Few comedians in recent memory have been as sharp or quick-witted as Norm Macdonald; he had the ability to perfectly sum up everyday issues in creative ways that most of us may have overlooked, all while making us roll on the floor with laughter. And he possessed the demeanor of “just one of the guys” that made him all the more relatable in an older sibling kind of way. So when the sudden news of his passing after a long battle with cancer swept across airwaves this past Tuesday, September 14, many of us felt as though we had indeed lost that big brother we all loved.
Macdonald was born on October 17, 1959 in Quebec City, Canada, and rose to prominence as a stand up comedian in the mid-1980’s. His first television appearance was on Star Search in 1990, and soon after he found himself writing for the likes of such shows as Roseanne and The Dennis Miller Show, before eventually landing every comic’s dream job on Saturday Night Live in 1993.
His first film was a supporting role in the 1995 Adam Sandler vehicle Billy Madison, in which he played slacker friend Frank. But his first leading role came in the unforgettable form as Mitch Weaver in the Bob Saget-directed Dirty Work, which also starred Artie Lange, and the late Chris Farley (in his final role ever) among many others. Although widely panned at the time, it has since found its way into many hearts with a cult level status.
During his time on SNL, he became arguably one of the best Weekend Update anchors in the show’s storied history, before ultimately being ejected from the show in 1999. He then briefly had his own program on ABC, The Norm Show, which ran from 1999-2001. Other film parts include Screwed (2000), as well as providing the voice of Lucky in all five of the Dr. Dolittle films. He also had recurring roles on such popular shows as My Name is Earl, and The Middle, and would often guest on his friend Conan O’Brien’s show. Macdonald’s last appearances include lending his voice to the 2019 Netflix feature, Klaus, as well as guesting on the talk show Quarantined, in 2020.
As a teenager myself in the mid-90s, I was fully along for the ride of SNL-driven comedy films that flooded movie theaters at the time. I was there when Macdonald appeared in his previously mentioned first film BillyMadison, and being the pack rat that I am, still even have my original ticket stubs from went I went to see Dirty Work and Screwed on the big screen (see photo below). His films undoubtedly played a vital part of my own youth, and judging by the outpouring of love from fans and celebrities across every and any social media platform these past couple of days, he is not about to be forgotten anytime soon. Rest easy, Little Chubby.
Just a few short weeks after originally announcing his battle with stage four small cell carcinoma/lung cancer, Dustin Diamond, who will forever be remembered for portraying Samuel “Screech” Powers on the late ’80s/early ’90s hit teen TV show Saved by the Bell and it’s numerous spin-offs, has passed away. He was just 44 years old.
Diamond was born in San Jose, CA on January 7, 1977, and began acting in 1987. After appearing in a few bit roles, including the 1988 feature film Purple People Eater, Diamond landed the role (that would forever change his life) of Screech on the Disney Channel-produced Good Morning, MissBliss in 1988, which would eventually be retooled as Saved by the Bell just one year later. The show would last until 1993, and get its first spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, that very same year. While The College Years was short-lived (it ran for only one year), Diamond would reprise the role of Screech once more in Saved by the Bell: The New Class, which ran for seven additional seasons on NBC.
Since playing Screech, Diamond has appeared as himself numerous times over the years, in such films as 2003’s Pauly Shore is Dead, as well as on reality series’ such as Celebrity Big Brother in 2013. Other notable roles throughout his career include multiple appearances on the hit show The Wonder Years, and a brief part in the 1989 Tony Danza film She’s Out of Control.
Diamond’s agent, Roger Paul, revealed to news outlets earlier today that he had passed away in an unannounced Florida hospital with his father by his side. Paul confirmed in a statement; “He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago. In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”
Dan Block, a marketing agent for Insurance King who collaborated with Diamond several times on multiple commercials since 2017, tells Rewind It Magazine he has been building a new model from the ground up of Screech’s robot Kevin (dubbed KEV3000) from the original show, which he had planned on using in future commercials with Diamond. “Dustin called him Kevin 2.0,” he tells me. “He wanted to take it to comic cons and stuff.” He continues; “I’m still going to do the ads, but with Dustin’s dad Mark instead hopefully (who played the chemistry teacher in Saved By The Bell). We haven’t signed anything yet, but figured I’d get the robot done first, then take it from there.” Once completed, Block’s creation will no doubt help keep Diamond’s memory alive for future generations to come (see photo below).
For those of us who watched for years as Diamond quite literally grew up on the small screen as one of America’s favorite nerds as Screech (perhaps behind only Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel character on Family Matters) this is a sad day indeed. But Diamond’s memory will forever live on, each time a re-run of Saved by the Bell is aired in syndication, whether it’s being viewed simply out of nostalgia by the show’s original fans, or being introduced to new generations for the first time to new ones, Screech will always be there, somewhere. Rest in power, Mr. Powers.
December 8, 1980; former Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, were returning to their New York City apartment at the Dakota after a long day at the recording studio, approximately 10:50 p.m. Obsessed fan Mark David Chapman, who had even met Lennon earlier that afternoon when he approached him for an autograph, pulled out a .38 special revolver, and struck Lennon at close range with four out of five of the shots he fired. After being rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:00 p.m., and the world was never the same again.
These events transpired just three months before I ever even entered this world, but they still strike a nerve each and every time I think about them.
Lennon’s mark changed the face of music forever, first as a member of The Beatles in the 1960’s, where he and bassist Paul McCartney penned some of the greatest songs ever written. Then in the ’70s, where his fights and contributions to societal change were just as great as his solo work. By 1980, with the release of the Double Fantasy album, Lennon was on the verge of a comeback that we will never know just how far it could have taken him.
I grew up in a world that was both without John Lennon, while at the same time, completely influenced by him. Along with the likes of Elvis Presely and The Beach Boys, the music of The Beatles, like so many others, was one of my first introductions to music ever, and made the biggest impression on me more than any of the other previously mentioned acts. Even at a young age, I gravitated naturally to John, who was always the “rebel” of the group. And now, being nearly the same age as him at the time of his death, and a father, I relate to him now more than ever.
Forty years after his senseless death, John Lennon remains as influential and vital as ever. They say true legends never die, and Lennon was no exception to this. Every time an aspiring young musician picks up a guitar for the first time and plays that first chord, Lennon’s presence is still there. No matter how much time may pass, John will always be with us.
It’s easy to throw out cliche phrases like “legend” or “pioneer” when talking about the loss of a fallen rock hero. But few have come and gone that have been more deserving of such terms than Eddie Van Halen. And while it’s not always easy to put into words exactly why we grieve so much for a person we may have never even met, I can only do the best I can to try to explain how and why the loss of a titan like Eddie Van Halen and his music effected us all so deeply and personally, while remembering the life of a man who forever changed the face of rock music as we know it.
Van Halen were originally formed in Pasadena, CA in 1972 by classically trained Dutch brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen, who added high school friend Mark Stone (who ironically passed away last month as well, just days before Eddie) on bass, and eventually vocalist David Lee Roth. Originally calling themselves both Genesis and Mammoth before settling on the name Van Halen in 1974, the “classic” lineup was finally solidified by the addition of bassist Michael Anthony.
In 1976, shortly after seeing them perform, KISS mastermind Gene Simmons produced the band’s first demo recording and rallied for a record deal for the group. Despite little coming from Simmons’ assistance, it didn’t take long for the band to land a deal with Warner Bros. and release their massive self-titled debut album by 1978, quickly becoming apparent this new act would soon dominate the rock world, led by this “new” guitarist, who almost instantly earned the rightful title of “guitar god.”
By the time I came into this world in 1981, Van Halen were already on their fourth album, and I had four older siblings to each introduce me to various bands, including Van Halen. My oldest sister, Tammy, owned a copy of the band’s 1982 effort Diver Down that was in our collection of vinyl records right alongside to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Journey’s Escape (and I still own each one of these to this very day). These early albums all left permanent imprints on me, and instilled a lifelong association between music, and historical moments in my own life.
More albums from the band’s catalogue were soon to make it into my collection; a cassette copy of 1984 (where Eddie re-invented the wheel again by incorporating synth in the band’s sound) was gifted to me as a birthday present one year from my grandmother, Mary (R.I.P.). A hand-me-down tape of 5150, the band’s first effort with frontman Sammy Hagar from 1986, was given to me by another older sister of mine, Wendy. And when it was still their “new” album, 1991’s For Unlawful CarnalKnowledge became the first album on CD format I ever bought. Again, I still own each and everyone of these to this day.
By the time I took up playing bass around the age of 14, several of the band’s tracks became standard practice for me (what bassist didn’t start off honing their craft by playing “Runnin’ with the Devil” endlessly?!). And even though I was not a guitarist like Eddie, his dedication to being the best rubbed off on me, and I began taking practicing more seriously than school work itself (I even briefly took bass lessons from a guy named Ken who was the biggest Van Halen fan I have ever met).
Then, years later, I was a single father by the time Christmas of 2007 rolled around. My father Terry surprised me with two tickets to see Van Halen at the old Amway Center in Orlando that following February, on their first tour with singer David Lee Roth since 1985. It was honestly one of the best things I have ever been gifted, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to share my other ticket with then my big sis who started me on this journey to begin with, Tammy.
I remember that 2008 concert like it was yesterday; we arrived fashionably late, and I could hear the sounds of “I’m the One” echoing from inside the arena as we approached the front gates. From then on, it was a night full of not only the usual expected classics, but many favorites like “Little Dreamer,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Atomic Punk” also found their way in the set. And although I was initially disappointed that longtime bassist Michael Anthony was not included on this tour, it gave me a certain hope seeing Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen playing alongside his father on stage. But most importantly, witnessing Eddie play his solo that night was unmatched by any guitarist I have seen live before, or since.
By the time the band released their first new album (and what would ultimately prove to be their last) for some time, 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, I had already been a freelance music journalist for a number of years. I gave the album a mediocre review in a local, now-defunct magazine at the time, and in hindsight, I’d rather have a dozen less-than-stellar Van Halen albums albums than none at all.
I was standing in the middle of a store with my wife and son when I looked down at my phone this past Tuesday afternoon and learned that Eddie had passed away. It was a time-stopping moment that hit as hard as though someone in my own family had actually died. The music of Van Halen was deeply engrained in me at an early age as much as anything from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones had been, and realizing that we’re now living in a world without Eddie Van Halen still in it was a heartbreaking revelation. But Eddie will never really be gone. He created a legacy that will truly live on for generations to come; how lucky we all were to be able to walk the Earth as the same time as him, even if only for a short time.