Canadian comic Norm Macdonald dies at 61 after a private battle with cancer

Canadian comic Norm Macdonald dies at 61 after a private battle with cancer
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TORONTO -- Norm Macdonald, whose dry, caustic wit propelled him from Canadian comedy clubs to "Saturday Night Live" fame, lived by a "purist" comedic philosophy that won him the admiration of his famous contemporaries, even if it polarized audiences, says his brother.

Neil Macdonald said the sardonic standup lived by the maxim that comedy should always surprise and never pander, preferring that a joke be met with boos than to stoop for the cheap laugh. Macdonald was devoted to the craft of comedy, he said, and never aspired to make the transition from the stage to the big screen.

"If you speak to his friends like Adam Sandler, David Spade or Tim Meadows -- the people he came up with at SNL -- they would all agree that Norm was the purest amongst them," Neil said by phone from Los Angeles. "He was the comic s comic."

Macdonald died in Los Angeles from leukemia Tuesday, Neil said. While his diagnosis was never made public, Macdonald had been dealing with cancer for "a long time," and his condition took a turn for the worst last month, he said.

The Quebec City-raised standup was best known for his tenure on "Saturday Night Live" from 1993 to 1998 where he manned the "Weekend Update" desk and became known for impressions including a mischievous Burt Reynolds as a contestant on "Jeopardy!"

News of Macdonald s death sparked an outpouring of grief on social media, with Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart and Bob Saget among the comedy heavyweights paying tribute.

Macdonald went to great lengths to keep his illness a secret from everyone but his family, because he didn t want it to affect his comedy, said his brother.

Born in Quebec City, Macdonald showed a predilection for comedy from a young age, said Neil, recalling his brother using a hammer as a make-believe microphone while telling jokes as a kid.

One night, Macdonald decided "on a dare" that he would try his hand at performing in front of a real audience at an Ottawa nightclub, said Neil.

Macdonald made a big impression on the audience, said Yuk Yuk s co-founder Mark Breslin, a longtime friend.

"He combined a laconic delivery and a deadpan look, and yet he had this great twinkle in those blue eyes of his that let you know everything was kind of a joke," said Breslin, a longtime friend.
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