Norm MacDonald: comedian’s life and career - as Adam Sandler leads tributes as star died from cancer aged 61

The comedian was at the helm of Saturday Night Live’s Weekly Update section for five years

Canadian comic Norm MacDonald has passed away at the age of 61, his family have announced.

MacDonald was best known as a Saturday Night Live cast member, as well as starring in films alongside Adam Sandler (Billy Madison) and Dave Chappelle and Danny Davito (Screwed).

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He battled cancer for nearly a decade, though chose not to go public with his diagnosis, as he did not want his audience to consider his illness before his talents.

So, what else did he star in and how has the entertainment world paid tribute to Norm MacDonald? This is what you need to know.

Who was Norm MacDonald?

MacDonald was a Canadian-native, born in Quebec city in 1959.

His parents, Ferne and Percy, were both teachers and had two sons, Norman and Niel - a journalist with CBC News.

In his early 20s, he performed as an amatuer in bars and clubs in Ottawa, before getting his first big break as a comedy writer for sitcom Roseanne.

In 1988, he married Connie Vaillancourt and the pair welcomed a son in 1993, before splitting in 1999.

He quit his role on the show when he moved to Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1993, he remained on the hit show for five years and was at the helm of the sketch ‘Weekly Update’.

MacDonald became best known for his quick witted, dry sense of humour and deadpan delivery of comedy. He also regularly made celebrities and politicians the butt of his jokes - including Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson.

He left SNL in 1998, following what was thought to be a falling out between him and the channel’s president, Don Ohlmeyer, after MacDonald made several jokes about Ohlmeyer’s friend OJ Simpson being a murderer.

In 1999, he left the station completely and began starring and doing voice overs for movies, his first was Dirtytalk in 1998.

MacDonald also spoke openly about a gambling addiction which led to him loosing huge sums of money, including once losing $400,000 in one game of Poker.

In 2012, he was diagnosed with leukemia and fought the illness for nine years before passing away in Los Angeles on 14 September 2021, his brother Neil said he had only ever disclosed the diagnosis to a few close friends.

What movies and sketches was he cast in?

In 1995, MacDonald made his feature film debut in Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison, playing the role of Frank.

Following on from Dirtytalk, MacDonald also provided voiceover for Eddie Murphy’s Dr Dolittle, as Lucky the dog.

In 2000, he co-starred in Screwed with Dave Chappelle, though the film was not a huge hit on the silver screen.

He also provided voice overs for several episodes of Family Guy and children’s show, The Fairly OddParents.

In 2007, he joined the cast of My Name is Earl, as son of businessman ‘Chubby’, Lil Chubby.

In 2013, MacDonald launched his own video-podcast, Norm MacDonald Live. Two years later he performed live on the last episode of hit talk show David Letterman Live, he was a long serving friend of Letterman.

In March 2018, Netflix announced it had ordered 10 episodes of a new talk show entitled Norm Macdonald Has a Show, to be hosted by Macdonald.

How has the industry paid tribute to him following his death?

Leading tributes to him in the hours after his death was confirmed, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter: "The world was a much funnier place because Norm Macdonald was in it. We’ve lost a comedic genius, and a great Canadian. Sending my condolences to his loved ones and countless fans mourning his passing."

MacDonald’s long serving co-producer Lori Jo Hoekstra said of MacDonald: "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.

"He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly."

Saturday Night Live also paid tribute to his impact on comedy, saying he was "one of the most impactful comedic voices of his or any other generation".

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart wrote online: "No one could make you break like Norm MacDonald. Hilarious and unique."

Actor Adam Sandler also expressed his sympathies, Tweeting: “Every one of us loved Norm. Some of the hardest laughs of my life with this man. Most fearless funny original guy we knew. An incredible dad. A great friend. A legend. Love u pal.”

Comedian and actor Jim Carrey tweeted: "He was one of our most precious gems. An honest and courageous comedy genius."