SNL Curse: Causes of Untimely Deaths

One of the longest running shows on network TV, Saturday Night Live also carries another distinction. Some people believe it’s cursed. A handful of cast members died young, in unexpected ways. 

The deaths themselves aren’t too mysterious, but the fact that so many passed away in the prime of life, makes you wonder.

Here’s a breakdown of who died, when they died and the cause of death.

Drug related

John Belushi: One of the first to go, the big guy was a huge star back in the day. Belushi was one of the original 7 cast members on the sketch comedy which was billed the “Not ready for prime time players”

Belushi was part of the Blues Brothers duo along with many other memorable roles. He later went into movies including the legendary flick Animal House.

Belushi died in Chicago in 1982 at age 33 from a heroin overdose.

Chris Farley: Another sketch actor, he was often compared to John Belushi. Farley became a cast member in Season 16. Among his best known sketches included Motivational Speaker Matt Foley (who lived in a van down by the river) and Da Super Fan (Chicago Bears, duh) Like Belushi before him, Farley went on to pursue a move career starring in Tommy Boy and other films. He also followed in Belushi in death.

Farley died in Chicago in 1997 at age 33 from a drug overdose; cocaine and morphine.


Gilda Radner: Another of the original cast members on Season 1 in 1975. Radner was a classic comedienne. Her Roseanne Roseannadanna character is one of the show’s most memorable along with her Baba Wawa parody of Barbara Walters. Radner frequently took a seat on the Weekend Update set as well. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1986.

Radner died in Detroit in 1989 at age 42 from ovarian cancer.

Jan Hooks:  She joined SNL repertory group in 1986 and quickly made her mark. She was known for her impression of Tammy Faye Baker and as member of the Sweeney Sisters. Hooks left the cast to take roles on TV and in the movies including Coneheads which also starred other former SNL cast mates.

Hooks died in Georgia in 2014 at the age of 57 from throat cancer.

Andy Kaufman: He gets lumped into the group while not actually an official member of the SNL ensemble. Kaufman made dozens of appearances and was featured in many ongoing skits. They included Mighty Mouse sketches as well as the Wrestling Champion. An odd guy to figure out, he kept people guessing at times, blurring the lines between acting and reality.

Kaufman died In Lost Angeles in 1984 at age 35 from lung cancer.

Danitra Vance: While she was not one of the most famous of the SNLers, Vance made history nonetheless as the first black woman to be a regular cast member, joining the show in 1986. She left after one season. Taking her career to Broadway she earned success and acclaim. She even featured her health struggles in an off-Broadway play called The Radical Girl’s Guide to Radical Mastectomy.

Vance died in Chicago in 1994 at the age of 40 from breast cancer.


Phil Hartman: H joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in Season 12 in 1986 and stayed there for eight seasons.  Unlike others before him, Hartman already had film success prior to SNL as a result of co-writing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. As an ensemble member, Hartman was known for his impressions of Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra. While he was part of Saturday Night Live he also did voice over work on The Simpsons. 

Hartman died Encino, California in 1998 at the age of 49 after being shot by his wife in his sleep. 

Led by cancer followed by drug overdose, these deaths represent two of the most common causes of mortality in the United States. But, viewed at a glance, they seem to be a tragic reminder of the brevity of life.

What do you think?


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  1. Incomplete list. Off the top of my head Norm Macdonald, Charles Rocket, Tom Davis, Tony Rosato & Peter Aykroyd comes to mind.

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