"Saturday Night Live's" final show of 2022 doubled as a send-off for Cecily Strong, who exited amid her 11th season and as one of the longest-tenured female cast members.
The show announced her departure on Twitter ahead of Saturday's airing, stating, "Tonight we send off one of the best to ever do it. We'll miss you, Cecily!"
Amid speculation she would depart before the 48th season started in fall, Strong stayed on. Cohorts Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Melissa Villaseñor left and made room for a wave of new hires and a year of rebuilding.
Strong started at the show in 2012 and quickly established herself as indispensable, co-anchoring "Weekend Update" for a brief time and gracing Studio 8H with impressions of Dianne Feinstein, Melania Trump, and news anchor Brooke Baldwin.
The secret to her impressions was stridency, achieved by amplifying voices and characters almost to the point of absurdity. Her skill was seen in her beloved impression of Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro, played as a wine-addicted blowhard who has a crush on former President Donald Trump.
The same touch was seen in Strong's recreations of Sofia Vergara, with an over-the-top accent and expansive gestures, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, played as a know-nothing whose voice was more assured than her facts.
Her original characters on the show included Cathy Anne, "Weekend Update" anchor Michael Che's chain-smoking neighbor, which she reprised Saturday in a goodbye sketch.
In the sketch's narrative, Cathy Anne is taking leave because she's headed to prison.
"Actually, I’m a little emo here tonight because truth is I’m here to say goodbye," Cathy Anne said.
She elaborated on what landed her behind bars — "the crimes I confessed to you here for the past seven years finally caught up with me."
But Cathy Anne wasn't too worried.
"I got friends on the inside," she said, as a picture of McKinnon and Bryant in orange jumpsuits appeared on screen. "They seem to be doing OK."
Strong's character couldn't leave without saying she spent "so many of the best moments of my life at this place, with these people, that I love so much."
She performed in a final sketch set at a Radio Shack, where Kenan Thompson, tearing up, lamented the exit of Strong's character.
"She'd have a power and a joy to her performance that made you remember why you loved working at ... Radio Shack," he said.
The cast, including host Austin Butler, then sang Elvis Presley's rendition of "Blue Christmas."
Some of Strong's other notable characters included The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party, a version of whom who everyone seems to know; Heather, the spot-on One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy; and Sharon, a staple of McKinnon's sketches about close encounters with space aliens that always end up being sexual.
Strong, 38, grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, as the product of divorced parents. She was kicked out of high school after marijuana was found in her backpack, Strong has said.
She ended up at famed Chicago theater and school of improvisation Second City, where she was an understudy at its Mainstage and member of its National Touring Company.
"SNL" creator Lorne Michaels has tapped Second City talent since the show's first season, and told the The New York Times last year that Strong was part of Chicago's strong tradition of producing outstanding comedy talent.
"Chicago looks at both coasts and isn’t terribly impressed," he said.
Strong arrived one season after McKinnon, another of the show's all-time greats, and the pair, joined by Bryant, took the baton from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who left the previous decade, to create one of "SNL"'s greatest eras, one often driven by the cast's women.
While Strong's characters were almost always loud and almost never ambiguous, she's described herself as shy and introverted, and her own personality seemed largely unseen until last year.
In her 2021 book, "This Will All Be Over Soon: A Memoir," Strong wrote about coming to terms with her cousin's death from brain cancer in early 2020, according to its summary.
The journal-style book pondered an unlikely relationship that started during the pandemic's darkest days of isolation in 2020. It was during this time she also grieved over the loss of "SNL" music producer Hal Willner, who died of complications related to the virus.
On Saturday, Strong appeared in the cold open as Kimberly Guilfoyle, Republican operative and fiancée of Donald Trump Jr. Piggybacking on former President Donald Trump's introduction Thursday of NFT trading cards of him in various, muscular and superhero-style poses, Guilfoyle hawked music.
"Now that’s what no one calls music!" the character proclaimed. "I guarantee, 'You’ll sleep in heavenly peace!'"
With her departure from “SNL,” Strong will have plenty of venues to continue to bring her comedy to life: She has worked in film (the “Ghostbusters” reboot in 2016), and in television outside sketch comedy (Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon!” on which she’s credited as a producer).
“Saturday Night Live" and NBC News are all entities of NBCUniversal.