdonald had told about O.J. Simpson, who was one of Ohlmeyer’s longtime friends.
In a 1998 interview on David Letterman’s show, Macdonald said Ohlmeyer told him, “You’re not funny,” adding, “He also thinks that O.J. is innocent.” Years later, Macdonald told the New York Times he thought the “experimental” nature of his material, not the Simpson connection, was why Ohlmeyer soured on him.
Macdonald went on to star in his own comedy series, “The Norm Show,” which ran from 1999-2001.
He also appeared in films like “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Dr. Dolittle 2” and “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.”
His stint hosting a 2018 Netflix talk show titled “Norm Macdonald Has a Show” was overshadowed by comments he made defending his friends Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr, both of whom had been mired in controversy, during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Macdonald later apologized.
Fellow comedians Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen and more paid tribute to Macdonald on Tuesday.
“Oh my God. We lost a legend,” Jim Gaffigan tweeted.
“Norm was punishingly funny. A unique special point of view and completely organic. RIPNormMacDonald. “
“I am absolutely devastated about Norm Macdonald,” Conan O’Brien tweeted
. “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.”
Senator Bob Dole also paid tribute, tweeting a picture of him and Macdonald in character as Dole.
“Norm @normmacdonald was a great talent, and I loved laughing with him on SNL. *Bob Dole* will miss Norm Macdonald,” Dole tweeted.
“In every important way, in the world of stand-up, Norm was the best. An opinion shared by me and all peers. Always up to something, never certain, until his matter-of-fact delivery leveled you,” David Letterman wrote
on Twitter. “I was always delighted by his bizarre mind and earnest gaze. (I’m trying to avoid using the phrase, “twinkle in his eyes”). He was a lifetime Cy Young winner in comedy. Gone, but impossible to forget.”
Macdonald was listed among the comics scheduled to perform during the upcoming New York Comedy Festival in November.