Just heard that Jan Hooks passed away today at age 57. She was probably best known for her work as an SNL cast member during its mid-1980s heyday, although she had other memorable performances on Designing Women, 30 Rock, and The Simpsons (as Apu’s wife, Manjula). I’m old enough to remember her on SNL. She was an absolute scream, and one of the few cast members you could count on to always be funny. That’s a talent in and of itself. We’ll miss you, Jan.
The Internet is reporting that Hooks died after “battling a ‘serious illness.'” No word yet on what that illness was, but pictures of Hooks from the past ten years or so show her looking heavy and puffy faced–two symptoms, as those of us with immune system disorders know, that are synonymous with corticosteroid use. I’m not trying to speculate on her medical condition, but it’s clear that whatever she had probably affected her life for quite a while. And since she was an actress, she probably got slammed with the double-whammy of having to deal with the impact of illness on her ability to perform and on her physical appearance.
Think of Kathleen Turner, who came down with rheumatoid arthritis in the 1990s and felt she had to excuse her bloating and wobbliness on an alcohol problem, because it was a more acceptable excuse than being sick. Jesse Green of the New York Times reports that later Turner did confess to drinking heavily to combat the pain caused by RA. Even though I’m sure that the booze didn’t help the course of her disease, Green’s subtle oh-that-explains-it attitude toward Turner’s stint at rehab seems to reflect the usual ambivalence healthy people have over illness: so much easier to think it’s all the sick person’s fault, and therefore under her control.
Cut to 2010, when, in response to a blog griping about how crappy Jan Hooks looks in ads for her first guest appearance on 30 Rock, an anonymous commenter had this to say:
Jan, you fat hag, at fifty-two you better have a fatal illness to look that bad. Jesus Christ on a cross, your only job as an actor is to keep your self looking good.
Fat titties do not compensate for hagdom.
Well, guess what, Anonymous Commentator? Turns out Jan probably did have a fatal illness when she taped that show. Not that there’s anything wrong with being fat on T.V. for non-illness-related reasons, or being fat anywhere else, for that matter. Contrary to your apparent belief that women should not accost your eye with anything other than a slim-to-anorexic physique, it’s better to be plump and healthy than skinny and unwell. And I’m sure it was better for Hooks’s overall well-being–puffy or not, heavy or not, looking good to you or not–to be able to act while her body could handle it. She happened to be a phenomenal actress and comedienne. She probably loved getting a chance to do what she did best. And with some fatal illnesses, you never know when those chances will come.