Molly Shannon: Heartbreaking Story Behind Iconic 'SNL' Character

Molly Shannon's career took off when she was hired as a featured player on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s. She performed on the show for six years, creating indelible characters in her time there.

One of these was Mary Katherine Gallagher, a student at a Catholic high school who was quite the outcast due to her awkward, nervous disposition and her love of performing in school plays.

The character became Shannon's best known, even spawning a spin-off movie, Superstar.

However, it turns out the comedy which came from Shannon's character actually came from a place of tragedy in the actor's past.

Speaking to The Los Angeles Times, Shannon said it was the horrific trauma of her mother, younger sister and cousin dying in a car accident which fueled her comedy in later life.

She said: "I was very heartbroken and very sad and just trying to hold it all together as a kid.

"There's no way that you could feel that type of deep pain about your mother and your sister being dead, so you just hold it all in, and it comes up later in life."

Shannon's father, who was driving the car under the influence, was injured in the accident.

The actor said the character of Mary Katherine Gallagher was based on herself and how she felt after the accident, exaggerating what she felt as a child.

She said she made the character "really nervous, accident-prone, wanting to please, f***** up but full of hope," which was who she became after the accident.

In the interview, Shannon opened up about what it was like after the accident, saying she was "mad" at everything, even her aunt not cutting crusts on bread as her mother would have.

She said eventually she became "reckless" due to the trauma, not caring if she "made myself bleed."

What Has Molly Shannon Been In After SNL?

Molly Shannon created many characters in her stint at SNL, including 50-year-old dancer Sally O'Malley; Helen Madden, an excitable 'joyologist'; and various co-hosts, such as Miss Colleen on "Dog Show," opposite Will Ferrell's Mr. David Larry.

In the late 1990s she began appearing in bigger films such as Analyze This with Robert De Niro and Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore.

She continued in supporting roles throughout the 2000s which achieved acclaim, such as Betty Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas; Eve in rom-com Serendipity; and in parody movie Wet Hot American Summer.

Her career also continued on TV where she became a well-known guest star in various TV series, from Scrubs to Sex and the City.

Her first big award came for 2016 movie Other People, in which she played the mother of a struggling comedy writer (Jesse Plemons) who was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

Shannon won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for her role in this film.

More recently she has become part of the Hotel Transylvania franchise, voicing Wanda; become one of the leads in Sharon Horgan's HBO series Divorce, alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church; and starred in the ensemble cast of HBO's White Lotus.

Molly Shannon
Molly Shannon at "The White Lotus" premiere in 2021. Shannon has opened up about how her family tragedy helped influence her comedy, particularly "SNL" character Mary Katherine Gallagher. Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images