Cancer claimed two former SNL writers this week. Nelson Lyon, a writer for the 1981-82 season, died Tuesday of liver cancer at the age of 73. Two days later, Tom Davis, one of the show’s original writers and a returning contributor to the show following Lorne Michaels’ re-arrival, succumbed to throat and neck cancer at 59.
Davis was a prominent figure in the show’s history, responsible for many of the well-known sketches such as Coneheads, Final Days, and got more than a few complaints with his and Al Franken’s Stunt Baby, X-Police, and First He Cries. He appeared on camera fairly often through his tenure on the show, usually in tandem with Franken, and at one point landing “featured player” status with the other tenured writers for 1979-80; he also provided countless voiceovers for sketches. He left with the original writers in 1980, then returned along with Lorne Michaels and Al Franken five years later. Franken and Davis produced the poorly-received 1985-86 season (with Michaels as executive producer). When Michaels took a more direct involvement with the show the following season, Davis was gone, but not for long: he rejoined the writing staff in January 1987 and stayed through the 1993-94 season. He contributed sketches on 12 shows between 1997 and 2004, including “Leather Man” with Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz.
Lyon was more of a shadowy, underground figure; a collaborator of Michael O’Donoghue’s probably known more for his sex comedy “The Telephone Book” and his association with John Belushi during his final days. Lyon contributed to O’Donoghue’s “At Home With The Psychos” (with Terry Southern and Rosie Shuster) and penned “The Mild One”, an existential biker sketch featuring Bruce Dern. He had a handful of on-camera appearances as well, as a prisoner, a bodyguard and Josef Stalin. Lyon’s impact on SNL may be less apparent than Davis’, but as the basis for O’Donoghue’s “Mr. Mike” and a key part of the unique tone of the 1981-82 SNL, it should not be underestimated.