“Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night.” Everyone has heard this phrase. It’s one of the most iconic expressions in television history. Of course, it’s the intro to the sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live.
Typically, those words are said by the celebrity guest host in the opening monologue of each episode. And while the host always makes a splash, it’s the supporting cast that makes the show so great.
Saturday Night Live aired in 1975 and has been a tentpole of comedy for almost 50 years. Accumulating more than 900 episodes, the series has been a springboard for dozens of comedian powerhouses over the decades.
However, some of the great players from Saturday Night Live have passed away. Whether they were at the top of their game or burgeoning comedy talent, they will be missed.
Keep watching as this video will take a look at some of the greats who got their start on SNL but died tragically young.
John Belushi got his start working with the National Lampoons Radio Hour. It wasn’t long before his rangy comedic talent was noticed.
Belushi was one of the original members of the premier season of SNL. The first ensemble of Saturday night live is possibly the best. Belushi joined Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, and others.
John Belushi quickly emerged as a master. His comic temper out of nowhere was one of his specialties. Some of his famous SNL characters were one half of the Blues Brothers, Beethoven, and a rendition of Brando’s Godfather.
Beyond the series. Belushi did the Blues Brothers movie with his costar Dan Aykroyd, Bluto in Animal House, and Bill Korso in 1941.
No matter what your favorite Belushi moments were, you know he was a one-a-kind, unparalleled character.
Tragically, John Belushi struggled with drug addiction. In 1982, he died of a speedball overdose at the young age of 33.
This was a painful loss in the world of comedy. Who knows what else he would have been capable of? In any case, John Belushi easily makes the SNL hall of fame.
Speaking of hall of farmers, was anyone ever funnier than Chris Farley? His manic, explosive physical comedy split sides.
His particular talents were evident in sketches such as Da Bears Superfans, the Chippendale dancer, and Matt Foley “who lived in a van down by the river.”
Farley came up in the SNL world will fellow superstars Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Rock.
Beyond Saturday Night Live, Farley worked with these guys in a number of films. Although Farley recycled his crazy antics in many of his roles, it always brought the laughs. Two of his best films Tommy Boy and Black Sheep showcased his comedy.
If these were an indication of his career, Farley was set to own comedy for years to come. However, Chris Farley died of an overdose in 1997 at age 33.
His contemporaries went on to have huge careers in comedy, but they never forgot Farley’s genius. Adam Sandler paid a musical tribute to Chris Farley when he returned to SNL to host in 2019.
Fans of SNL will never forget Chris Farley either.
Before we take a look at some of the other Saturday Night Live greats who tragically passed away, please take a moment. If you are enjoying this video, hit the like button. Also, for similar stories of pop culture, consider subscribing to the Facts Verse page.
Tom Davis was a part of Saturday Night Live from the start. He continued to work on the series for years until 2003.
Davis’ best work came from a writer’s perspective. He was responsible for some of the most memorable skits and characters ever on SNL. Among his creations were The Coneheads, Bill Murray’s Lounge Singer, and Theodorick of York, the Medieval Barber.
Yet, Davis also performed some sketches, as well. The Franken and Davis show was a bit where Davis and Al Franken would goof around with many witticisms.
Sadly, Tom Davis died from throat cancer in 2012. He was 59. However, Davis certainly left his mark on SNL with a 40-year stint.
Phil Hartman was affectionately known as “glue” to his costars. This name was a nod to the way Hartman kept the show together. He played a role in countless sketches over the years and always stole the show.
Among Phil Hartman’s bits, he did dead-ringer impersonations of Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Regan. He was also the memorable unfrozen caveman lawyer.
If you’ve ever seen a Phil Hartman skit, you know how funny the man could be.
Shockingly, Phil Hartman was shot to death by his wife Brynn Hartman who struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues. She then committed suicide. Hartman was only 49 years old, and his death shook the comedy world.
Phil Hartman was on the top of his game in comedy. Outside of SNL, he was also in Small Soldiers, Houseguest, and Jingle All the Way. More notably still was his character, Troy McClure, on The Simpsons.
This was a tragic loss for the SNL family. The series re-aired some of his best sketches to pay tribute to Hartman.
Along with John Belushi and the others, George Coe was part of the original group who were known as the “not ready for prime time players.” The group was mostly young comedic stars, but Coe was the oldest at 46.
Coe had already forged a solid career working on Broadway, but he regularly appeared on SNL.
George Coe Even had an Oscar nomination already under his belt from his 1968 short film The Dove.
He was a character actor both on SNL and in television and film roles. He had parts in Colombo, Kramer vs Kramer, and The West Wing.
It is only, fitting that this lifelong funnyman ended his career in comedy. His last credit was doing the voice work as the butler Woodhouse in the popular animated comedy series Archer.
Coe died in 2015 at age 86. Archer dedicated its eighth season to Coe and his character.
Another terrible loss to comedy was a regular costar to Phil Hartman. Jan Hooks and Hartman had a killer rapport with their presidential impressions on SNL over the years.
Nancy Regan and Hillary Clinton were some of her most hilarious parts. Hooks went on to star in the sitcom Designing Women and earned an Emmy nomination for a guest spot of 3rd Rock from the Sun. And, like Phil Hartman, Hooks even played a part on The Simpsons.
Jan Hooks died from throat cancer in 2014. The actress was only 57 years old.
To honor Hooks, SNL played the famous “Love is a Dream’ skit where she, of course, starred alongside Hartman.
Michael O’ Donoghue
Like Tom Davis, Michael O’ Donoghue was best known for his contributions in the writer’s room.
In fact, O’Donoghue was Saturday Night Live’s first head writer.
His work helped galvanize SNL into the comedy powerhouse that it has been for decades. In his career on the show, O’Donoghue won two Primetime Emmys for outstanding writing in comedy.
What’s more, he also has the honor of acting in the series’ very first sketch. O’Donoghue played a teacher who dies from a heart attack in front of his student John Belushi.
Michael O’Donoghue passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1994. The writer was 54 years old.
Not only did O’Donoghue lead SNL, but he was also a founding member of National Lampoons and wrote the Bill Murray movie Scrooged.
Another one of the Not Ready for Primetime players that died too young was Gilda Radner. She too began her career on the National Lampoons Radio hour. Here she worked with many of her future colleagues on Saturday Night Live.
As a founding cast member on SNL, Radner was known for her characters Rosanne Rosannadanna, her Barbara Walters bit, and a contributor to the Weekend Update.
Radner won an Emmy for her work on the show in 1978.
Radner Married fellow funnyman Gene Wilder. Together, they starred in many films together including Hanky Panky and The Woman in Red.
Her shining comedy career was cut short when Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. One of her final roles was on the groundbreaking sitcom “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”
The actress died in 1989 at the age of 42. She was a bright light of comedy and a tentpole of Saturday Night Live.
The ever-changing ensemble on Saturday Night Live has produced some of the biggest names and funniest people to ever live. The show would not be what it is without the writers and players who crack us up every weekend.
Unfortunately, some of the stars from SNL passed away too young. Who knows what these comedians would have accomplished? It nice to know they are immortalized by this long-running series.
So, what did you think? Is anyone on this list responsible for your favorite skit? Who is the best SNL actor ever? Sound off in the comments below.
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