Jan Hooks, ‘SNL’ & Cypress Lake alumnus dies

Profile of Jan Hooks from the Oct. 30 1981 edition of The News-Press. She had just lost a job on an Atlanta TV show. Five years later, she would join the cast of 'Saturday Night Live'

Jan Hooks, a 1975 Cypress Lake High School graduate and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member has died.

The 57-year-old Hooks died Thursday in New York, according to her agent, Lisa Lieberman. She had no other details.

She was part of the “Saturday Night Live” cast from 1986-91, the same time as Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller.

“I was 15 years old when I first saw Jan Hooks on SNL. All of her characters spoke to me. She was one of the greats,” SNL alum Amy Poehler said in a statement.

A former member of the influential comedy troupe The Groundlings, she had been rejected twice before for a spot on the NBC comedy institution.

According to an Oct. 3, 1986 News-Press story, Hooks made her stage debut in a Cypress Lake High School play.

She had moved to Fort Myers from Atlanta in her junior year when her father, a Sears employee, was transferred.

Hooks appeared in the Cypress Lake productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Miracle Worker,” and the comedy “The Matchmaker.”

After high school, she attended Edison Community College, where she majored in acting.

It’s just fabulous,” Hooks’ father Wyatt told The News-Press about her role on Saturday Night Live.

“Jan has worked very hard for this. She had no contacts, no pull or family influence to help her along the way. She’s done it on her own.”

Before joining Saturday Night Live in 1986. Hooks received critical acclaim portraying the Alamo guide in “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.” She also appeared in the Goldie Hawn movie “Wildcat.”

She also starred for a year in “Tush,” a comedy show on WTBS.

“Comedy is sooooo strange. People come up to you. They want to be funny. And they want you to be funny. I like doing comedy,” Hooks told the News-Press in 1981. ” I find myself specializing in satire. I can look around a room and watch a weak point in someone and build a character on that.

In August 1986, while her mother Sadie was dying, Hooks auditioned for and won a spot on Saturday Night Live’s cast.

Besides impersonations that included Bette Davis and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hooks won laughs for original characters such as Candy, half of the bouffant-haired Sweeney Sisters lounge act. But being on a live weekly broadcast proved hard on the comic actress.

“The show changed my life, obviously. But I have horrible stage fright,” she said in an oral history of “SNL.” While other performers wanted to “get in there and do it,” she said, “I was one of the ones that between dress (rehearsal) and air was sitting in the corner going, ‘Please cut everything I’m in.'”

“It was one of the hardest times of Jan’s life but she’s very strong,” her father told The News-Press in 1992. “She really liked doing SNL – and it was her first really big break – but she always felt the writers favored the male actors and that bothered her.”

She jumped at the chance to move into prime time when asked to join the sitcom “Designing Women,” appearing in the 1991-93 final seasons.

Born April 23, 1957, in Decatur, Georgia, Hooks studied for a time at the University of West Florida in Pensacola before leaving to begin her acting career.

She appeared in 1992’s “Batman Returns” and voiced convenience store owner Apu’s wife on “The Simpsons” for several years.

She also had an Emmy Award-nominated turn on “3rd Rock From the Sun.”

Her screen work became much more sporadic after the 1990s. On “30 Rock” in 2010, she played the avaricious mother of Jane Krakowski’s character, Jenna Maroney.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Below is a story a May 1998 story from Gannett News Service

Actress reunites with `SNL’ alumni in reprise of `3rd Rock’ role

By MIKE HUGHES Gannett News Service

In a big, empty hall, Jan Hooks’ life changed.

This was a mass tryout for “Saturday Night Live.” It seemed designed to reduce people to quaking, quivering fear.

“It was horrible,” recalls Hooks, a former Fort Myers resident, who guests on “3rd Rock From the Sun” at 9:12 p.m. Wednesday on WBBH-TV Channel 20, cable channel 2.

“They wanted to make sure you wouldn’t panic when you were working live. So they made the audition as scary as possible. They put it in the most cavernous place ever seen.”

Most people were rejected. They retreated, their lives in ruin.

(Well, some of the rejects did OK. One was Jim Carrey.)

Hooks, however, got the job and fame. The world remembers “SNL” alumni.

That may be one reason to catch “3rd Rock.” Two old colleagues – Hooks and Phil Hartman – are in one wild tale.

“Strangely, we never had any scenes together,” Hooks says.

Well … not so far. This episode, however, is a comic cliffhanger.

Hooks plays Vicki Dubcek, the landlady’s daughter. She’s still wild about Harry (French Stewart); late in tonight’s show, her ex-boyfriend (Hartman) arrives, intent on revenge.

This is Hooks’ fourth “3rd Rock” episode, re-uniting her with producer-writers Bonnie and Terry Turner.

“We worked together at the New Wit’s End, in Atlanta,” Hooks says. “They are brilliant writers.”

That was Hooks’ home turf. She later moved to California, for a comedy revue that promptly fell through.

Eventually, she had that scary “SNL” audition. She got the role – and found that the Turners were two of the show’s best writers.

Later, Hooks left “SNL” to step into the “Designing Women” series.

“That was a great show,” she says, “but the people who were doing it were getting tired of it. They were nice people, but they were just tired of the show.”

Now she’s back to free-lance, including her occasional duties on “3rd Rock,” one of TV’s most erratic shows.

Wednesday’s season-finale sometimes has too much noise or too few laughs.

Then Hartman arrives. Suddenly, “3rd Rock” returns to being an exceptionally funny show.

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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