Dan Vitale, 'SNL' Actor, Has Died

Friends announced on May 6 that comedian Dan Vitale had passed away at the age of 66. The news was shared by a few friends online, including writer Andy Hoglund. From there, word spread to fellow comedians such as Marc Maron, who went on to share his own tribute, writing on Twitter, "RIP the great Dan Vitale. I loved this guy."

According to a 2014 Vulture profile, Vitale was raised in Long Island by a "blackout drunk" mother and a "mobbed up" father who he claims has some shady business dealings that compelled the family to move to Florida at times during his childhood without telling anyone where they were. As a teenager, alcohol and drug abuse shaped Vitale's life, comedy became a coping mechanism, and he developed a love for dark humor after the tragic death of his sister, who died in a car accident when he was just thirteen. He credits Freddie Prinze's success on The Tonight Show as his motivation for moving across the river to Greenwich Village to begin a career in comedy and acting. 

Vitale was hired for the November 23, 1985 episode of Saturday Night Live, but he was dropped a few months later due to his drug and alcohol abuse, which culminated in his first rehab stay in the fall of 1985. Occasionally, he appeared in sketches, rarely with more than one line. The writers generally viewed Vitale as too volatile to win their trust as a consistent performer or rising comic. Since then, he has continued to appear at New York comedy clubs, even starring in a one-man show in 2006 called Live from Rehab, It's Dan Vitale.

With Vitale's long history in the comedy scene, the tributes and condolences started pouring in on social media from his peers and cohorts. Ritch Duncan tweeted, "Saddened to hear of the passing of Comedian Dan Vitale. Big man. Giant heart. Had a ton of tools. Intimidatingly funny. He took you places. We called a string of related jokes a 'bit.' Danny called it a 'Chunk.' A huge, hilarious monster of a man. And kind. So goddamned kind."

"When I moved to NYC in '82, Dan Vitale was one of the first comics I saw," Dennis Perrin wrote. "He emceed at The Bitter End in the Village, and he was a beast. Funny, electric, on the edge. I remember rants against Sam Shepard plays and a hilarious dissection of
THE DEER HUNTER
."

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Comedian, radio host and activist Randy Credico was friends with Vitale for 40 years. "We worked together in 82 at the Bitter End and later at the Monkey's Paw and countless other gigs in NYC..Yesterday, alas, he passed..devastating news to all who knew this comic genius..RIP my friend."

Vitale told Vulture in 2014 that he had "made peace" with his experience on SNL but still sometimes contemplates what could have been. "I made peace with it a long time ago, but I can't help but think sometimes… I got into the candy store – I didn't get up the ladder to that nice jar – but I got into the store."