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Gilda Susan Radner (June 28, 1946 – May 20, 1989) was an American comedienne and actress, best known for her five years as part of the original cast of the NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, for which she won an Emmy Award. Radner's death at 42 of ovarian cancer helped increase public awareness of the disease and the need for earlier detection and treatment.

Early life

Radner was born in Detroit, Michiganmarker, the daughter of Jewish parents Henrietta (née Dworkin), a legal secretary, and Herman Radner, a businessman. She grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she called "Dibby" (and on whom she based her famous character Emily Litella), and an older brother named Michael. She attended the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe.

Radner was close to her father, who operated Detroit's Seville Hotel, where many nightclub performers and actors stayed while performing in the city. Her father, who died when she was fourteen, took her on trips to New York to see Broadwaymarker shows.

College

Radner enrolled at the University of Michiganmarker at Ann Arbormarker, where she made a lifelong platonic friend of fellow student, David Saltman, who wrote a biography of her after her death. Radner joined Saltman and his girlfriend on a trip to Paris in the summer of 1966. Saltman wrote that he was so affectionate with his girlfriend that they left Radner to fend for herself during much of their sightseeing. Later, when details of Radner's eating disorder surfaced, Saltman wrote that he realized she had been in a quandary over the French food, but had no one with whom she could discuss her situation.

Career

In Ann Arbormarker, Radner began her broadcasting career as the weather girl for college radio station WCBNmarker, but dropped out in her senior year to follow her then-boyfriend, a Canadian sculptor named Jeff Rubinoff, to Toronto, Ontariomarker, Canada. In Toronto, she made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell with future stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber and Martin Short. Afterward, Radner joined the Toronto Second City comedy troupe.

1970s

Radner was a featured player on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy program syndicated to some 600 U.S. radio stations from 1973 to 1975. Fellow cast members included John Belushi, Richard Belzer, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray.

Saturday Night Live

Radner gained name recognition as one of the original "Not Ready For Prime Time Players", a member of the freshman group on the first season of Saturday Night Live. She was the first actor cast for the show. Between 1975 and 1980, she created such characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, an obnoxious woman with wild black hair who would tell stories about the gross habits of celebrities on the show's "Weekend Update" news segment, inspired in name and appearance by Rose Ann Scamardella, a news anchor at WABC-TVmarker in New York City. Other SNL characters included "Baba Wawa," a spoof of Barbara Walters (see also Barbara Walters' reaction to it), and Emily Litella, an elderly hearing-impaired woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on "Weekend Update" on topics such as "violins on television," the "Eagle Rights Amendment," "presidential erections," "busting school children", and "protecting endangered feces." Once corrected on her misunderstanding, Litella would end her segment with a polite "Never mind." Later on, she would answer Jane Curtin's frustration with a simple "Bitch!" Radner parodied such celebrities as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches. Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on SNL.


Radner battled bulimia during her time on the show. She once told a reporter that she had thrown up in every toilet in Rockefeller Centermarker. She had a relationship with SNL castmate Bill Murray that ended badly. Although few details were made public at the time, Radner wrote about it in her autobiography.

In 1979, incoming NBC President Fred Silverman offered Radner her own prime time variety show, which she ultimately turned down. That year, she was one of the hosts of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly.

Alan Zweibel, who co-created the Roseanne Roseannadanna character and co-wrote all of Roseanne's dialogue, recalled that Radner, one of three original SNL cast members who stayed away from cocaine, chastised him for using it.

Radner had mixed emotions about the fans and strangers who recognized her in public. She sometimes became "angry when she was approached, but upset when she wasn't."

Broadway

In 1979, Radner appeared on Broadwaymarker in a successful one-woman show entitled Gilda Radner - Live From New York. The show featured racier material, such as the song Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals. In 1981, the show was filmed as Gilda Live!, co-starring Paul Shaffer and Don Novello, and was released as a film and an album recording. During the production, she met her first husband, G. E. Smith, a musician who also worked on the show. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1980.

In 1980, Radner starred opposite Sam Waterston in the Jean Kerr show, Lunch Hour, as a pair whose spouses are having an affair, and in response invent one of their own, consisting of trysts on their lunch hour. The show ran for over seven months.

Next phase

Gene Wilder

Radner met actor Gene Wilder on the set of the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky, when the two appeared together. She described their first meeting as "love at first sight." She was unable to resist her attraction to Wilder as her marriage with guitarist G.E. Smith deteriorated and the couple divorced in 1982. Radner went on to make a second film, The Woman in Red, in 1984 with Wilder and their relationship grew. The two were married on September 18, 1984 in the south of France. The pair made a third film together, Haunted Honeymoon, in 1986.

Illness

After experiencing severe fatigue and suffering from pain in her upper legs on the set of Haunted Honeymoon, Radner sought medical treatment. After 10 months of false diagnoses, she learned that she had ovarian cancer in October 1986. Even with Wilder's support, she suffered extreme physical and emotional pain during chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

Remission

After Radner was told she had gone into remission, she wrote a memoir about her life and struggle with the illness, called It's Always Something (a catchphrase of her character Roseanne Roseannadanna). Life magazine did a March 1988 cover story on her illness, entitled Gilda Radner's Answer to Cancer: Healing the Body with Mind and Heart.

In 1988, Radner guest-starred on It's Garry Shandling's Show on Showtime, to great critical acclaim. When Shandling asked her why she had not been seen for a while, she replied "Oh, I had cancer. What did you have?" Shandling's reply: "A very bad series of career moves." When Shandling said he had been under the impression that she was dead, she cited Mark Twain's famous quote "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." She planned to host an episode of SNL that year, but a writers' strike caused the cancellation of the rest of the season.

Death

In the fall of 1988, when biopsies and a saline wash of her abdomen showed no signs of cancer, Radner was put on a maintenance chemotherapy treatment to prolong her remission. But later that same year, she learned that her cancer had returned after a routine blood test showed her levels of the tumor marker CA-125 had increased. She was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Californiamarker on May 17, 1989 for a CAT scan. Anxious with fear that she would never wake up, she was given a sedative but passed into a coma. She did not regain consciousness and died three days later at 6:20 am on May 20, 1989; Wilder was at her side.

Gene Wilder had this to say about her death:
She went in for the scan – but the people there could not keep her on the gurney.
She was raving like a crazed woman – she knew they would give her morphine and was afraid she’d never regain consciousness.
She kept getting off the cart as they were wheeling her out.
Finally three people were holding her gently and saying, "Come on Gilda.
We’re just going to go down and come back up."
She kept saying, "Get me out, get me out!"
She’d look at me and beg me, "Help me out of here.
I’ve got to get out of here."
And I’d tell her, "You’re okay honey.
I know.
I know."
They sedated her, and when she came back, she remained unconscious for three days.
I stayed at her side late into the night, sometimes sleeping over.
Finally a doctor told me to go home and get some sleep.
At 4 am on Saturday, I heard a pounding on my door.
It was an old friend, a surgeon, who told me, "Come on.
It’s time to go."
When I got there, a night nurse, whom I still want to thank, had washed Gilda and taken out all the tubes.
She put a pretty yellow barrette in her hair.
She looked like an angel.
So peaceful.
She was still alive, and as she lay there, I kissed her.
But then her breathing became irregular, and there were long gaps and little gasps.
Two hours after I arrived, Gilda was gone.
While she was conscious, I never said goodbye.


Her funeral was held in Connecticut on May 24, 1989. In lieu of flowers, her family requested that donations be sent to The Wellness Community. Her gravestone reads: Gilda Radner Wilder - Comedienne - Ballerina 1946-1989. She was interred at Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamfordmarker.

By coincidence, the news of her death broke on early Saturday afternoon (Eastern Standard Time), while Steve Martin was rehearsing as the guest host for that night's season finale of Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live personnel, including Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers and Phil Hartman, had not known she was so close to death. They scrapped one of their planned sketches and instead, Martin introduced a video clip of a 1978 sketch in which he and Radner parodied an old Hollywood romantic couple's dance. He cried during his introduction.

Legacy

Wilder established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai to screen high-risk candidates (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent) and run basic diagnostic tests. He testified before a Congressional committee that Radner's condition had been misdiagnosed and that if doctors had inquired more deeply into her family background they would have learned that her grandmother, aunt and cousin had all died of ovarian cancer and might have attacked the disease earlier.

Radner's death from ovarian cancer did help to raise awareness of early detection and the connection to familial epidemiology. The media attention in the two years after Radner's death led to registry of 450 families with familial ovarian cancer at the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry, a research database registry at the Roswell Park Cancer Institutemarker in Buffalo, New York. The registry was later renamed the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry (GRFOCR). In 1996, Gene Wilder and Registry founder Steven Piver, one of Radner's medical consultants, published Gilda's Disease: Sharing Personal Experiences and a Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer. Through Wilder's efforts and those of others, awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms has continued to grow.

In 1991, Gilda's Club, a network of affiliate clubhouses where people living with cancer, their friends and families, can meet to learn how to live with cancer, was founded. The center was named for a quip from Radner, who said, "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to." Many Gilda's Clubs have opened across the United States and in Canada.

In 2002, the ABC television network aired a television movie about her life: Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, starring Jami Gertz as Radner.

Awards and honors

Radner won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music" for her performance on Saturday Night Live in 1977. She posthumously won a Grammy for "Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording" in 1990.

In 1992, Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in arts and entertainment. On June 27, 2003, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Parts of W. Houston Street in New York City and Lombard Street in Toronto have both been re-named "Gilda Radner Way." Chester Street in White Plains, NY was also renamed Gilda Radner Way.

Filmography

Television

Year Film Role Notes
1974 Jack: A Flash Fantasy Jill of Hearts
The Gift of Winter Nicely, Malicious, Narrator voice
1974-1975 Dr. Zonk and the Zunkins voice
1975-1980 Saturday Night Live cast member Emmy Award
1978 All You Need Is Cash Mrs. Emily Pules
The Muppet Show Herself Guest Star
Witch's Night Out Witch voice
1979 Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda Herself
1980 Animalympics Barbara Warbler, Brenda Springer, Coralee
Perrier, Tatiana Tushenko, Doree Turnell
voice


Films

Year Film Role Other notes
1973 The Last Detail Nichiren Shoshu Member
1979 Mr. Mike's Mondo Video Herself
1980 Gilda Live Herself, various characters
First Family Gloria Link
1982 Hanky Panky Kate Hellman
It Came from Hollywood Herself documentary
1984 The Woman in Red Ms. Millner
1985 Movers & Shakers Livia Machado
1986 Haunted Honeymoon Vickie Pearle


See also



References

  1. .
  2. Saltman, David. Gilda: An Intimate Portrait. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1992.
  3. Radner, Gilda. It's Always Something. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  4. The Emily Litella character began when Chevy Chase anchored Weekend Update, and Litella mistakenly called him "Cheddar Cheese".
  5. Hill, Doug and Jeff Weingrad. Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. New York: Beech Tree Books, a division of William Morrow, Inc. 1986.
  6. Zweibel, Alan. Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner. New York: Villard, 1994.
  7. Hischak, Thomas S. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0195123476.
  8. Life Magazine cover. FindaDeath.com.
  9. Song, Jenny. "America's Funny Girl". CR Magazine. Spring 2009.
  10. Hevesi, Dennis. Gilda Radner, 42, Comic Original Of 'Saturday Night Live' Zaniness. New York Times May 21, 1989.
  11. Squires, Sally. "Fighting Ovarian Cancer: Doctors Don't Know Who Is At Risk and Why." Washington Post. 30 May 1989.
  12. Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry.


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