On October 9, 2014, comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Jan Hooks died of throat cancer at the age of 57. Now, to mark the one year anniversary of her death, Grantland has published a touching and surprisingly complex tribute to her titled, “The Laughs, Pathos, And Overwhelming Talent Of Jan Hooks” penned by Mike Thomas, author of You Might Remember Me: The Life And Times Of Phil Hartman. Never a megastar during her own life, Hooks is now rightly remembered as one of the best SNL cast members of all time. Truly the distaff equivalent of Phil Hartman, her frequent sketch partner and off-stage confidant, Hooks could manage all three of the program’s “holy trinity” of major responsibilities: straight characters, zany characters, and celebrity impersonations, the latter of which included a formidable Tammy Faye Bakker. Thomas’ career-spanning article includes flattering comments by Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Jack Handey, and Tina Fey, who gave Hooks one of her last major recurring roles, as Jenna Maroney’s woefully negligent mother on 30 Rock. Despite her obvious talent and versatility, Hooks did not have the sterling post-SNL career that Fey felt she deserved, despite landing recurring roles on Designing Women, 3rd Rock From The Sun, and The Simpsons.
Part of what held Hooks back career-wise, Thomas suggests, was the comedian’s deeply ambivalent feelings toward fame and show business. She was often terrified on SNL, the article reveals, and had little interest in going on auditions or doggedly pursuing movie and television roles, even ones that were virtually laid at her feet. “I don’t like circus performing,” she reasoned. For many viewers, Hooks seems to have mysteriously vanished after her five years on SNL were over. “The Laughs, Pathos, And Overwhelming Talent Of Jan Hooks” does a terrific job, then, of filling in just what the Georgia-born performer’s last two decades out of the spotlight were like. Much of her time, it turns out, was spent in blissful isolation, including some peaceful but unproductive years spent in Bearsville, New York, where she lived on “a shabby 130-year-old farmhouse.” A close friend, Ann Hornaday, puts it this way: “She cultivated her solitude. She craved her solitude.” The article also covers Hooks’ struggles with cancer and the devastating effect it had on her voice, forcing her to communicate with friends through admirably witty text messages. For those wanting to know Hooks better, this article is a great place to start.