They have spent their lives bringing laughter into the world. Being a comedian was how they made a living and for some, it was a way of life. To deal with the pain and stress, they felt they would make people laugh. Although their lives were spent joking and being silly, the end to their lives was heartbreaking and tragic. Their lives were cut short at the peak of their careers and they never got the chance to see what their legacy would become. All they wanted to do was make us all laugh but in the end, they made us all cry. Here is a look at 10 comedians who died tragically.
10) Bernie Mac – October 5, 1957 – August 9, 2008
Bernie Mac gained recognition in the early 90’s, for his performance on Def Comedy Jam where he was praised for how he dealt with a very hostile audience. His breakthrough came with his small role as a preacher in the stoner classic Friday, starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. He appeared in several films such as Charlie’s Angels, Bad Santa and the Ocean’s 11 trilogy. He also had his own sitcom that was partially based on his life, The Bernie Mac Show, that ran from November 14, 2001 to April 14, 2006. In the final years of his life, he admitted that he was suffering from a disease called sarcoidosis, which causes inflammation in tissues. It constantly attacked his lungs and the origin of the disease is unknown. Sadly, after a week in the hospital and being treated unsuccessfully, he died from pneumonia.
9) Mitch Hedberg – February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005
Mitch Hedberg is considered by many, to be one of the most brilliant stand up comedians of all time. He was known for his one liners and non-sequitur jokes. He made a name for himself in the late 90’s as a stand up comic and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. He also had a recurring role on Fox’s That 70’s Show and had signed a million dollar deal with Fox for his own sitcom. However, his frequent drug abuse caught up with him and he died from an overdose at the age of 37.
8) Andy Kaufman – January 7, 1949 – May 16, 1984
Many consider Andy Kaufman to be a comedic genius who was ahead of his time. He actually hated the label of comedian and considered himself to be a showman. He had a very successful career as a stand up comic and would land a big role on the successful ABC series, Taxi. He was known for his commitment to character and his love for playing practical jokes. In 1983, he was diagnosed with a very rare type of lung cancer, despite the fact that he did not smoke. He died of kidney failure at the age of 35.
7) Bill Hicks – December 16, 1961 – February 24, 1994
Bill Hicks was one of the most controversial stand up comedians of all time. His comedy was known to criticize consumerism, politics and society laced with expletives and intense rants. He rose to fame in the 80’s, as a stand up comic in Texas. Prior to his death, he released the highly successful comedy albums, Dangerous and Relentless in 1990 and 1992 respectively. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver in June of 1993. While he underwent chemotherapy, he continued to tour and recorded the comedy album, Arizona Bay. He performed for the last time on January 6, 1994 at Caroline’s in New York City. He would die just over a month later, at the age of 32.
6) Lenny Bruce – October 13, 1925 – August 3, 1966
Lenny Bruce is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most controversial comedians of all time. He was one of the first to have a free style approach and he discussed society, politics, religion and sex, which were all taboo subjects at the time. He was arrested several times throughout his career, for obscenity related to the material in his stand up. Many times he was arrested immediately after leaving the stage by undercover cops. Most famously, he was arrested and charged with obscenity on November 4, 1964 and would spend the rest of his life fighting the verdict. Often, he would discuss the case on stage at great detail. At the same time he was heavy into drugs, specifically heroin. He died at the age of 40 from a drug overdose at his home.
5) Sam Kinison – December 8, 1953 – April 10, 1992
Iconic and legendary stand up comedian, Sam Kinison was a Pentecostal preacher before discovering his true calling in life as a comic. He incorporated his preaching style into his stand up. He was known to be intense, harsh and controversial. He had his big breakthrough as a stand up comic when he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield’s 9th annual Young Comedians Special. He also played Al Bundy’s guardian angel on an episode on Fox’s Married with Children. On April 4, 1992 he married his third wife, Malika Souiri, and then honeymooned in Hawaii. Six days later, while driving with his wife to a stand up performance, they were hit by a drunk truck driver. Sam Kinison died at the scene of the crash with several severe injuries. He was just 38 years old.
4) John Belushi – January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982
John Belushi was a cast member of the original Saturday Night Live line up in 1975. He played several legendary characters such as “The Thing that wouldn’t leave”. In 1978, he had a major breakthrough with the iconic film Animal House. After leaving SNL, he and Dan Aykroyd toured and starred in the film, The Blues Brothers . His comedic style was brash, intense and high energy. He was known to party excessively with drugs and alcohol. After going on a drug binge, he died of an overdose early in the morning on March 5 at the age of 33.
3) Chris Farley – February 15, 1964 – December 18, 1997
Chris Farley’s hero was the legendary comedian, John Belushi. Both their careers and deaths have many similarities. Chris Farley had his big breakthrough when he joined the cast of SNL in 1990. One of his most memorable characters was Matt Foley, a motivational speaker. He left SNL and made two cult classic films, which where Tommy Boy and Black sheep. His comedy style was very similar to Belushi, as he was also brash, highly energetic and intense. Chris Farley was also very agile for his size. He struggled with his weight and had drug problems at the peak of his career. The filming of one of his last films, Almost Heroes, had to be halted so he could go to rehab. Much like his hero, he died at the age of 33 from a drug overdose.
2) Gilda Radner – June 28, 1946 – May 20, 1989
Gilda Radner was a member of the original cast of SNL, in 1975, along with John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and more. Although the show was dominated by the men, Gilda Radner found a way to shine through. She created many memorable characters, such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, and won an Emmy in 1978. She fell madly in love with actor Gene Wilder and the two were soon married. In 1985, she began to suffer from severe fatigue and pain in her upper legs. For months, doctors were unable to give her a diagnosis but eventually, they discovered she had ovarian cancer. After being in a coma for three days, she died at the age of 42, with Gene Wilder by her side. Her death helped raise awareness with ovarian cancer and early detection.
1) Phil Hartman – September 24, 1948 – May 28,1998
Phil Hartman had his breakthrough in the 80’s, when he was a part of the cast of SNL. He won an Emmy for his work on SNL in 1989. He was known for many of his great impressions such as Bill Clinton. In 1995, he was cast as Bill McNeal on the series Newsradio. He married his third wife Brynn Omdahl, a former model and aspiring actress, in 1987 and they had two children together. Their marriage was said to be very rocky, mainly due to Brynn’s drug abuse. On the morning of May 28, Brynn shot Phil Hartman twice in the head and once in the side, while he was sleeping. They had a heated argument earlier and she was intoxicated as well as high on cocaine. She committed suicide several hours later. Phil Hartman was one of the most beloved comedians of all time and his death is one of the most shocking and heartbreaking.