Comedians You Might Not Know Died

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It's always a major bummer when a beloved comedy figure shuffles off this mortal coil and moves on to their next gig at the cosmic comedy club. Those gifted folks who are skilled in the dispensing of much-needed yuks are crucial interpreters and observers of our often tragic and unpredictable world. Their comedic insights are joyful and healing, even in their most edgy and vulgar forms. So it always feels extra painful when we know we'll never again enjoy a hilarious character or dirty joke from one of our favorite comedians.

It's especially difficult when one has grown up enjoying a particular comedian, it's a shared experience that makes life just a little bit more bearable for us all. Let's face it, the planet has lost some good ones in recent years, brilliant and unique performers who deserve praise and recognition for sharing their gifts with us while they were here. There may have been a few deaths in the comedy world you might've missed, so let's take a look at some of these funny folks and have a few laughs while remembering them.

Jan Hooks

Jan Hooks brought her Southern-style comedy to "Saturday Night Live" in the late '80s, becoming one of the show's most valuable players. A member of the renowned improv comedy troupe The Groundlings before joining "SNL," Hooks flexed her comedy skills on the show with original characters like swinging lounge singer Candy Sweeney and Brenda the Waitress. She was also a master celebrity impersonator and her takes on Tammy Faye Bakker, Hillary Clinton, and Sinead O'Conner are some of the show's best. After leaving "SNL" in 1991, Hooks joined the hit CBS sitcom "Designing Women" and had small roles in '90s movies like "Batman Returns" and "Simon Burch."

Hooks continued work in Hollywood, appearing in recurring parts on "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "The Simpsons," but in her later years, she mostly shunned the show business spotlight. Grantland reports that Hooks worked enough to maintain health insurance, but she chose to spend most of her time at an old farmhouse in upstate New York. When Hooks died in 2014 at the age of 57 from cancer, her Sweeney sister cohort and "SNL" castmate Nora Dunn told The Hollywood Reporter, "The greatest joy on 'SNL' was live on camera, standing next to my Sweeney sister and trying to keep a straight face. Jan created that duo, along with so many other characters that will stand forever among the best of 'Saturday Night Live.' Her loss feels monumental." Influenced by Hooks as a teen, "SNL" alum Amy Poehler also told the publication, "She was one of the greats."

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried's abrasive, idiosyncratic voice and his often deliberately offensive jokes made him a beloved performer in the comedy world. A Brooklyn-born kid obsessed with television, Gottfried told Brooklyn Paper he started his comedy career as a child, attending open-mic nights at the famous nightclub The Bitter End. Years of stand-up performing led Gottfried to "Saturday Night Live" in 1980 for a 12-episode stint. Gottfried hated being on "SNL," and although he wasn't ready to be a late-night player, he became an in-demand character and voice actor in Hollywood. Some of Gottfried's notable loud-mouth characters included child-hating adoption agent Igor Peabody in the "Problem Child" movies and squawking parrot Iago in Disney's "Aladdin" and its myriad sequels.

Gottfried might have kept it family-friendly at the movies, but his comedy routines, as The New York Times reports, was a combination of shtick and crude humor. Said comedian Jeff Ross of Gottfried's legendary version of the filthy joke The Aristocrats, "It was probably one of the best single tellings of a joke I've ever heard." Celebrated as a comedian's comedian, Gottfried went where other performers dared not, and sometimes faced consequences. His offensive tweets after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami got him fired from his gig as the Alfac Duck. When Gottfried died in 2022 at the age of 67 from muscular dystrophy, the comedy world mourned. Remembering Gottfried, actor Susie Essman told Vulture, "He had the great gift of being able to make people laugh, because that was his genius."

Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman was both a talented dramatic actress and formidable comedian. She started acting in the 1950s, her diverse resume including roles in everything from film noir movies like "Kiss Me Deadly" to small-screen parts such as Timmy's (Jon Provost) mom Ruth in the kiddie classic TV show "Lassie." After winning an Academy Award in 1971 for Best Supporting Actress in "The Last Picture Show," a performance that garnered effusive praise from outlets like Variety, Leachman pivoted to television comedy. As she put it, "I'm at a point where I'm free to go out and have a little fun with my career" (per The New York Times).

Leachman certainly had fun playing Phyllis Lindstrom on the seminal CBS sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and the spinoff "Phyllis." She won two Emmys for the part and she secured another six statuettes for her work in television over the decades, including another pair for playing the sadistically cruel Ida on "Malcolm in the Middle." When not yukking it up on TV, Leachman teamed with comedy legend Mel Brooks in his films "Young Frankenstein," "High Anxiety," and "History of the World, Part I." With almost 290 acting credits to her name, Leachman left an indelible mark on entertainment when she died in 2021 at the age of 94. As her "Spanglish" co-star Adam Sandler reflected on Twitter, Leachman was "A true legend. One of the funniest of all time."

Ralphie May

Stand-up comedian Ralphie May may have found a new level of fame coming in second place on the first season of "Last Comic Standing," but before reality TV, he had already been sharpening his skills on the comedy circuit for quite a while. The New York Times reports May got his start in comedy as a teen, finding a mentor in rule-breaking comedian Sam Kinison. May worked the comedy circuit for years and even showed off his promising acting skills in the 2002 movie "For da Love of Money." But May mostly kept to stand-up, touring the country and filming a number of Comedy Central specials including "Ralphie May: Girth of a Nation" and "Ralphie May: Austin-tatious." He also released the stand-up specials "Ralphie May: Imperfectly Yours" and "Ralphie May: Unruly" on Netflix.

Ralphie May was in the prime of his career when he died in 2017 at the age of 45 from cardiac arrest. He was beloved by fellow comedians like Kevin Hart, who tweeted "[May] was a good dude," and Jim Gaffigan, who shared his own feelings: "Sweet guy. He loved doing stand-up and loved comedians" (per The Hollywood Reporter). May's memoir, "This Might Get a Little Heavy," was released posthumously, completed just several months after his death.

Louie Anderson

Minnesota-born Louie Anderson turned anecdotes about his early life in the Midwest into a successful stand-up comedy and television career. Anderson tapped into his troubled youth for laughs after leaving a job in social work for stardom. His set on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in 1984 and a featured role in the 1988 comedy "Coming to America" put him in the national spotlight. In the '90s, Anderson transitioned his comedy to the Saturday morning cartoon set with the semi-autobiographical animated series "Life With Louie," winning two Emmys for his voicework. Anderson stayed on the small screen throughout his career, starring in his own short-lived sitcom, guest-starring on hit shows like "Ally McBeal" and "Scrubs," and taking on the game show genre as host of "Family Feud" and panelist on "Hollywood Squares."

Anderson achieved late-career greatness for playing Christine Baskets on the FX series "Baskets." Called "one of the great TV characters, up there with Homer Simpson, Tony and Carmela Soprano, or any of the Golden Girls" by The New York Times, Anderson won an Emmy for the role in 2016. Anderson died from complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2022 at the age of 68 and his obituary in The Washington Post reports that he was developing a singing career, even taking voice lessons. Upon Anderson's death, his long-time collaborator Carl Kurlander wrote for Deadline about Anderson's reputation for kindness in Hollywood, sharing, "Like the social worker he started out as, ultimately Louie was a healer."

Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner's tragically brief life left an indelible mark on the comedy world, inspiring generations of comedians to be their authentically funny selves. She made her auspicious acting debut in the now-legendary 1972 Toronto production of "Godspell." She gained instant fame as a member of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, staying with the show until 1980. Her characters like "Weekend Update" stalwarts Roseanne Rosannadanna and Emily Litella, "nerd" Lisa Loopner, and most imaginative child Judy Miller made her one of "SNL's" MVPs. Fellow "SNL" alum Tina Fey said of Radner's time on the show, "We all saw that and said, 'I want to do that. And it's possible because I see her doing that'" (per Vanity Fair).

Radner's talents were not relegated to late-night television. She starred in her own one-woman Broadway show which was released as the documentary film "Gilda Live" in 1980. After "SNL," Radner's film career never really took off, but she met her husband Gene Wilder on the set of 1982's "Hanky Panky." They worked together on the Wilder-directed films "The Woman in Red" and "Haunted Honeymoon." In 1986, Radner was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer, and she chronicled her health in her memoir, "It's Always Something." Radner died in 1989 at the age of 42. Not only did Radner leave a lasting comedic legacy, but she also increased ovarian cancer awareness, as The Guardian reports, with Wilder establishing the Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program to better understand cancer risk.

Norm Macdonald

Norm Macdonald's dry humor and acerbic wit on "Saturday Night Live" made him the perfect "Weekend Update" anchor for the mid-'90s. Taking over the role from Kevin Nealon, Macdonald put his own sardonic spin on the late-night satirical anchor desk. But not everyone was a fan of Macdonald's humor. His repeated jokes about O.J. Simpson were reported to be the reason why Macdonald was fired from "SNL" in 1998. He took his firing in stride and quickly rebounded with movies like "Dirty Work" and his own ABC sitcom "The Norm Show." A frequent guest on late-night couches, Conan O'Brien tweeted "Norm had the most unique comedic voice I have ever encountered and he was so relentlessly and uncompromisingly funny."

Macdonald's decades-long career spanned movies, TV, podcasting, and stand-up, and when the news broke that he died from cancer in 2021, it sent shockwaves through the entertainment world. Keeping his diagnosis private for nine years, his close friend Lori Jo Hoekstra shared with Deadline, "He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him." Many comedians took to social media to mourn Macdonald's death, with Steve Martin calling him "one of a kind" and Jim Carey saying "he was one of our most precious gems" (per Vulture). Gone but not forgotten, Netflix posthumously released Macdonald's final comedy special "Norm Macdonald: Nothing Serious" in 2022.

Jay Thomas

Football quarterback, disc jockey, and comedian Jay Thomas had a hot TV career in the '80s and '90s, with stints on classic sitcoms like "Cheers" and "Murphy Brown." On "Cheers," Thomas played the recurring role of Carla Tortelli's (Rhea Perlman) husband Eddie LeBec, but it was far from wedded bliss behind the scenes. Decider reports that according to "Cheers" writer Ken Levine, Thomas' disgust at kissing Perlman led to his dismissal from the show. Thomas' career recovered quickly when he landed a gig on "Murphy Brown" as talk show host Jerry Gold, winning back-to-back Emmys for the part.

Thomas' success on "Murphy Brown" led to him starring in another Diane English-created sitcom for CBS. Called "Love and War," Thomas co-starred with Annie Potts as an on-again, off-again New York City couple. "Love and War" aired for three seasons, ending its run in 1995. Throughout his life, Thomas stayed close to his broadcasting roots, hosting "The Jay Thomas Show on SiriusXM." He influenced people like radio legend Howard Stern, who said "Jay was a big inspiration to me," adding, "He was naturally funny" (per Howard Stern). Thomas also flexed his storytelling chops every holiday season as a guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman" to share his famous "Lone Ranger" story from his radio days and to toss a football or two. When Thomas died from cancer in 2017 at age 69, Letterman told The Wrap, "His Lone Ranger story was the best I heard in 30 years."

Doris Roberts

Before Doris Roberts played "Everybody Loves Raymond" matriarch Marie Barone, she had a decades-spanning career on stage and screen. Attending classes at The Actors Studio alongside stars such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, she told the Television Academy Foundation, "That was exciting and wonderful." Like many New York actors, Roberts started her career doing live television plays, and she soon became a small-screen staple, racking up credits in shows like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Barney Miller." She won her first of five Emmys for her work in the '80s medical drama "St. Elsewhere." Other notable TV credits include co-starring with a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan in "Remington Steele" and, like any character actor worth their salt, acting in three different episodes of "The Love Boat."

For nine seasons, the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" chronicled the hilarious, everyday antics of the Barone family. Roberts often found herself acting in some of "Everybody Loves Raymond's" funniest moments, and her efforts were recognized with four Emmy awards. After the show wrapped in 2005, Roberts stayed the acting course, with "Everybody Loves Raymond" creator Phil Rosenthal telling the Los Angeles Times, "She was taking acting classes right up to the end," adding, "She was very dedicated to the craft. She was the real thing." And Roberts surely was. With her last film credit in 2016, the same year she died of natural causes at age 90, Roberts remained a true thespian.

Terry Jones

Terry Jones, member of legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, was raucously silly and brazenly intellectual. Dubbed "an absolute titan of British comedy" by the BBC, Jones started his comedic career at that most British of institutions, Oxford University, where he met and started working with future Python member Michael Palin. Eventually, Jones and Palin combined forces with fellow comedians John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and American animator Terry Gilliam to make "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Their subversive take on British culture was a hit and spawned several classic movies. Jones co-directed 1975's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" with Gilliam, and solo directed "Monty Python's Life of Brian" in 1979, and "Monty Python and the Meaning of Life" in 1983.

Outside of his work with Monty Python, Jones was passionate about history. A medieval scholar, he wrote the book "Chaucer's Knight" in 1980, and wrote and starred in the 2004 documentary series "Medieval Lives." He also published several children's books, including "The Saga of Erik the Viking," the basis of his 1989 film "Erik the Viking." Late in life, Jones faced a series of health issues, including bowel cancer in 2006. Ever the humorist, The New York Times reports that Jones used his diagnosis to create educational health videos. Ultimately, Jones died not from cancer but from, as his agent confirmed to the Associated Press, "a long, extremely brave but always good humored battle with a rare form of dementia" in 2020 at age 77.

Penny Marshall

Penny Marshall was a television and film trailblazer. Not only did she co-star in the popular sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," but Marshall also had a groundbreaking movie career, becoming, as Variety reports, the first woman to direct not one but two films grossing over $100 million at the box office. But before Marshall's box office triumphs came sitcom stardom. Penny shared with the Television Academy Foundation that she and actress Cindy Williams were initially featured in her brother Garry Marshall's 1950s-set sitcom "Happy Days" for a single episode as "fast girls, girls who put out." However, it turned out those "fast girls," Laverne and Shirley, were a hit and scored their own spinoff series. "Laverne & Shirley" ran for eight nostalgia-filled seasons on ABC.

Marshall started her directing career by helming several episodes of "Laverne & Shirley" before making her feature-length directorial debut in 1986 with "Jumpin' Jack Flash." She then moved on to direct the smash-hit "Big," followed by "Awakenings," and "A League of Their Own." After a series of health setbacks in the late '00s, including cancer and a brain tumor, The New York Times reported Marshall died in 2018 at age 75 of complications from diabetes. After her death, many in Hollywood celebrated Marshall for both her comedic and directorial skills, with fellow sitcom star-turned-director Ron Howard succinctly tweeting, "She was funny & so smart. She made the transition from sitcom star to A List movie director with ease & had a major impact on both mediums."

Harry Anderson

Harry Anderson starred on the NBC sitcom "Night Court" as Judge Harry Stone for nine zany seasons. A public official who moonlighted as a magician, Stone presided over his gallery of misfit legal eagles while working the night division of a New York City municipal court. Equal parts comedian and magician, Stone was the perfect role for Anderson to showcase his many talents. Before taking the bench on "Night Court," Anderson popped up on "Saturday Night Live" and scored a role on "Cheers" as fedora-wearing conman Harry "The Hat" Gittes. After "Night Court" held its last session in 1992, Anderson moved on to star in another sitcom, "Dave's World," based on the writings of humor columnist Dave Berry.

Save for the occasional cameo in shows like "30 Rock," Anderson left Hollywood in 2000, moving to New Orleans with his wife and opening a nightclub, Oswald's Speakeasy. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Anderson held community meetings at his club, with The New York Times reporting that many locals credited him with jumpstarting recovery efforts of the city's French Quarter. He eventually moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where he died in 2018 at the age of 65 after a stroke brought on by the flu and heart disease (per TMZ). Anderson was much loved, leaving an impression on those he encountered, including a young Judd Apatow, who interviewed him as a 15-year-old. Apatow tweeted, "He was a one-of-a-kind talent who made millions so happy."

Jessica Walter

Jessica Walter, perhaps best known for playing Lucille Bluth in the comedy series "Arrested Development," had decades of acting credits to her name before taking on the sharp-witted, martini-swilling Bluth family matriarch. After parts in '60s television shows like "Route 66," "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," and "Flipper," Walter made a splash on the big screen starring opposite Clint Eastwood in the 1971 thriller "Play Misty for Me." The New York Times notes that versatile performer Walter took on and embraced playing female characters with sharp edges. As she told The A.V. Club, "Those are the fun roles. They're juicy, much better than playing the vanilla ingénues." But her dramatic flair was equally matched by her comedic sensibilities. Anyone who can bring life to an animatronic suburban dinosaur housewife like Walter did in the sitcom "Dinosaurs" clearly has a sense of humor.

In addition to "Arrested Development," Walter found late-career comedic success voicing Malory Archer, another strong matriarch, on the animated spy comedy "Archer," earning two Emmy nominations for her work. When Walter died in 2021 at the age of 80, Vanity Fair shared that "Archer" gave Walter, and her animated counterpart, a touching farewell, showing Malory relaxing at the beach with her husband Ron Cadillac. Making it extra-sweet, Walter's late husband Ron Liebman voiced Cadillac. Remembered as an incredible talent by those who worked with her, Walter was praised by "Arrested Development" on-screen son Tony Hale, who remarked on Twitter, "She was a force."

Patrice O'Neal

Heralded by fellow comedians like Dennis Leary as "one of the funniest men who walked this earth" and Donald Glover as "one of the funniest and smartest comedians ever" (per CBS News), Patrice O'Neal did comedy his way. His death at the age of 41 in 2011 from complications from a stroke cut short the life of a talent who was both, as The New York Times noted, boisterous and controversial. Billed as "The comedian comedians were afraid of" in a posthumous profile in New York Magazine, O'Neal didn't concern himself with showbusiness niceties, his behavior reportedly sabotaging opportunities with Chris Rock, Spike Lee, and his recurring role on the NBC smash-comedy "The Office."

O'Neal's attitude didn't preclude him from getting plenty of television work. He starred in a slew of half-hour comedy specials for heavy-hitters like Showtime and HBO, and he was a featured comedian in several Comedy Central roasts. O'Neal also was a pop-culture talking head on VH1's nostalgic "I Love ..." series, and he hosted the network's internet humor series "Web Junk 20." O'Neal's legacy was honored with the documentary "Patrice O'Neal: Killing Is Easy," interviewing family and friends about what filmmakers hailed as a bright yet imperfect career.