Tragic Details About Norm Macdonald

The following article includes mentions of sexual harassment and assault allegations, addiction, and death by murder-suicide.

Fans are mourning the shocking death of Norm Macdonald, who died at age 61 in September 2021 after privately dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The actor and comedian was best known for appearing on "Saturday Night Live" from 1993 to 1998, where he became one of the sketch show's most memorable "Weekend Update" anchors.

According to Deadline, Macdonald was born in Canada and got his start there by performing in comedy clubs. He eventually got his big break after competing on "Star Search" in 1990. This subsequently led to a job in Hollywood writing for "The Dennis Miller Show" and then later for "Roseanne," before he, of course, appeared in front of the camera on "SNL." Following his success on the famous comedy series, Macdonald landed his own short-lived TV series in 1999 called "Norm." Years later, in 2018, he hosted his own aptly-titled talk show, "Norm Macdonald Has a Show," on Netflix. Throughout his career, Macdonald also appeared on several late-night talk shows, podcasts, and had dropped three stand-up comedy albums. As his friend, producer Lori Jo Hoekstra, explained to the outlet, "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." 

It's clear that Norm Macdonald had a super successful career in show business, but life wasn't always kind to the beloved comic, who faced his fair share of tragedies.

Norm Macdonald dealt with his cancer diagnosis alone

With Norm Macdonald's tragic death, Hollywood lost a big talent — but the way that he died also seemed pretty lonely. Deadline reports that the "SNL" alum privately dealt with cancer for nine years and continued to work despite the disease, never letting on that he may have been in pain. According to his IMDb, the comedian made several appearances on talk shows and TV series, as well as created his own show for Netflix, launched his "Norm Macdonald Live" podcast, and wrote his "Based on a True Story" memoir, all post-diagnosis. 

Macdonald not only decided to keep his cancer a secret from his large fanbase, but apparently even his family and friends. While it may have been challenging to not have that support during an extremely difficult time, it seems that pal Lori Jo Hoekstra not only knew about the diagnosis, but was also "with him when he died," per Deadline. Hoekstra was able to shed some light on why her producing partner chose to keep the disease a secret, revealing, "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." 

The comic had also discussed his problems with the stigma with cancer before. In 2011, Macdonald told The New York Times, "When I hear a guy lost a battle to cancer, the term really bothers me. It implies that he failed and that somebody else, who defeated cancer, is heroic and courageous."

He was fired from SNL

While Norm Macdonald is remembered for his deadpan humor, dry delivery, and hilarious impressions, the actor-comedian was actually fired from "Saturday Night Live" in 1998. Not only was being fired from the show that made him a star presumably devastating for Macdonald, but the reason behind his firing also seemed somewhat sketchy. According to Rolling Stone, the comic believed he was let go for his coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial when he anchored "Weekend Update."

Macdonald suggested that then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer found his jokes about Simpson too harsh and wanted him to let up. The Washington Post reports that Macdonald joked to David Letterman at the time, "[Ohlmeyer] is best friends with O.J. Simpson. And that's fine. ... Now, how could he not like me?" Ohlmeyer denied that was why Macdonald was fired, and MacDonald himself eventually admitted it was probably for other reasons

Yet, things apparently got so bad between the two that the network banned ads for Macdonald's new movie at the time, "Dirty Work." Ohlmeyer confessed (via The Washington Post), "I just don't think it would be appropriate for us to turn around and take a check for a movie that's promoting somebody who has bad-mouthed 'Saturday Night Live' and NBC." 

Despite Macdonald having a large fan following and the respect of other comedians, it couldn't have helped his career to publicly feud with someone in such a powerful industry position.

Norm Macdonald nearly lost all his money to a gambling addiction

Norm Macdonald not only dealt with cancer, but also with an addiction to gambling, which apparently got so bad that he lost a ton of money more than once. In 2016, the "Girl Boss" actor even told Larry King that when it came to gambling on sports, "Some have said it's been the ruin of me." 

Macdonald dished, "A friend of mine that's very smart said, 'I've been very lucky with gambling. I never won. ... 'Cause if you never win, you don't get hooked.'" The "Billy Madison" star went on to explain how it became a problem for him following a "big win," saying, "I was a casual gambler, you know? ... I hit a craps table and went on a gigantic run. Won, you know, six figures. And ever since then, you can't go back." Macdonald also revealed to King that he "did go broke twice," adding that "it was a very cleansing feeling in a way," but that he did eventually "quit."

According to Celebrity Mirror, Macdonald's gambling addiction wasn't helped by the fact that his apartment building's lobby featured a casino. At his worst, the stand-up comic lost $400,000, and he was only able to save $200,000 from his presumably sizable earnings at "Saturday Night Live." Thankfully, it appears that quitting gambling and continuing to find work in Hollywood made a big difference for Macdonald, as he was definitely no longer broke at the time of his death. In fact, Celebrity Net Worth reveals that he was actually worth $2.5 million.

The comedian was separated from his wife and seemingly had trouble dating

While it appears that Norm Macdonald was quite fortunate in showbiz, he was not so lucky in love. According to The Sun, Macdonald married a non-celebrity named Connie Vaillancourt Macdonald in 1988. They welcomed their son, Dylan, in 1993, before deciding to separate after 11 years of marriage. 

Macdonald kept his family very private and rarely spoke about them in interviews, but he did tell The Washington Post in 2016 that his ex-wife is "great" and "a fine person." Not much else is known of Connie, other than that she is a family and marriage therapist based in Los Angeles. In 1999, Macdonald told Rolling Stone that he was happy to move there from New York City, where he'd filmed "SNL," since he'd be closer to his son. 

It's unclear why Macdonald's marriage didn't work out. Even though he presumably remained single for most of his days, he did appear to have an interest in romance, since he and a friend launched a dating app called Loko in 2018. The comedian explained to People, "I think we both want to try to bring a little romance back to life. ...I always think when my buddies tell me all these stories with girls, I go, 'The world hasn't changed that much since I knew girls.'" However, Macdonald did tell USA Today that he was "not using it" himself and that dating apps "aren't for me," admitting, "I always thought they were a little sleazy."

Norm Macdonald regretted not finishing school

Norm Macdonald was able to reach levels of success that most can only dream of, but he did seem to feel inadequate when it came to other areas of life — like his education. According to Page Six, Macdonald never graduated from high school, which he brought up while promoting his 2017 memoir, "Based on a True Story." He revealed, "The scariest [part about writing a book] is I have no education and so I really feel like to be a good writer, you need education." 

While the "SNL" star clearly went on to have a successful career regardless, he admitted, "I would really like to go to school. I never got the chance." Macdonald was proud that his son, Dylan, seemed to be accomplishing those things, explaining, "My son has [an] education. He's a much better writer than I am. ... [Dylan] has work ethic and a passion for it."

Ironically, the Canadian native's parents worked as school teachers, but his mother did tell The Washington Post that Macdonald was "one of the best-behaved children in his class." He also was an avid reader who preferred Russian literature, which isn't necessarily easy reading. More notably, the comic also displayed his intelligence through his comedy, as it is a well-known trope that one must be smart to be funny. As David Letterman once said of Macdonald, "The combination of the delivery and his appearance and his intelligence. There may be people as funny as Norm, but I don't know anybody who is funnier."

His fumbled thoughts on #MeToo put a ding in his sterling reputation

Norm Macdonald was a well-respected comedian, but he was almost canceled in 2018 due to controversial comments made to The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit," he said. "It used to be, 'One hundred women can't be lying.' And then it became, 'One woman can't lie.' And that became, 'I believe all women.' And then you're like, 'What?'" 

Macdonald also defended two longtime friends — Roseanne Barr, who was fired from the "Roseanne" reboot over racist tweets, and Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct: "There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, 'What about the victims?' But you know what? The victims didn't have to go through that." Amid the subsequent backlash, Macdonald tweeted, "If my words sounded like I was minimizing the pain that their victims feel to this day, I am deeply sorry."

Following Macdonald's death, he ran afoul of #MeToo once again, as accusers began publicly claiming he had a history of sexual harassment and even abuse. Comedian Jenny Yang quote-tweeted one such accusation and alleged, "He disrespected and straight up sexually assaulted women in comedy for many years." Another user dredged up an old Macdonald quote to THR, in which he seemed to confess to pretending to be "drunk" in order to get away with "grop[ing]" women. (Although, Macdonald's remarks may have been an off-color joke.) As of this writing, there has been no official investigation into any of these claims.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Norm Macdonald dealt with tragic deaths of people close to him

Fans may be mourning Norm Macdonald's death these days, but the "Dirty Work" actor sadly did his fair share of grieving, as well. His father, Percy, died in 1990 of heart disease, per The Washington Post, and Macdonald also had to deal with the deaths of some of his "SNL" co-stars. Throughout his time on the show between 1993 and 1998, the comedian had worked with the late Chris Farley and Phil Hartman.

Macdonald appeared to have a good relationship with Farley, whom he also worked with on "Billy Madison," prior to his death from a drug overdose in 1997. Macdonald paid tribute to Farley while appearing on Conan O'Brien's late-night show in 2016, recalling their first meeting, when Farley let him in on a big "SNL" secret about Julia Sweeney's androgynous character, Pat. "He secreted me into this room," Macdonald told O'Brien (via Entertainment Weekly). "... He said, 'I got a secret to tell you.' I was very honored to have this. He said, 'This doesn't go past these walls. Pat is a woman!'" 

Having also worked with Hartman before his death by murder-suicide in 1998, Macdonald recalled a fun memory to Vulture: "He returned to host the show when I was a cast member. ​I did a character. ... And he's a great fan of it and thought it was going to be a huge character. And then it didn't get past dress rehearsal. And he said, 'That's showbiz.'" 

Sadly, Norm Macdonald has also tragically joined the ranks of former "SNL" legends who died too soon.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.