CLOSE

7 Tragic SNL Deaths

Ten years ago today, Saturday Night Live alum Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife. Due to the tragic nature of his death, as well as other high-profile deaths of former SNL cast members, the media was abuzz with talk of an SNL curse. In 31 seasons, 118 cast members have appeared on the show and seven of them have died. That's only a five-percent fatality rate. While there probably isn't a curse, here is a chronological look at the deaths of seven former cast members.

John Belushi

belushi.jpgEasily one of the best-known cast members of all time, original player John Belushi also became a wildly successful film actor. On his thirtieth birthday in 1979, Belushi had the number one album (The Blues Brothers: Briefcase Full of Blues), the number one movie (Animal House) and was the star of the highest-rated late night television show (SNL). Of course, Belushi was equally well known for his drug and alcohol indulgences. In a sketch called "Don't Look Back in Anger," which aired in 1978, John Belushi plays an elderly version of himself, visiting the graves of his fellow cast members. ''They all thought I'd be the first to go,'' he gloats. ''I was one of those live-fast, die-young, leave-a-good-looking-corpse types, you know. But I guess they were wrong.'' Belushi died of a drug overdose at the famous Chateau Marmont hotel. The lethal dose of cocaine and heroin was given to him by backup singer and notorious groupie Cathy Smith. Years later, Smith would serve prison time for her involvement in his death, among other crimes.

In one of his final television appearances, Belushi was filmed dead and face down in a swimming pool for the opening sequence of the show Police Squad. The footage was part of a running gag during the opening credits, where the episodes' guest-star would meet an untimely demise before the show even started. Due to his untimely death, the sequence never aired.

Gilda Radner

Original cast member Gilda Radner, known for her vibrant characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa, became the second cast member to pass away. She died in 1989 at the age of 42 after a second battle with ovarian cancer. For Radner, the true tragedy was that her cancer had been misdiagnosed several times, and though it was treated and went into remission, its return struck too quickly to cure. She was re-diagnosed with cancer in early May and died within the month. She had been scheduled to host an episode of SNL between her bouts of cancer but a writers' strike ended the season prematurely. She died on a Saturday, just before a new episode of SNL was to air. A tearful Steve Martin introduced a clip of a skit featuring Radner and himself dancing.

Her widower, Gene Wilder, created an ovarian cancer detection center and testified before Congress about ovarian cancer awareness. Radner once said that "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to" and in 1991, a support group to raise awareness of cancer called Gilda's Club was founded.

Danitra Vance

danitra-vance.jpgVance joined the SNL cast for the historically disappointing 1985 season and became the first African-American female repertory player. She received little screen time and was often blatantly typecast. One of her more famous recurring characters was Cabrini Green Jackson, a professional teenage mother who gave advice on pregnancy. Frustrated by her demeaning characters, Vance left at the end of her first season. The majority of the rest of the cast was fired shortly after she left due to poor ratings. Four years after she left the show, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into remission and created a skit based on her experiences. Unfortunately, the cancer returned and she died in 1993 at the age of 35.

Michael O'Donoghue

O'Donoghue was never as famous as Farley or Hartman, but he was an integral part of the original SNL cast as the head writer. He appeared in many sketches, memorably in the opening of the first show as an English-language teacher instructing John Belushi in such phrases as "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines. We are out of badgers." Later in his tenure, O'Donoghue cultivated the persona of the grim "Mr. Mike" who told "Least-Loved Bedtime Stories" such as "The Little Engine that Died." The sketch had the line "I think I can! I think I can! Heart attack! Heart attack! Ohmygodthepain! Ohmygodthepain!" which turned out to be strangely similar to O'Donoghue's own last words. On the morning of November 8, 1994, O'Donoghue awoke to what he thought was a migraine, an affliction he often suffered. He took some medication and went back to bed. He later woke up a second time in immense pain and exclaimed "Oh, my God!" He was rushed to the hospital but he never regained consciousness after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Chris Farley

Farley made himself a household name with his hilarious physical comedy. Struggling with his success and pigeon-holed with big, awkward and dim-witted characters, Farley turned to alcohol and drug abuse. His struggle landed him in rehab facilities 31 times in his short life, but sadly the treatments did not keep him sober. He died at the age of 33 after a speedball overdose, the same drug cocktail that killed John Belushi at the exact same age.

During Hartman's final show, he cradled Farley (who was dressed as his wildly popular Matt Foley character) and he sang "So Long, Farewell"; the two died within six months of each other. At the time of his death, Farley had recorded vocal tracks for the title character in Shrek and was rumored to be starting work on Ghostbusters 3 and Blues Brothers 2000.

Phil Hartman

When he left SNL in 1994, Phil Hartman was the show's longest serving cast member, appearing in eight seasons as dozens of beloved characters. He earned a reputation as one of the nicest and most genuine castmembers to ever grace the stage of studio 8H. Following his departure from SNL, Hartman continued to serve as a voice actor for The Simpsons and joined the cast of the NBC sitcom NewsRadio. But Hartman wasn't just a smooth voiced comedian; he was also a graphic designer and created the logo for Crosby, Stills and Nash and designed three album covers for America.

Hartman was killed in his sleep by his intoxicated wife, Brynn, who killed herself just hours later. Family members attribute the act to the prescription drug Zoloft and sued the drug's manufacturer and the doctor who prescribed the medication. Several sources have stated that Brynn was jealous of Hartman's career, but friends stated that they always appeared to be a happy couple. Oddly enough, his NewsRadio character, Bill McNeal, claims to have numerous enemies and stalkers and often mentions a girlfriend who is unstable and tries to kill him.

Charles Rocket

charles+rocket.jpgFollowing the departure of the original cast and Lorne Michaels before the 1980-81 season, temporary replacement producer Jean Doumanian hand picked Charles Rocket to be the breakout star of the new Saturday Night Live. Billed as a combination of Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, Rocket appeared in more sketches than any other male cast member that season and even hosted Weekend Update. During a sketch in the middle of the season, Rocket said the most notorious obscenity on live television and soon was fired, as was Doumanian and the bulk of the unpopular cast.

While he had a steady stream of acting work after the abrupt end of his SNL career, Rocket was found in a field near his home with a slit throat in October of 2005. His unexpected and tragic death was ruled a suicide; a motive was never determined.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
gutenberg.org
arrow
literature
10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mario Tama, Getty Images
arrow
science
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios