The first Black cast member on 'Saturday Night Live' opens up to PEOPLE about the wild ride to a major Hollywood moment, saying of fame and recognition: "Whenever it comes is all right, I'm grateful"
Garrett Morris's legacy as an entertainer has been cemented — the Saturday Night Live alum has been honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame nearly 50 years after his first appearance as the iconic sketch comedy show's first-ever Black cast member.
"I got this news at 86 years old!" Morris tells PEOPLE with a laugh about receiving the honor on Thursday, which also happened to be his 87th birthday. "But still, whenever it comes is all right. I'm grateful."
Growing up, the New Orleans-born actor tells PEOPLE he never dreamed he'd one day be on a show like SNL. Dirt-poor, he was raised in his grandfather's Southern Baptist church where he became part of the choir at 4 years old.
When he moved to New York, he set out to be a Broadway star and eventually landed a gig with the Harry Belafonte Folk Singers that took him around the country.
He was also a playwright and was initially hired on SNL as a writer, but Morris says creator Lorne Michaels realized they needed a Black actor for some of the sketches he was writing. Morris was then tasked with finding talented and funny Black actors to bring in to audition.
"Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman, they told Lorne Michaels, 'Hey you've got Garrett bringing in these actors, but he's an actor himself,'" Morris recalls. "So he called me and offered me the job, but I told him I'd only do it on the condition that I didn't also have to be a writer."
Morris would go on to play memorable characters like the translator for the hard of hearing on "Weekend Update" and a pastor collecting money for the "White Guilt Relief Fund."
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As for turning 87, Morris says that he feels pretty good.
"Except that I have to hang out with my friend Arthur ... Arthur-itis," he jokes, adding that there's only one bummer about getting older: "Being old!"
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