The Best SNL Cast Members Who Died Too Soon
This list examines the tragic fates of all of the Saturday Night Live cast members who passed too soon. The SNL curse has been attributed to the untimely passing of many SNL cast members. Some of these hilarious comedians succumbed to cancer or other illnesses, while other SNL members suffered overdoses.
Who will you find on this list of SNL cast members who left us too soon? Known for hilarious sketches like Samurai Hotel and the Blues Brothers, John Belushi was a breakout star member of Saturday Night Live's original cast. Sadly, he struggled with substance use for many years; on March 5, 1982, he was found unresponsive in his Los Angeles hotel room at the age of 33. Chris Farley ("Da Super Fans," "The Chris Farley Show," "Matt Foley Motivational Speaker," etc.) also passed from substance use at the age of 33 in 1997.
Perhaps the most tragic SNL passing was that of Phil Hartman, who perished at the hands of his own wife, Brynn Omdahl, in 1998. Other SNL cast members who left us too soon include Gilda Radner, Jan Hooks, and Charlie Rocket.
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After co-writing Pee-wee's Big Adventure with Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1986. His impressions of Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, and Barbara Bush were hilarious, as was every sketch he appeared in as a straight man or star. Coinciding with his SNL tenure, Hartman also did voice work for The Simpsons and appeared alongside Mike Meyers in So I Married an Axe Murderer among other projects.
Hartman married his third wife Brynn Omdahl in 1987 and they had two children. On May 28, 1998, Omdahl offed Hartman while he was sleeping before ending her own life. He was 49 years old.
- Age: Dec. at 49 (1948-1998)
- Birthplace: Brantford, Ontario, Canada
- Cause Of Death: Homicide
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After spending time at Second City Toronto and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, Gilda Radner joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for its very first season in 1975. "Roseanne Roseannadanna," "The Nerds" (also featuring Bill Murray), and "Weekend Update" (in which she played Emily Litella) were among Radner's most popular sketches.
She met her future husband Gene Wilder on the set of the 1982 film Hanky Panky - though she was married to musician and future SNL bandleader G.E. Smith at the time - and the pair were married two years later. In 1986, Radner was diagnosed with cervical cancer and she succumbed to the disease in 1989. She was 42 years old.
- Age: Dec. at 42 (1946-1989)
- Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States of America
- Cause Of Death: Ovarian cancer
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Chris Farley joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in Season 16 (1990-1991), as did his frequent collaborators David Spade (Tommy Boy, Black Sheep) and Adam Sandler (Airheads, Billy Madison). Sketches including "Da Super Fans," "The Chris Farley Show," and "Motivational Speaker Matt Foley" were among his most popular bits.
Substance use was an ongoing issue for Farley, and he had attempted rehab over a dozen times. At the age of 33, he succumbed to a cocktail of coke and morphine in his Chicago apartment on Dec. 18, 1997. His last films Almost Heroes and Dirty Work were released posthumously in 1998.
- Age: Dec. at 33 (1964-1997)
- Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America
- Cause Of Death: Drug overdose
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John Belushi was an instant hit with comedy fans as a member of the very first Saturday Night Live cast in 1975. From his Samurai Hotel character to musical numbers with the Blues Brothers (which he created with fellow cast member Dan Aykroyd), Belushi often generated big laughs with the smallest of gestures. He also perfected hilarious impressions of Elizabeth Taylor, William Shatner, and other famous personalities during his four-season run.
Belushi struggled with substance use for many years, and on March 5, 1982, he was found unresponsive in his Los Angeles hotel room at the age of 33. Robin Williams - who was reportedly partying with Belushi the night before – stated that Belushi's substance-related passing provoked him and many other comedians to get sober. Belushi was survived by his wife, Judith, who was his high school sweetheart.
- Age: Dec. at 33 (1949-1982)
- Birthplace: Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
- Cause Of Death: Heroin overdose
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Jan Hooks made her Saturday Night Live debut in 1986 and soon became famous for her thoughtful and hilarious impressions (Tammy Faye Bakker, Sinead O’Connor) and fan-favorite recurring bits (the Sweeney Sisters). She starred in Designing Women after leaving SNL and also appeared in films like Batman Returns and Coneheads, the latter of which also featured SNL alums Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Chris Farley, and more.
After a small lump was discovered on her throat, Hooks learned she had cancer. She declined treatment which would have left her disfigured and voiceless and had no guarantee of success. She passed on October 9, 2014, at the age of 57.
- Age: Dec. at 57 (1957-2014)
- Birthplace: Decatur, Georgia, USA
- Photo: Saturday Night Live / NBC6835 VOTES
Danitra Vance was the first Black woman to become a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live when she joined the team in 1986. Prior to joining SNL, she wrote a one-woman play and performed at Second City and BACA Downtown in New York.
After leaving SNL after one season, during which she primarily played stereotypical roles, Vance went on to have great success on the stage with collaborations with George C. Wolfe.
She used her diagnosis of advanced breast cancer as inspiration for her off-Broadway play The Radical Girl's Guide to Radical Mastectomy. She succumbed to the disease in 1994 at the age of 40.
- Age: Dec. at 40 (1954-1994)
- Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
- Cause Of Death: Breast cancer