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Jan Hooks dead; the onetime 'Saturday Night Live' cast member was 57

Actress and comedian Jan Hooks on the red

Actress and comedian Jan Hooks on the red carpet for a screening of the film "Jiminy Glick in Lalawood" during the 29th annual Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 18, 2004, in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Getty Images / Donald Weber

Jan Hooks, who created some of "Saturday Night Live's" most memorable impersonations over a five-year run, has died. She was 57 and lived in New York.

NBC News and People magazine confirmed Hooks' death with her representative. No details about cause of death were released, although some reports said Hooks had died following a long illness.   

Hooks parlayed her brief and memorable "SNL" run into a film and TV career that most notably included "Designing Women" and "3rd Rock from the Sun." But her impressions of Sinead O'Connor, Nancy Reagan and Diane Sawyer, once seen, could never ever be forgotten.

Hooks was part of one of the more sensational TV controversies of 1991 -- she left "SNL" for CBS hit "Designing Women," where an ongoing battle between showrunner Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and star Delta Burke had broken out into the open and straight on to the pages of the tabloids. Burke was fired, Hooks -- who replaced Jean Smart -- was hired, as was Julia Duffy. End of battle. 

 She later told the Associated Press,  "Although my five-year ['SNL'] contract was up, I was fully intending to return. But I wanted to investigate other possibilities."

 That other possibility, she added, arrived “out of nowhere.”

Hooks was a standout on "Not Necessarily the News" long before "SNL" -- but it was "Saturday Night Live" that made Hooks a star. (“Designing Women” was canceled a couple of years after her arrival.) She joined in September, 1986, one of two new female cast members (Victoria Jackson was the other) of what was to become an "SNL" rogue's gallery: Phil Hartman, a veteran, as was Hooks, of The Groundlings (the improv company that has been one of the great breeding grounds for TV comics) was a new cast member too, and eventually became one of Hooks’ friends.

(Another new cast member that season was some guy named Dana Carvey.)

They joined incumbents Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller, and stand-up comics A. Whitney Brown and Kevin Nealon.

As Hooks told Tom Shales in his "SNL" history "Live from New York": "The show changed my life, obviously, but I have horrible stage fright. And with all these, you know, stand-up comics who I love -- you know, Dana Carvey and Dennis and Kevin and all these people -- you know they wanted their shot, they wanted to get in there and do it, but I was one of the ones that between dress and air was sitting in the corner going, 'please cut everything I'm in' "

After "SNL" and "Designing Women," Hooks briefly found a second career at the NBC series, "3rd Rock from the Sun," and -- as true-blue "Simpsons" fans know -- as Apu's spouse, Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon

Hooks was born in Decatur, Georgia, in 1957. Here are more details from's  obit: 

 Hooks moved to Florida during high school in 1973 when her father was transferred there for his job. She attended the University of West Florida in Pensacola, but did not earn her degree because she fell in love with acting. She returned to Atlanta in 1979 where she worked in dinner theaters and joined the New Wits End Players, a comedy ensemble group. Eventually, she worked with Bill Tush on "Tush," a one-hour comedy-variety show for Turner Broadcasting and gained a cult following for her collection of characters. Hooks moved to Los Angeles in 1983, where she appeared in several TV shows and movies, including "Wildcats" and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," which earned her critical acclaim.

Three years later, she joined "Saturday Night Live." Her six-minute stand-up audition was "brutal," she said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1986. Performing in the first episode wasn't much easier:

"When the band started, I felt I was being lifted to another level," she said. "I stared into space. I must have been catatonic. I remember the hair guy asking me, 'You with me honey?' But deep within my heart I knew I could do it. I felt OK once I was out there. It's like a roller coaster ride. If you make it through the first trip, you can't wait to get back on."

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