SNL's Chris Kattan Alleges That On-Air Accident Led to Opioid Addiction

By Paul Gaita 05/09/19

Kattan details his painkiller addiction in his new memoir Baby Don't Hurt Me: Stories and Scars from Saturday Night Live.

SNL's Chris Kattan

Former Saturday Night Live player Chris Kattan has claimed that an accidental fall during a sketch in 2001 left him with a broken neck that ultimately led to a dependency on painkillers and the collapse of his acting career.

Kattan, who starred on the NBC sketch comedy series from 1996 to 2003, made the allegation in a new memoir, Baby Don't Hurt Me: Stories and Scars from Saturday Night Live, which details how he struck his head after falling from a chair during the May 12, 2001 episode.

According to Kattan, that fall left him with not only limited mobility, but also an addiction to opioids as a result of five surgeries to correct the problem, and the loss of his marriage and a potential career in feature films. 

Both Variety and the New York Daily News have reported that individuals who worked on the show when Kattan's accident allegedly took place have claimed that they have no recollection of the fall or any resulting injury.

The Variety coverage also included comments by a surgeon who met with Kattan in 2005 and confirmed that the actor and comedian appeared to have suffered an incomplete spinal injury at some point.

As Variety noted, Kattan, whose SNL characters included the exotic dancer Mango and one-half of the head-bobbing Butabi Brothers, mentioned an injury while appearing on Dancing with the Stars as a way to explain what was perceived as stiffness in his movements.

But he never attributed that injury to any particular moment until penning his memoir, which was published on May 7. In the book, Kattan alleged that he was supposed to fall backwards from a chair during a sketch about children who imitate the characters on the Golden Girls.

Though concerned about the safety of the pratfall, Kattan went through with the sketch and reportedly landed hard on his head. He also alleged that the pain he experienced lasted for months, which eventually prompted him to inform SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels about the injury. According to Kattan, NBC paid for two of the eventual five surgeries needed for treatment. 

Kattan also alleged in the book that the injury marked the beginning of a long period of personal and professional setbacks, which included an addiction to painkillers, the death of his father and the collapse of his marriage in 2009 after just two months.

"The impact that my injury and subsequent surgeries had on my career was immense, but more importantly, the fallout proved to be devastating to some of the closest relationships in my life."

Kattan enjoyed a brief period of movie stardom before and immediately after his departure from SNL, which included starring roles in a feature-length version of Night at the Roxbury and Corky Romano, but gradually transitioned to independent films and guest roles on television, including The Middle.

Inquiries made about the accident to NBC and various SNL staffer members by both Variety and the New York Daily News have not yielded any confirmation that Kattan experienced the injury he described in the book. 

Both Lorne Michaels and NBC declined to comment on the story, but SNL staff, some of whom worked closely with Kattan on the show, were unable to recall any injury, even after making their own internal inquiries. 

However, Variety was able to speak with Kattan's surgeon, Dr. Carl Lauryssen, MD, who said that the comedian had suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, though did not have specifics on the reported cause. Lauryssen also noted that Kattan had undergone a "complex surgery" to regain some function and mobility, but added that "he's going to live with the effects for the rest of his life."

Kattan told Variety that in writing Baby Don't Hurt Me, he "tried to tell the truth. It feels good to just finally say everything about it. I don't think it really hurts anybody. It's just something I needed to say."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.