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Norm Macdonald, R.I.P.

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Norm Macdonald at the Fox network presentation at the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in 2003. (Fred Prouser/Reuters) A fond farewell to one of our greatest comedic minds.

‘In the old days, a man could just get sick and die. Now, they have to wage a battle,” Norm Macdonald jokes in his 2011 special. When an old man dies, people say, “Hey, he lost his battle. . . . That’s no way to end your life.” As if to prove a point, the stand-up kept his cancer diagnosis private for nine years.

Norm Macdonald — dead today at age 61 — refused to wage a battle. It was the last of many refusals: As a young comic, he refused a lunch invitation from Johnny Carson, his comedy hero, for fear that he wouldn’t have good stories to tell. He refused repeatedly to quit gambling on professional sports, a habit that led to three personal bankruptcies. Most famously, Norm refused to stop telling jokes about O. J. Simpson’s murder trial, despite the protestations of NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer — a bit that got him fired from Saturday Night Live.

Later, Norm refused to develop a show for FX because he didn’t like the final version of a script he’d written with Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon. Norm sent a rewrite to FX, which the network stood ready to develop, but the deal fell apart when Simon learned of the unauthorized revisions. The gambit got Norm fired by his TV agent.

He also refused to learn how to drive, which makes perfect, inexplicable sense to his fans.

On the few occasions when Norm did complete a project — Sports Show with Norm Macdonald, which he hosted on Comedy Central, or his recent Netflix talk show, Norm Macdonald Has a Show — he more or less deliberately bombed, never lasting more than one season. Norm was a comic: He couldn’t bring himself to do Hollywood’s song and dance.

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