10 ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Members Who Died Way Too Young

With comedy comes tragedy.

Matt Branhamby Matt Branham
Photo: NBC

With the recent 40th anniversary celebration of Saturday Night Live, there was a small void– ten voids actually–left by the deceased cast members we would’ve loved to see there. So, we’d like to pay tribute to the late SNL greats, many of which left us in their prime, and pick up where Melissa McCarthy left off.

Chris Farley (1964-1997)

Photo: NBC

One of the ’90s “Bad Boys of SNL,” Farley was the shy but energetic man behind great characters like Matt Foley, over-enthusiastic motivational speaker, and Todd O’Connor, an obsessed Chicago Bears/Mike Ditka fan. No matter what character he played, he always gave it full effort (especially his Chippendales audition) and everyone enjoyed that. Farley died of an overdose of morphine and cocaine in his home. Other popular credits include the films Tommy Boy and Black Sheep.

Phil Hartman (1948-1998)

Photo: NBC

One year later, we lost NewsRadio star Phil Hartman. He appeared in eight seasons of Saturday Night Live and played more than 20 recurring characters. Hartman was tragically murdered by his wife, Brynn, who took her own life afterwards. Drugs were said to have played a part in the incident. Other popular credits include Captain Carl of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and several voices from The Simpsons.

Gilda Radner (1946-1989)

Photo: NBC

Radner was among the first cast members, getting her start on Saturday Night Live in 1975. She was diagnosed with cancer in the ’80s, shortly after leaving the show. Radner later released a memoir about her struggles with cancer, “It’s Always Something,” a catch phrase from one of her more popular “SNL” characters, Roseanne Roseannadanna. Bill Murray recalls the last time they all saw Gilda was at a party, and when she tried to leave, he carried her around on his shoulder for an hour saying goodbye to everyone.

John Belushi (1949-1982)

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Belushi was another original cast member who started out in 1975. His roles included popular impressions of Marlon Brando and Joe Cocker, and he and Dan Aykroyd were a comedy duo, performing their Blues Brothers skits together. Belushi was found having overdosed on speedball (heroin and cocaine) injections in the famous L.A. hotel, Chateau Marmont. Other popular credits include National Lampoon’s Animal House. He was also originally cast to appear in Ghostbusters as Peter Venkman, a role Bill Murray ended up becoming famous for.

Jan Hooks (1957-2014)

Photo: NBC

Hooks was a stand-up comedian who joined the cast in 1986 and stayed until 1991, serving up several great female impressions like Hillary Clinton, Sinead O’Connor and Nancy Reagan. Hooks recently passed away in 2014 after a battle with cancer, which she thought she had beaten. Other popular credits include Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and television’s Designing Women.

Tom Davis (1952-2012)

Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage (Getty)

Davis was an Emmy award-winning actor, writer and comedian who joined the original cast of “SNL” in 1975 until his departure in 1980. He worked mostly well in comedy pairs, doing “Franken and Davis” sketches with Al Franken, “Medieval Barber” with Steve Martin and “Nick the Lounge Singer” with Bill Murray. Davis was diagnosed with neck and head cancer in 2009 and passed away in 2012, just weeks before his 60th birthday. Other popular credits include Coneheads and Trading Places, both movies involving former “SNL” castmate Dan Aykroyd.

Charles Rocket (1949-2005)

Photo: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank (Getty)

Born Charles Claverie, he joined the cast in 1980 for only a brief stint but managed to become the “Weekend Update” anchor in that time. He was best known for his skit “The Rocket Report,” where he would take a camera crew out on the streets of NYC. Rocket was infamously fired for saying the F-word on live TV, and reportedly battled depression for years afterward. Rocket committed suicide in 2005, cutting his own throat in his Connecticut home. His other popular credits include 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.

Danitra Vance (1954-1994)

Photo: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Vance was a stand-up comedian, actress and vocalist who joined the cast in 1985 for only one year. Her popular characters included Cabrini Jackson and LaToya Marie. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 and underwent treatment, later performing a solo skit based off the experience, “The Radical Girl’s Guide to Radical Mastectomy.” Her cancer returned in 1993 and she passed in 1994. Other popular credits include Sticky Fingers and Jumpin’ at the Boneyard.

Andy Kaufman (1949-1984)

Photo: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank (Getty)

After appearing on the premiere episode of “SNL” in 1975, Andy Kaufman continued a stint of appearances on the show with unpredictable and unorthodox performances. Despite his popular “Mighty Mouse” and “Foreign Man” sketches, NBC executive Dick Ebersol moved to have Kaufman removed from the show with a viewer call-in vote 900-number, ironically an idea invented by Kaufman himself. He would later die in 1984 from lung cancer, though there are conspiracies that the magical Kaufman faked his own death and will resurface again soon in the comedy world.

Michael O’Donoghue (1940-1994)

Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

O’Donoghue was an original “SNL” cast member, original head writer and part of the show’s first skit, “The Wolverines.” He was fired during the show’s third season for his mocking of the then NBC president, Fred Silverman.” He was brought back two times and fired two more times by different NBC heads. He died in 1994 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Another comedic great lost too soon: What John Candy Had That We Miss in Actors Today