Norm Macdonald was best known for his time anchoring the Weekend Update segment on SNL 

Advertisement

Saturday Night Live icon Norm Macdonald has died at 61 after a private nine-year battle with cancer, a rep for the star confirms to PEOPLE. 

Macdonald died Tuesday morning, his longtime friend Lori Jo Hoekstra told Deadline. Hoekstra said the comedian was determined to keep his cancer battle private from family, friends and fans. 

"He was most proud of his comedy," Hoekstra told the outlet. "He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him. Norm was a pure comic. He once wrote that 'a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.' He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly."

Norm Macdonald obituary
Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU/Getty

The comedian, born in Quebec City, began his entertainment career doing stand up in Canada before he was hired as a writer on The Dennis Miller Show and Roseanne in the early 1990s. While at Roseanne, he was noticed first by SNL producer Lorne Michaels. 

For more on Norm Macdonald and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Macdonald was a cast member on the sketch comedy show for five years — 1993 through 1998 — three of which he spent anchoring the Weekend Update segment. He became well-known for his impressions of Burt Reynolds, Bob Dole, Larry King, David Letterman and Quentin Tarantino, among others.

Norm Macdonald obituary
Credit: Douglas Gorenstein/NBCU/Getty

During his time on SNL, Macdonald also had a role in the Adam Sandler comedy, Billy Madison.

His departure from from the NBC show in 1998 was somewhat controversial at the time, as Don Ohlmeyer, then the president of the network's West Coast division, replaced Macdonald with Colin Quinn, citing a decline in ratings. 

Macdonald, however, long maintained that his firing was due to his jabs at O.J. Simpson during the former NFL player's murder trial. James Downey, who wrote many of the jokes about Simpson, was fired at the same time and told Vulture in 2014 that they were both kicked out due to Ohlmeyer's friendship with Simpson.

Norm Macdonald obituary
Credit: Al Levine/NBCU/Getty

After exiting SNL, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the 1998 movie Dirty Work. The following year, he debuted his own show, titled Norm, which had a three-season run on ABC. He also made regular appearances on late night shows, including Late Night with David Letterman and Conan.

Back in 2016, ahead of the release of Macdonald's memoir, both Letterman and Conan O'Brien opened up about the comedian in an interview with Mercury News.

"If we could have, we would have had Norm on every damn week. He is funny in a way that some people inhale and exhale. With others, you can tell the … humor is considered," said Letterman, 74. "Norm … exudes it. It's sort of a furnace in him … so effortless."

"Part of what makes him so compelling and so fun to watch is that he defies categorization," added O'Brien, 58. "He doesn't fit into any piece of the puzzle, and I think that might have something to do with why no one has said he's perfect to host a show."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

In the memoir, titled Based on a True Story, Macdonald reflected on his career, sharing that he would describe his life as "lucky."

"I think a lot of people feel sorry for you if you were on SNL and emerged from the show anything less than a superstar. They assume you must be bitter. But it is impossible for me to be bitter," he wrote.

Macdonald continued, "I've been lucky. If I had to sum up my whole life, I guess those are the words I would choose, all right."