Back in 1975, Tom Davis and Al Franken, two Minnesota-born comedians, joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live, a new late-night comedy show. Together, Franken & Davis sketched out some unforgettable SNL characters – The Coneheads played by Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. Nick The Lounge Singer, a character inhabited wonderfully by Bill Murray. Julia Child brought to life by Aykroyd again. 37 years later, Saturday Night Live is still going strong.
The Franken & Davis comedy team broke up in 1990. Time passed. And, in 2009, their lives went in very different directions. Al Franken was elected to the U.S. Senate. Tom Davis was diagnosed with throat and neck cancer — the disease that finally took his life yesterday. In recent months, Davis wrote openly about his journey with cancer. In a blog post called The Dark Side of Death, he joked about indulging in medical marijuana (“These days I get my marijuana through airport security by hiding it in the morphine”) and the day he’d “de-animate.” But he also talked movingly about the perspective the disease gave him, writing:
I wake up in the morning, delighted to be waking up, read, write, feed the birds, watch sports on TV, accepting the fact that in the foreseeable future I will be a dead person. I want to remind you that dead people are people too. There are good dead people and bad dead people. Some of my best friends are dead people. Dead people have fought in every war. We’re all going to try it sometime. Fortunately for me, I have always enjoyed mystery and solitude.
Many people in my situation say, “It’s been my worst and best year.” If that sounds like a cliché, you don’t have cancer. On the plus side, I am grateful to have gained real, not just intellectual empathy. I was prepared to go through life without having suffered, and I was doing a good job of it. Now I know what it’s like to starve. And to accept “that over which I have no control,” I had to turn inward. People from all over my life are reconnecting with me, and I’ve tried to take responsibility for my deeds, good and bad. As my friend Timothy Leary said in his book, Death by Design, “Even if you’ve been a complete slob your whole life, if you can end the last act with panache, that’s what they’ll remember.”
I think I’ve finally grown up.
When Davis said that “some of my best friends are dead people,” he was probably thinking of Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia too. Here, you can watch Davis and the Grateful Dead frontman cook a meal together, and above we bring you Franken & Davis conducting a Grateful Dead trivia contest in 1980. Thanks to Tom for the memories and laughs.