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As a cast in Saturday Night Live from 1995 to 2001, Molly Shannon became famous for playing the Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher.
She says that lands somewhere on SNL – and to be recognized for a sketch she had created – should have felt like a triumph. But instead, Shannon remembers feeling depressed.
“I realized the only person I would say, ‘Oh god, I’m so, so proud of you, Molly’ was my mother,” Shannon says.
But Shannon’s mother was with her 3-year-old sister and a cousin dead decades earlier when her father, who had been drinking, crashed the family car into a pole. For years, Shannon says, the memory of her mother and sister propelled her forward in her career. But then her SNL break through happened – and she realized that her grief had not abated. Yet the moment represented a turning point.
“It made me feel at peace with fame and showbusiness,” Shannon says. “It’s like you do not have to be the best, just enjoy being creative. Enjoy your work that you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, just enjoy where you are … And I still have the same philosophy. “
Shannon has not slowed down since SNL days. She has starred in the comedy series The two others and The white lotus, and also in the upcoming Showtime comedy series I love it for you. Through it all, she remains grateful for the time she has with her own family.
“I think coming to live longer than the years my mother lived is just deeply healing, and I do not take any of it for granted,” she says. “I’m so grateful. I’m going to see my kids grow up, and my mom didn’t get to see me grow up. And it’s just, I think she would be so happy for me.”
Shannon’s new memories are Hi Molly!
About what she remembers from the car accident
I just remember there were sirens and I could hear a lot of talking. A large crowd stopped and formed around the car, and people helped and tried to pull people out of the car. They laid my sister Mary and I on a stretcher. And I remember I felt her body next to mine and they put a blanket over us and it felt really itchy. And I just remember I was confused what happens?
We had slept in the back of the station wagon, and then they took us to the hospital, and they cut off our clothes. They brought us in and gave us all these tests … touched parts of her body to make sure we could feel our feet and similar things. Many, many tests. ….
We woke up in the morning and people came in with presents and lots of toys and there were relatives. But I thought, “Where is my mother?” You know, “Where’s Katie? Where’s my dad?” And I wanted to see if my sister was kind of my guide post, but she just looked out the window and cried.
So in my head I thought, “Oh, my mom has to be with Katie in the baby ward.” Maybe Katie is on another floor with the babies. My little sister was 3. And finally, I think an aunt told us that my mother and my sister were dead. She said, “They have gone, they have gone to heaven.” You know, like, it’s really good news.
On her father’s legs that were crushed in the crash and how it affected him
It was really hard because he was in the hospital for a long time and then recovered from my aunt. He had to learn to walk again. And he had a walker that he used the first year to just slowly learn to walk around her living room. So that improvement went slowly. And then we finally moved back to our original house.
It was hard for him. He would be stressed over cleaning and cooking. But he was a very practical full-time parent. He was able to be with us all the time. He was investing in semi-detached houses in Cleveland so he would go and pick up the rent. But he could take us to school and be home after school and take me to piano lessons. So he did a really good job of trying to be a good dad.
On her father’s mischievous sense of humor
He wanted to make us laugh. He had a lot of fun being a parent. He was silly. He wanted to make a lot of things into games. As if we were walking into a candy store, just my dad and me, he would say, “Molly, what if we pretend when we walk into the store that I’m blind?” And I thought, “OK.” So everything was like a game. He would say, “Is that chocolate ?!” And he wanted to knock the chocolate down. It was fun. It was fun. He was very silly and wild.
About her early career in showbiz
I thought it was like a professional TV show. [But] this was just some kind of local carnival show where we were going to different carnivals and it was not professional. And the woman who drove it seemed like she had a serious alcohol problem. And I found it fascinating to study her. Sometimes we met in the morning and she was really drunk and I was just thinking, “Wow, is she drunk? It’s so early.” So I studied her in a way.
But the show was a great experience because my dad would drive me all over southern Ohio to go to these carnivals. I would sing with the microphone, like near the bouncy house, and I would sing like “Tea for Two”. So it was really good practice to perform.
On her father coming out later in life
I was so scared to ask him, Terry. And it was interesting because I kept waiting for him to tell me. My last SNL Show, my dad came to the party. … And we had the best time and he got to see my last show. But he still did not tell me, and I say, “God, he has not told me yet.”
Then I invited him out for a press release for this movie I made with Kate Beckinsale, called A stroke of luck. And I said, “Come out to the four seasons.” And we wore white clothes and we had Cobb salads and just had the best time. And we … went and sat in sunbeds by the pool, and I was just thinking, I want to be brave and ask the million-dollar question that only a daughter can ask a parent while they are still alive. And I said, “Have you ever thought that you might be gay?” And I remember I said it so slowly … And then it was like a break. And he said, “Certainly.”
And I thought, “What? What did you just say?” It’s almost as if you can not hear what they are saying. Definitely? Oh my god, what a relief. And then we ended up talking about it for the next 72 hours. We drove to Ojai, [Calif.], and we went to Carrows Diner and I was just going to ask him all the questions I would ever ask. And I said, “Did mom know that?” And he told me that. And I said, “When did you know you were gay?” And he says, “Oh, Molly, I knew that in elementary school.” … So we had this open conversation. … And it was such an honor that he came out to me, and I think it was a relief for him to be able to tell me that. And he died six months later.
Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Seth Kelley and Natalie Escobar adapted it to the web.