The ‘Saturday Night Live’ Curse

Is Saturday Night Live a killer?

Some say a ‘curse’ hovers around the show, leading to an early grave for those who join the cast. It’s certainly true that some SNL vets have died young — though statistically it’s no surprise that a few of the show’s dozens of stars have passed on since 1975. In every case they died after leaving the cast, though that could presumably be part of the curse’s magick.

Judge for yourself: here’s the roll call of Saturday Night Live cast members who died young, in chronological order.

1982: John Belushi

JOHN BELUSHI is the guy who started the whole thing, dropping dead in Bungalow 3 of the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles after a night of partying and drugs. This was in 1982, and Belushi was near the top of his game after starring in the big-money movies Animal House and The Blues Brothers. (Even in death, Belushi was a star; his body was examined at the hotel by “Coroner to the Stars” Thomas Noguchi.) Belushi was a founding member of SNL’s original cast. He stayed with the show for four seasons, leaving after the 1978 run.

1982: Andy Kaufman

ANDY KAUFMAN appeared on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live in October 1975, lip-synching the theme song to the old Mighty Mouse cartoon show. He made another dozen appearances on the show, wrestling women, playing the bongos, impersonating Elvis Presley, and once reading an uncomfortably long section of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s book The Great Gatsby. In a typically surreal stunt, Kaufman was voted off the show forever by viewers in 1982. Two years later he died of a rare form of lung cancer.

1989: Gilda Radner

Baba WaWa and Rosanne Rosanna-Danna were two of GILDA RADNER‘s popular characters during her run as an original SNL cast member from 1975-1980. Radner had a solid post-SNL career as a solo comic, starring on Broadway in Gilda Live and later in a film of the same name. She died in 1989 after a tough fight with ovarian cancer.

1994: Danitra Vance

DANITRA VANCE joined the Saturday Night Live cast in the fall of 1985-86. Vance was the show’s first African-American female regular, but she never quite clicked on SNL and left after the season ended in 1986. Vance was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991; before she died in 1994 she jabbed back at the illness with her own performance piece, The Radical Girl’s Guide to Radical Mastectomy.

1994: Michael O’Donoghue

Writer MICHAEL O’DONOGHUE was a founding member of the Saturday Night Live team and even appeared in the show’s very first sketch in 1975: the famous “I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines” sketch with John Belushi. O’Donoghue was associated with the show for years, though most of his on-camera appearances came in the 1975-78 seasons. O’Donoghue died of a massive stroke in 1994 at age 54, which isn’t exactly dying ‘young’ but is close enough for the purposes of this curse.

1997: Chris Farley

CHRIS FARLEY, the pudgy physical comic, gained a toe-hold on SNL in the 1990 season and stayed for five years, playing a series of funny misfits and dancing shirtless with Patrick Swayze in a now-famous Chippendale’s sketch. Chris Farley left in 1995 to pursue a movie career, starring in good-natured gagfests like Beverly Hills Ninja and Tommy Boy before killing himself with an accidental overdose of cocaine and other pharmaceuticals in late 1997.

1998: Phil Hartman

Popular comedian PHIL HARTMAN was shot to death in May of 1998 by Brynn Hartman, his wife of 10 years. (A coroner’s report showed that Brynn Hartman had cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs in her bloodstream when she shot Hartman three times and then killed herself.) Phil Hartman was a regular on SNL for eight seasons (1986-1993) and was especially known for his jovial impersonations of presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. He left in 1993 to star in his own sitcom, NewsRadio.

2005: Charles Rocket

CHARLES ROCKET actually ran into trouble while he was still on the show. He was in his first SNL season in 1981 when he made the mistake of uttering a naughty word while ad-libbing to fill time at the end of a live telecast. Scandalized viewers protested, and Rocket was let go shortly afterwards. He went on to make a sturdy career for himself as a supporting actor on TV shows like Moonlighting and movies like Dances With Wolves. In 2005 he was found dead in a field near his Connecticut home, his throat cut. After an investigation, the state medical examiner’s office declared that the gruesome wound had been self-inflicted.

Next: The Curse of Missing Fingers

It sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch (and Boris Yeltsin looks like an aging John Belushi) but it’s all true!


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