Actress and comedian Jan Hooks was among the most gifted players of the "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1974- ) renaissance in the late 1980s. She later enjoyed steady work as a guest actress on television, including two years co-starring on "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993). Although she did not go on to the prolific film and television careers that many of her SNL alumni did, Hooks was fondly remembered by sketch comedy fans for her ability to perform both broad characters and straight roles, in much the same way that her castmate and close friend Phil Hartman did. When Hooks died at the age of 57 on October 9, 2014 after battling a lengthy illness, tributes poured in from all corners of the comedy world, including a tender on-air tribute on "Saturday Night Live" itself by former cast members Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
Born in Decatur, Georgia on April 23, 1957, she spent her teenage years in Florida and Texas before returning to Atlanta, where she met writers Bonnie and Terry Turner while performing in a comedy troupe called The New Wits End Players. In 1980, the trio earned early television exposure as cast members on "Tush" (1980-81), a sketch comedy vehicle for future show business reporter Bill Tush on WTCG, an Atlanta-based channel that later became Ted Turner's WTBS. When the series ran its course, Hooks headed west to Los Angeles, where she received improvisational training with the famed Groundlings troupe. Appearances on various comedy programs, including "Not Necessarily the News" (HBO 1982-1990), preceded her first audition for "Saturday Night Live" in 1985. She was initially passed over in favor of actress Joan Cusack, but after the series' disastrous 1985-86 season, producer Lorne Michaels returned with an offer to join what was largely considered the show's return to form in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Alongside castmates including her former boyfriend Kevin Nealon, Hooks quickly established herself as one of the new cast's breakout players through uncanny impersonations of numerous celebrities, from Nancy Reagan to a brittle Bette Davis and a gravely self-important Sinead O'Connor, who locked horns with a boorish Frank Sinatra (Phil Hartman). She also had a beloved recurring character as Brenda the flirtatious small-town diner waitress. But some of Hooks' best-loved performances came as a team player, where she demonstrated the ability to provide remarkable support to her scene mate while also delivering her own finely tuned comic turn. With Nora Dunn, she was one-half of the awesomely energized Sweeney Sisters, lounge singers with a penchant for hammy song medleys that invariably included a raucous quote from "The Trolley Song." Hooks was often well-paired with Hartman, most notably as tarnished evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for an appearance on the "Church Chat" sketch with Dana Carvey's vinegary Church Lady that was equally satiric and sympathetic. The pair also co-starred in one of the show's most poignant short films, "Love is a Dream," a bittersweet reverie about faded love that poked gentle fun at movie musical conventions while also celebrating their old-fashioned charm. (After both Hartman's murder in 1998 and Hooks' death in 2014, SNL replayed "Love Is A Dream" in tribute.) Off-camera, Hooks considered Hartman a close friend and her key support in overcoming the stage fright that overcame her before each live broadcast.
Hooks' popularity on SNL did not translate into substantial acting opportunities in other projects. Her most memorable film turn had been as the chipper but firm Alamo tour guide in Tim Burton's "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985). In 1991, she left SNL to replace the outgoing Jean Smart on "Designing Women." Cast as Carlene, the naïve younger sister of Smart's Charlene Frazier, Hooks was well received by the show's loyal fanbase and remained with the program until its cancellation in 1993. She then settled into guest roles in various television projects, most notably an Emmy-nominated recurring role as French Stewart's girlfriend, Vicki Dubcek, on "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001), created and produced by her old castmates Bonnie and Terry Turner. She also voiced Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon, the long-suffering wife of convenience store owner Apu, on several episodes of "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1987- ), and teamed with fellow SNL vet Martin Short as Dixie Glick, the spouse of fawning talk show host Jiminy Glick, on "Primetime Glick" (Comedy Central, 2001-03) and the bizarre film spinoff "Jiminy Glick in Lalawood" (2004). The film was among Hooks' last acting roles; she remained off-camera until 2010, when she co-starred in two episodes of "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-2013) as the monstrous stage mother of Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). Her final television appearance was in the 2010 special "The Women of 'SNL'" (NBC), which compiled some of her best sketches with new interstitial material. On October 9, 2014, Hooks died at the age of 57 from an undisclosed illness.
Cast (Feature Film)
Starred in WTBS (Atlanta, Georgia) series, "Tush"
Relocated to Los Angeles
Worked as a regular on "The Half Hour Comedy Hour"
Made feature film debut in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"
Was a cast regular on NBC's popular late-night variety program, "Saturday Night Live"
Joined the cast of popular CBS sitcom, "Designing Women", as Carlene Dobber
Cast as Meg on "The Martin Short Show" (NBC)
Returned to New York stage in A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia" (replacing Sarah Jessica Parker)
Had recurring role as Vicki Dubcek on "3rd Rock From the Sun" (NBC)
Begins recurring voice-over role as Apu's wife Manjula on "The Simpsons."
Appeared in the film "Simon Birch" as Miss Leavey
Cast as Martin Short's wife on Comedy Central's "Primetime Glick"
Reprised role of Dixie Glick in "Jiminy Glick in La La Wood"