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SNL Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Since its premiere in 1975, "Saturday Night Live" has been a launching pad for major comedy talent, from the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" to the most recent ensemble. It's also, unfortunately, been a curse for certain former cast members. There's almost a voodoo surrounding the long running sketch series, with some of its most famous performers meeting an untimely demise.

Many of these deaths have occurred under tragic circumstances, including drug addiction, suicide, and even murder. Some have died prematurely from cancer, while others have passed away after living long, relatively healthy lives. But whatever the reason, it's always a sad day when an "SNL" alum leaves us too soon.

While some of these deaths have attracted a great deal of media attention, others have quietly slipped through the cracks, and that's a shame. They may be gone, but they certainly shouldn't be forgotten. So let's pay tribute to those "SNL" actors you may not know passed away.

John Belushi

One of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," John Belushi was also the first "Saturday Night Live" alum to die. It's a sad distinction to hold for a trailblazing talent who broke new ground in sketch comedy.

Belushi came up through the Chicago comedy scene, starting in the West Compass Trio before joining Second City. The "National Lampoon Radio Hour" quickly came calling, where he met some future "SNL" members. He caught the eye of Lorne Michaels, who was looking for dynamic up-and-comers to fill out his brand new late night series on NBC. Belushi joined Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner for the show's first season, and comedy history was made.

From the beginning, Belushi displayed a talent for bombastic physical humor. His most famous characters included a Greek cafe owner who serves "Cheeseburgers!," a katana-wielding samurai, Henry Kissinger, Beethoven, and an angry Weekend Update contributor. Oh, and he was also one of the Blues Brothers. (He also appeared in a sadly prescient skit where an older Belushi visits the graves of his former cast mates, called "Don't Look Back in Anger.")

Belushi briefly reached movie stardom as well, thanks to major roles in "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers," an expansion on the musical sketch he performed with Aykroyd. Sadly, his struggles with drug addiction got the best of him. On March 5, 1982, Belushi died at the Chateau Marmont after injecting a deadly mixture of cocaine and heroin, known as a "speedball." He was only 33 years old.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

George Coe

Although the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" were famously young and unknown, there was one veteran performer amongst the bunch: 46-year-old George Coe, who was only credited for the premiere episode but appeared sporadically throughout the first season.

"SNL" was far from Coe's most famous acting credit. He got his start in Broadway, appearing in the original production of "Mame" opposite Angela Lansbury and starring as David in the first staging of "Company." He earned an Oscar nomination for his short film "The Dove" (1968), an Ingmar Bergman parody. His acting credits were wide and varied, including roles on the silver screen in "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins," and "The Mighty Ducks," and on television with appearances in "Columbo," "Murder She Wrote," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "The West Wing," to name a few.

But he's perhaps best known to modern audiences for voicing the oft-abused butler Woodhouse in "Archer," which he did for four seasons. Coe died at the age of 86 on July 18, 2015, after a long illness. "Archer's" eighth season — which, appropriately enough, revolved in part around Woodhouse's death — was dedicated to him.

Tom Davis

Tom Davis spent the better part of four decades as a writer at "SNL," starting with the first season in 1975 and continuing on an on-again, off-again basis until 2003. During that time, he won three Emmys and helped develop some of the show's best sketches, including "Nick the Lounge Singer" with Bill Murray, "The Continental" with Christopher Walken, "Theodorick of York, Medieval Barber" with Steve Martin, and "The Coneheads" with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin.

His talents weren't just limited to his writing. David also appeared on camera a number of times, most notably with writing partner Al Franken as the comedy duo "Franken and Davis." He also provided the voice of a hippie who President Jimmy Carter (Aykroyd) talks down from an acid trip in a memorable segment called "Ask President Carter."

Davis died of throat and neck cancer on July 19, 2012, at the age of 59. Sardonically witty up to the very end, he wryly referred to his death as his "deanimation."

Chris Farley

Like his hero John Belushi, Chris Farley's flame burned brightly and briefly. Just like Belushi, Farley cut his teeth in Chicago's Second City Theater before landing a spot on "Saturday Night Live." And just like his idol, the young comic died of a drug overdose at the age of 33, after several attempts at getting sober.

Farley burst onto the scene like a comedic hurricane. His wild man antics led to him becoming known as one of the "Bad Boys of 'SNL,'" which included fellow cast members Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Rock. His signature characters included un-motivating motivational speaker Matt Foley (you know, the one who lived in a van down by the river), Chicago sports fan Todd O'Connor of Bill Sweski's Superfans ("Da Bears”), and a Chippendales dancer competing against Patrick Swayze. And let's not forget his appearances as a dancing lunch lady, a "Gap Girl," and host of "The Chris Farley Show."

At the time of his death, Farley had a burgeoning film career, with starring roles in "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep" opposite Spade. He was also the lead in "Beverly Hills Ninja" and made memorable appearances in "Billy Madison," "Coneheads," and "Wayne's World." His final two films, "Almost Heroes" and "Dirty Work," were released after his death.

It's hard to know how high Farley's career would've soared had his life not been cut tragically short on December 18, 1997. But his presence in comedy is sorely missed, as Sandler memorably summed up in a musical tribute to his late friend when he returned to host "SNL" in 2019.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Phil Hartman

Phil Hartman's untimely death sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry, with the lurid details obscuring the tragedy at its center.

Hartman, who got his start in The Groundlings before playing Captain Carl on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse," was a steady hand on "Saturday Night Live" from 1986 through 1994. Though he had his fair share of memorable characters — from Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer to Eugene, the Anal Retentive Chef — it was his impersonations that made him one of SNL's most dependable performers. His uncanny imitations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, First Lady Barbara Bush, performers Charlton Heston and Frank Sinatra, and talk show personalities Phil Donahue and Ed McMahon were favorites throughout his tenure. You could count on Hartman appearing in multiple sketches each week, with several cast members nicknaming him "Glue" for how he held the show together.

Things weren't held together so tightly at home, however. Hartman's third wife, Brynn Hartman, struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues throughout their marriage. On May 27, 1998, Brynn fatally shot her husband to death before turning the gun on herself. He was only 49 years old.

At the time of his death, Hartman was making regular appearances as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz on "The Simpsons" and had a starring role on the sitcom "NewsRadio" as self-centered news anchor Bill McNeal. He had also appeared in such hit films as "Jingle All the Way" and "Small Soldiers." His loss was felt immeasurably, especially at Studio 8H: shortly after his death, SNL paid tribute by re-airing his classic "Love is a Dream" sketch, featuring his frequent scene partner Jan Hooks.

Jan Hooks

Jan Hooks was one of "SNL's" MVPs throughout the '80s and early '90s, when Lorne Michaels returned and revamped the cast with stars like Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Victoria Jackson, and Jon Lovitz.

Born in Atlanta, Hooks cut her teeth at the Groundlings comedy troupe in Los Angeles before moving over to "SNL." She performed most memorably as Candy Sweeney of "The Sweeney Sisters" (opposite Nora Dunn) and perfected a wide range of uncanny impersonations, including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan, and Tammy Faye Bakker opposite Hartman's Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jim Bakker (oh, and also Ivana Trump to Hartman's Donald Trump). And let's not forget her Diane Sawyer characterization, which came in handy during election cycles.

Hooks left the series in 1991 for the shorter hours of a network sitcom, taking a starring role in "Designing Women." She earned an Emmy nomination for her recurring role as Vicki Dubcek on "3rd Rock from the Sun" and memorably played Jenna's trailer park mom on "30 Rock." She also voiced Apu's wife Manjula on "The Simpsons."

Her life was cut tragically short by throat cancer, which she succumbed to at age 57 on October 9, 2014. On October 11, "SNL" paid tribute to Hooks by re-airing "Love is a Dream," a memorable sketch featuring her and Hartman that also re-aired after his death in 1998.

Michael O'Donoghue

Michael O'Donoghue might not be the most recognizable former "SNL" cast member, but his impact on the series was no less sizable than anyone else's. O'Donoghue was the show's first head writer, helping shape the irreverent, politically-tinged sketches the late night series would become famous for, and winning two Emmys in the process.

He also appeared in the show's very first sketch, playing an English teacher who drops dead of a heart attack while instructing his student (John Belushi) to repeat nonsense phrases. He made later appearances as a Vegas-style nightclub performer who does screeching impressions of celebrities Mike Douglas and Tony Orlando getting needles plunged in their eyes, and as Mr. Mike, host of "Mr. Mike's Least-Loved Bedtime Stories."

Before joining SNL, O'Donoghue was a founding writer for "National Lampoon." He also co-wrote the holiday classic "Scrooged" and made appearances in such films as "Manhattan" and "Wall Street." After years of suffering chronic migraines, O'Donoghue died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 8, 1994, at the age of 54.

Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner shot to stardom as one of the original "Saturday Night Live" cast members, and sadly, her brilliance was cut short by premature death.

Radner got her start in theater with the 1972 production of "Godspell," which led to her joining The Second City troupe in Toronto. She became a featured player on the "National Lampoon Radio Hour," where she met some of her future "SNL" cast mates, including John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray. Lorne Michaels quickly snatched her up to join the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," and she became one of the burgeoning sketch show's standouts.

She displayed a knack for creating memorable characters, from personal advice expert Rosanne Roseannadanna to Barbara Walters parody Baba Wawa, to NYC reporter Rose Ann Scamardella and elderly "Weekend Update" correspondent Emily Litella. Her work on "SNL" brought her an Emmy in 1978, and she moved to Broadway in 1979 with her one woman show "Gilda Radner — Live from New York," which was later filmed by Mike Nichols and released as "Gilda Live!"

A movie career was the next logical step, and she had starring roles opposite her husband, Gene Wilder, in "Hanky Panky," "The Woman in Red," and "Haunted Honeymoon." Unfortunately, her battle with ovarian cancer put an end to that. Although she had a period of remission (during which she made a memorable guest appearance on "It's Garry Shandling's Show"), she succumbed to the illness on May 20, 1989. She was only 42 years old. Later that same night, "SNL" host Steve Martin paid tribute to Radner in his opening monologue, replaying a classic 1978 sketch where the two parodied Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in "The Band Wagon."

Charles Rocket

Charles Rocket joined "SNL" during the infamous 1980-81 season, when Jean Doumanian took over as executive producer from Lorne Michaels following the exit of the original cast. There were few standout moments from that year, but Rocket provided a few with his roving reporter segment "The Rocket Report." He also hosted "Weekend Update" and impersonated Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles, and David Rockefeller.

He's best remembered, however, for a notorious moment that ran afoul of the FCC. In an episode hosted by "Dallas" star Charlene Tilton, Rocket starred in a segment that sent up the famous "Who Shot J.R.?" episode, with Rocket getting shot by an unseen sniper. During the closing moments, Tilton asked him what it was like getting shot. His response: "Oh man, it's the first time I've ever been shot in my life. I'd like to know who the f*** did it."

Rocket was dismissed by incoming producer Dick Ebersol shortly thereafter. His career rebounded with roles in such films as "Earth Girls Are Easy," "Hocus Pocus," and "Dumb and Dumber." On October 7, 2005, Rocket was found dead at his Connecticut home from an apparent suicide. He was 56 years old.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Tony Rosato

Tony Rosato joined "Saturday Night Live" during the tumultuous early '80s, when producer changes and cast shakeups were frequent. Dick Ebersol replaced Jean Doumanian with the 1981-82 season, and quickly began poaching talent from the Canadian "SNL" alternative "SCTV," namely Rosato and Robin Duke (he wasn't as successful wooing the likes of Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, or Andrea Martin).

His time on "SNL" was short-lived, but he did manage to fit in a few choice impersonations — including Captain Kangaroo and Ed Asner. Rosato left after just one season, and worked steadily in television and voice-over, most notably portraying Luigi in various "Super Mario Brothers" adaptations.

Rosato suffered from mental health issues which caused him to believe his wife and child had been abducted by imposters. He was arrested and charged with criminal harassment, and he spent two years in a maximum security prison before being transferred to a mental institution for another two years. On January 10, 2017, Rosato died of a heart attack at the age of 62.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Danitra Vance

Although her tenure on "SNL" was brief, Danitra Vance made history when she joined the series in 1985. She was the first Black woman to become a repertory player, and only the second lesbian cast member after Denny Dillon's brief tenure during the infamous Jean Doumanian season (1980-1981).

Vance was let go from "Saturday Night Live" following the end of the 1986 season, due in large part to major casting shake-ups throughout the then-struggling series. During her time there, she popularized a "That Girl" parody sketch titled "That Black Girl," playing a Black actress trying to hit the big time. She also played teenage mother and motivational speaker Cabrini Green Jackson, and excelled at impersonations of Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, and Leslie Uggums.

After leaving "SNL," Vance continued acting on the stage and screen, winning an Obie and NAACP Award for the Zora Neale Hurston theatrical production "Spunk" and earning an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "Jumpin' in the Boneyard." Sadly, her career was slowed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease she succumbed to on August 21, 1994.