Update on Jan Hooks: There Is No Update

It’s been two and a half weeks since Jan Hooks, SNL superstar and amazing actress and comedian, died of an “undisclosed illness.” Every day since her death, I’ve put off writing this follow-up post. I wanted to wait until someone gave the world some kind of statement on what sort of illness she struggled with, why she seemed heavier in recent years, why her face looked puffy and a little misshapen. (All my links to sources with pictures are here, in my original post.) I guessed her changing looks might have been due to corticosteroid use, possibly related to a chronic illness, but that was pure speculation on my part. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a statement from a reliable source that provides a little more information. At the very least, I want to make sure I correct myself if, in my rush to fill a gap in the public knowledge of the situation, I’ve pulled something completely out of my ass.

Two-and-half-weeks later, however, we the total strangers interested in Hooks’s life and death still have no answers. I’m guessing, too, that we’re not going to get any answers anytime soon. The only news outlet I can find that’s commented on Hooks’s cause of death has been the Daily Mail in the UK, which published this article on October 10th claiming that Hooks had cancer. However, no other media outlet seems to be running with this story. Recently, for example, several reports covering Tina Fey’s tribute to Hooks at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards either don’t mention a cause of death or cite the ambiguous “undisclosed illness.” (In their coverage of Fey’s remarks, Yahoo TV does manage to straddle the line between knowing and not knowing: “While the cause of [Hooks’s] death has yet to be disclosed, it’s believed she died from cancer.”) This hesitation might be because of the fact that the Daily Mail is not known for its trustworthy reporting. (I happen to know that popular humor website Cracked.com will not accept the Daily Mail as source material in its article pitches. That’s right: professional purveyors of dick and boob jokes think the Daily Mail is beneath their editorial standards.)

So what’s with all the silence? I couldn’t say, but I’m not going to press the issue. Illness and death are hard topics in and of themselves. I don’t want to put pressure on a grieving family, who owes me nothing, just because I happen to be curious about a famous family member’s medical history. Jan Hooks died young. For now, that will have to be that.

There are also plenty of other things about Hooks’s life and career to talk about. One major issue that Fey brought up: why didn’t Hooks have a bigger career? (Fey’s exact words were: “Jan deserved a big movie career. Certainly as big as Rob Schneider’s f—ing career. She was a bigger star on ‘SNL.'”) Did Hooks run into problems as a female performer? Did her anxiety and stage fright become too overwhelming? (Okay, I know, I’m back on the medical speculation. But anxiety’s another big deal in my life, and once again I’m curious about how Hooks coped.) Did Hooks’s changing appearance contribute to her fading into the background in the entertainment industry? Why did looks even matter, when she kicked so much ass as Jenna Maroney’s mother, Verna, on “30 Rock”? Doesn’t it suck that we now live in a world without Jan Hooks, Gilda Radner, and Joan Rivers? And Robin Williams and Phil Hartman? Come on, Grim Reaper, give us a break. We need all the laughs we can get these days.

Anyway, here’s a funny, funny clip from Hooks’s days at SNL. I had no idea she had a Kathie Lee Gifford in her repertoire. Also interesting to see how much things have changed since the 1980s–and how much they haven’t. Enjoy!



3 responses to “Update on Jan Hooks: There Is No Update

  1. In the span of 20 years, Jan lost four of the closest people in her life far too soon: Her mother, her father, Phil Hartman, and her aunt. She has been laid to reset in a plot between both her mother and aunt (who stepped in as a kind of mother figure for Jan until she, too, passed away.)

    Jan is survived by two brothers. One of them bought and set her up with her first laptop computer and cell phone around 2000 or so. She live in New York until the events of September 11, 2001 impelled her to seek a second home in Woodstock, NY.

    Thrings things she shared in common with Phil Hartmann: an incredible work ethic (while she worked), both were smokers, and both attended but never graduated from college.

    According to Mike Thomas’ autobiography of Phil Hartman, Phil lived and worked around southern California until his gig with SNL called him to NYC. From what I’ve been able to garner from internet searches. Jan traveled much further in search of her career: Florida, Texas, Georgia, and California, before finally being noticed by SNL.

    Phil bloomed late: most of his professional work as an actor and writer was doing radio voice-overs and assisting Paul Ruebens while with the Groundlings. By comparison, Jan had a fair amount of television exposure through the Bill Tush Show, Not Necessarily the News, and bit roles in Wildcats and Pee-Wee’s Big adventure—the last which folks find memorable to this day.

    In the few interviews I’ve been able to find, Jan seemed fairly content with life after SNL. She was able to live independently, though perhaps modestly by comparison to other SNL stars. She could work if she wanted to. She didn’t have to. She had bit parts on several shows. She enjoyed work on Designing Women, but it was over too soon—much like her lament over the cancellation of the Bill Tush show after one season that I read in a scanned article and posted online. 3rd Rock from the sun seemed the sort of show she was made for, but Phil’s death, ironically, came at the very end of that show, too.

    I have no idea if she turned down work or folks stopped calling or a combination of both. All I know is that Jan’s career after 1998 (the year Phil was killed) ground to nearly a halt. Her time with Martin Short (on his show Jiminy Glick, in the role of his wife, Dixie) was her last effort as a recurring character in a sitcom.

    But acting and being a comedian was her first, best occupation. I don’t know of she ever did anything else from the time she dropped out of college. Phil was doing many things before stardom hit. Jan pursued it first to the exclusion of all else. In their time, Phil lost wives and one day his life. He still had six other siblings to commiserate with. Jan lost more (close and direct relatives and Phil), though she still had two older brothers she remained close to.

    If I had to guess, I’d day Jan didn’t find professional work as rewarding after the death of her mother, her father, and Phil. Every big project she was involved with either ended too soon or, worse, accompanied by tragedy. With no close family or close friends to share her successes (that I’m aware of, other than perhaps Nora Dunn), acting work lost its appeal and she could take it or leave it.

    And if she pursued something else, again, whom to share the successes and the joys with? Other than Kevin Nealon in the mid-eightees, I have no real knowledge of any other relationships she was in. I’ve read rumors that she and Phil were somehow together (I’d almost bet Phil’s wife, Brynn, thought as much) but have seen no definitive proof. But if Mike Thomas’ biogrpahy of Phil is any guide, an affair between them wouldn’t surprise me.

    As to her illness, I’ve already mentioned that she smoked. At least, I think she did. She may have quit. There’s an internet site that records 14 on-comera instances of her with cigarettes and cigars. One website reported that she smoked to get the right tone for the voice of Angelyne for an episode of Futurama. At the very least, smoking cigarettes was not something she would shy from if the role called for it and she was familiar with the habit for that alone.

    Folks have remarked on her weight gain and looks. Knowing nothing about her health in her final years, it is at least common for people to gain weight as they age. People will often gain weight when they quit smoking, too, and do not replace the habit with healthy ones. We accept skinny-Elvis and fat-Elvis. Even skinny-Shatner and fat-Shatner. I’m willing to accept both skinny-Jan and “fat”-Jan and still stand in star-struck admiration of her talent ’til the end—as Tina Fey did.

    I have no idea what “happened” to Jan Hooks. I just hope that she knew how much a world of her fans admired and loved her—unconditionally.

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