Phil Hymes Dies: Longtime ‘Saturday Night Live’ Lighting Director Was 96

Phil Hymes on set of SNL
Dana Edelson/NBC

UPDATED throughout: Phil Hymes, longtime Emmy-winning lighting director for Saturday Night Live, who joined the show in 1976, died this week of complications from cancer, NBC confirmed. He was 96.

Phil Hymes
Rick McGuinness, left, and Phil Hymes winners of the Emmy award for outstanding lighting design/lighting direction for a variety series for “Saturday Night Live” Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Hymes, who began his career at NBC in 1951, worked on more than 500 episodes of the iconic late-night program until his most recent episode in January 2018. He was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards over the course of his career, winning twice 53 years apart, the first for Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Magnificent Yankee in 1965, and just this past September for the Kevin Hart-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live.

Shows Hymes worked on over his 68-year career include The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Kids in the Hall and The Miss Teen USA Pageant.

Earlier in his career, he worked on such iconic classics as Bell Telephone Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Sing Along with Mitch, Your Hit Parade and the forerunner to The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show.

Hymes also played a role in American history as the lighting designer for the famous 1960 Richard Nixon-John Kennedy presidential debate that many historians believe was a significant factor in Kennedy’s election. He also was in charge of lighting for both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions over the years.

Hymes occasionally appeared in SNL sketches, including episodes hosted by Ralph Nader (1977), Christopher Walken (2000) and Julia-Louis Dreyfus (2006).

Late Night With Seth Meyers producer Mike Shoemaker shared news of Hymes’ death on Twitter.

“My dear friend Phil Hymes passed yesterday. He was the lighting director for SNL since forever and Jimmy and Seth and everyone else you know who is well-lit. He was ornery and opinionated and truly hilarious,” Shoemaker wrote.

He also worked as a lighting consultant on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon from 2014-2018, and on Late Night with Seth Meyers from 2014-2016.

Hymes was doing the lighting on SNL on Oct. 3, 1992, when musical guest Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor infamously ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II to protest sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church.

“Sinéad was no bargain,” Hymes told Spin magazine in an interview a few months later. “Through her manager, they said she wanted to look pretty. So we had her set and lit a certain way. So then suddenly she just put the microphone in front of her and wouldn’t move it. But when she wanted to tear up the picture of the pope, she moved her head so we’d get a shot of the picture.

“No one cares what you do on this show, just don’t be sneaky. Do what you want, but don’t lie about the camera shots to get the shot you want.”

Hymes, born in 1923 grew up on Long Island, N.Y. He was a World War II veteran who served in the Army as a Master Sergeant, and served in both theaters of the war, seeing combat in Europe and the Philippines.

Hymes was predeceased by his wife of 62 years, Virginia and is survived by his children; Jeff, Thomas and Janna; a sister, Virginia; and several grandchildren, including Emily Hymes, a talent booker on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

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