40 Years Ago: Last Original Cast Members Leave ‘SNL’
On May 24, 1980, Saturday Night Live said goodbye to the last four remaining members of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players: Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris and Laraine Newman. Bill Murray, who replaced Chevy Chase after the first season, also joined them during the exit.
Their departure was precipitated by creator and producer Lorne Michaels' decision to leave the show after stalled contract negotiations with NBC. He was also feuding with network president Fred Silverman, a frequent target on the program. Much of the writing staff, in solidarity with Michaels, also left. (Michaels returned to SNL in 1985.)
Perhaps fittingly, the host for the episode was Buck Henry, the actor and screenwriter who appeared on SNL 10 times during the first five seasons. Two musical guests were featured that week: Andrew Gold performed "Kiss This One Goodbye" just before "Weekend Update," and gospel legend Andrae Crouch and the Voices of Unity sang "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus" before the sign-off.
After a cold open dealing with news coverage of the upcoming presidential election, Henry acknowledged the changes by introducing the new cast during his monologue. The incoming group was not real. Instead, it included writer Matt Neuman - dressed up like Groucho Marx - as "Carl Quackenbush" (a nod to Dr. Hugh Z. Hackenbush, Marx's character in the movie A Day at the Races) and "Ron Waldo," who was touted for his great impression of announcer Don Pardo. It was, in fact, Pardo.
That was followed by the episode's highlight, a party at Lord Salisbury's manor in 1730, where all of the attendees (Lord Worcestershire, the Earl of Sandwich, etc.) had something named after them. Arriving late to the soiree are Lord and Lady Douchebag (played by Henry and Radner), who prompt frequent "douchebag" jokes throughout the sketch.
Watch SNL's 'Lord and Lady Douchebag'
As they had done since 1978, Curtin and Murray together anchored "Weekend Update," which included the final appearances of two recurring SNL characters: Morris' retired baseball player Chico Escuela, who took credit for ending a planned strike of Major League Baseball players that was supposed to start the day before the show's airing, and Roseanne Roseannadanna, one of Radner's most beloved roles, who bid farewell by talking about the eruption of Mount St. Helens that managed to digress into a bit about heiress and jeans designer Gloria Vanderbilt having a feminine-hygiene issue.
After Henry played the creepy Uncle Roy for the last time, Murray showed up as Nick the Lounge singer for the ninth time. But it wasn't his last appearance. He reprised the role when he hosted SNL in 1981 and 1987, as well as on the 25th and 40th Anniversary specials.
Of the five departing cast members, Murray has had the most successful career after leaving SNL. He made his movie debut the year before with Meatballs; Caddyshack arrived two months after the last episode. Beginning with 1998's Rushmore, Murray has been a regular in director Wes Anderson's acclaimed movies, and in 2001 he received a an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation.
Curtin mostly continued to work in television, winning a pair of Emmys as Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Kate & Allie and spending six seasons as Dr. Mary Albright on 3rd Rock From the Sun. Although she never returned to host SNL, Curtin revived her role as Prymaat in the 1993 movie Coneheads based on the recurring sketch.
Morris, the only African American in the original cast, continued to work regularly in film and TV, with recurring roles on The Jeffersons, Hill Street Blues, Hunter, Roc and Martin. He was also a co-star of The Jaime Foxx Show throughout its entire five-season run and played Earl Washington on 2 Broke Girls.
While Newman's career in front of the camera hasn't been as prolific as some of her former SNL castmates, she's carved out a considerable niche as a voice-over artist over the years. She's appeared in numerous animated shows, including As Told by Ginger, Doc McStuffins, The Adventures of Puss in Boots and Dawn of the Croods. Neither Newman nor Morris hosted SNL, but they both had roles in Coneheads.
Radner, of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, arguably had the greatest trouble finding work after leaving the show, logging only a handful of movie credits before she died on May 20, 1989, after a three-year bout with ovarian cancer. Steve Martin hosted SNL the night of her death; his monologue was replaced with a scene from a 1978 episode featuring himself and Radner performing Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse's "Dancing in the Dark" routine from the 1953 movie The Band Wagon.