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1981: Charles Rocket, SNL's Next Big Star, Is Fired For Dropping F-Bomb

Entertainment | February 21, 2020

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 5 -- Pictured: Charles Rocket during the 'Weekend Update' on December 20, 1980 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

When Charles Rocket joined the show in 1981, Saturday Night Live was in a make-or-break scenario. It was the first season without Lorne Michaels at the helm and it had an all new cast. New cast member Charles Rocket was supposed to be a standout performer -- in the tradition of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray -- and he kind of was, just not for the reason he wanted to be. After Rocket dropped the F-bomb on the air during the credits of a 1981 episode of the long running comedy show, he and many of his coworkers were fired, and he spent the rest of his life trying to live down the flub. Unfortunately he took his own life in 2005. Getting fired from Saturday Night Live may not have been the reason behind his suicide, but certainly weighed on him.

Before He Was On SNL, Rocket Was An Art School Kid

source: tumblr.com

After growing up in Bangor, Maine, Rocket studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late ‘60s before getting into the RISD underground scene that birthed bands like the Talking Heads and director Gus Van Sant. He acted in short films and even fronted a band called The Fabulous Motels as a singing accordion player. His foray into comedy started when he filmed a series of faux news reports under the name “Charles Kennedy.” Rocket’s work was so deadpan that he eventually scored a job working as a news reporter for a short period of time.

Charles Rocket Was A Part Of The Most Disastrous Season Of SNL

source: NBC

The 1980-1981 season of Saturday Night Live was a failed experiment. Sure, we got Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy out of the deal but everything else about the season was cursed. With Lorne Michaels away from the show it was produced by Jean Doumanian, and she brought on an entirely new cast. The centerpiece of the case was meant to be Rocket, a combination of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. He was handsome and confident with an ability to look like a fool. Unfortunately for Rocket and Doumanian, audiences were drawn to Murphy (who could blame them?) and found Rocket to be a little too cool for school. A few years earlier this wouldn’t haven’t been a big deal -- Chase and Murray both had that energy -- but audiences were looking for something new.

Blame 'Dallas'

source: NBC

If Dallas hadn't been such a popular show would Charles Rocket have flamed out in such a spectacular fashion? The February 21, 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live was hosted by Dallas star Charlene Tilton and featured a “Who Shot J.R.?” themed sketch where Rocket was shot. During the pre-credits goodbye Tilton asked Rocket how he felt about being shot and he responded, “Oh, man, it’s the first time I’ve ever been shot in my life. I’d like to know who the f**k did it.”

That was that for Rocket. After he dropped the F-bomb Rocket was cut loose and so was Doumanian, Gilbert Gottfried, and Ann Risley. Dick Ebersol took over she show and it wasn’t before long that Lorne Michaels was back. When asked about his firing Rocket told People Magazine, “I'm not proud of the fact it slipped through. But that's all it was -- a slip.”

SNL Has A Weird History Of Firing Talented People

source: NBC

Before we get into how Rocket’s firing affected the rest of his life we should look at Saturday Night Live’s weird history with getting rid of talented people for making on-air slip ups. Cast members have been accidentally saying “f**k” on air since the show first aired. Paul Schaffer - who later became the bandleader on Late Night with David Letterman - was the first person to break the barrier but it happens once every few years. Even without all the F-bombs, SNL has a strange track record for firing people with a lot of talent. Promising comedians like Charles Rocket are misused, and when they slip up they’re let go. It’s a strange environment, one that can really mess with a performers head.

Rocket Never Stopped Working, He Just Never Became A Star

source: Vestron Pictures

After he was let go from Saturday Night Live, Rocket continued to work but he wasn’t in the same tier of comedic performer as the SNL actors from previous seasons. Instead, he did a lot of TV work (The X-Files, Miami Vice, Star Trek: Voyager) and he appeared in films as an aloof parent or the jerkiest jerk who ever came out of jerkville. You most likely remember seeing him as the dad in Hocus Pocus or as the kidnapper in Dumb & Dumber. But aside from his film and television work he continued playing accordion and hung out with bands like the B-52s and Tom Petty.

He Ended His Life In 2005

source: wikipedia

Rocket’s career never took off the way he wanted it to, and things came to an end on October 7, 2005 when he was found in his home in Canterbury, Connecticut with his throat slit. The state medical examiner declared that the wound was self inflicted. Rocket’s suicide hit his friends hard, especially the people who knew him from RISD. Chris Frantz from the Talking Heads told the Los Angeles Times

I know that Charlie had some pretty big disappointments in his life. The world of Hollywood movies and television can be pretty rough for a person.

It’s not obvious if Rocket’s firing from SNL played a part in his final moments, but there’s no way that such a public, messy firing could dissipate so easily.

Tags: Charles Rocket | Lorne Michaels | Saturday Night Live | TV From The 1980s | What Did He Do?...

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.