It’s hard to believe “Saturday Night Live” is 40 years old. To put that in perspective, you can be old enough to run for president and still be too young to remember when Lorne Michaels’ groundbreaking sketch comedy show was in its infancy. The NBC weekend perennial is ringing in its Big 4-0 Sunday with a star-studded celebration comprising former hosts, musical acts and dozens of its most legendary alumni, including Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig and Dana Carvey. Even Eddie Murphy will be there, and he never goes anywhere.
Sadly, too many “SNL” cast members went before their time, a fact that has added to the show’s mythical allure over the decades. Below is a list of notable “SNL” performers who didn’t live to see the show’s 40th birthday. For all the laughs, we thank you.
John Belushi (1949-1982)
A member of the original “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” Belushi cut his teeth with over-the-top characters such as the Samurai and Joe Cocker. He, of course, went on have a major film career in comedies such as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” Belushi died of a drug overdose at Los Angeles’ famed Chateau Marmont at the age of 33.
Gilda Radner (1946-1989)
Another original cast member, Radner remains one of the funniest “SNL” alumni in the show’s history. For argument’s sake, revisit Roseanne Roseannadanna. She passed away because of ovarian cancer at the age of 42. Her legacy lives on in Gilda’s Club, a support network for people and families affected by cancer.
Danitra Vance (1954-1994)
The first African-American female to become a regular cast member, Vance had the misfortune of joining the cast during its ill-fated 1985-86 season, which suffered from low ratings and poor critical reception. Famously, the season ended with huge question marks imposed over the cast members’ faces. Vance passed away due to breast cancer at the age of 40.
Michael O’Donoghue (1940-1994)
O’Donoghue served as the first head writer of “SNL,” but also appeared in many sketches. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away at the age of 54.
Chris Farley (1964-1997)
A big player in the “SNL” renaissance of the early 1990s, Farley was known for his bombastic energy, hilarious pratfalls and dancing half-naked next to Patrick Swayze. Farley never achieved the movie stardom his immense talent suggested he might -- 1995’s “Tommy Boy,” his best-known film, was a moderate hit -- but he never really got the chance. Like his idol John Belushi, Farley passed away of drug-related complications at the age of 33.
Phil Hartman (1948-1998)
Another 1990s phenom, Hartman capitalized on the era with his hilarious Bill Clinton impersonation, including the now-legendary sketch of Bubba on the campaign trail, wolfing down other people’s meals at McDonald’s. And let’s not forget Hartman’s great work on “The Simpsons” -- that Troy McClure was so dreamy. Hartman was fatally shot by his wife at their home in Encino, California. He was 49.
Charles Rocket (1949-2005)
Like Vance, Rocket was a player during a rebuilding year for “SNL,” joining the cast in 1980 after the original members had departed. They constituted a tough act to follow, and he was fired the following year amid low ratings. Rocket was found dead from an apparent suicide in 2005 at the age of 56.
Tom Davis (1952-2012)
Davis, a longtime friend of Al Franken’s, was one of the original “SNL” writers in the 1970s. He sometimes performed on the show, most notably in the comedy sketch “Franken & Davis.” Davis passed away of cancer at the age of 59.
Jan Hooks (1957-2014)
Hooks was a regular cast member from 1986-91 who did a mean Hillary Clinton. She died of cancer at the age of 57. To some children of the ’80s, she’ll always be known as the Alamo girl in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”