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Gilda Radner

(1946-1989)


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Gilda Radner was a Jewish American comedian and actress.

She was born on June 28, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan, to Herman Radner and Henrietta Drowkin. Her father was a Canadian brewery owner and during the Prohibition earned enough from smuggling to the United States to invest in the Detroit hotel The Seville, where performers stayed while entertaining in local theaters. Known for his humor and magic tricks, he died of a brain tumor when she was 14. Radner joined the drama club at the Liggett School, an all-girls high school in Detroit, and later studied in the theater department at the University of Michigan, which she attended over a six-year period without graduating.

In 1972, Radner moved to Toronto, Canada, and joined a production of God-spell, which included Paul Shaffer and Eugene Levy. After the show ended, she joined the comedy troupe Second City in Toronto, where she was discovered by producer Lorne Michaels, who asked her to join the cast of the National Lampoon Radio Hour. In 1975 she was the first cast member Michaels hired for Saturday Night Live. Radner would go on to create such memorable characters as Lisa Loopner, Emily Litella, and Babwa Wawa, a parody of Barbara Walters. In 1978, she won an Emmy for her work. Radner remained with the cast of Saturday Night Live until 1980. During her last season on Saturday Night Live, she appeared on Broadway in a solo show, Gilda Radner Live from New York, which featured many of her well-established characters.

Radner left Saturday Night Live in 1980, the same year she married its bandleader, G.E. Smith. Radner had small parts in a variety of feature films, including The Rutles (1978) and First Family (1980), but her first major role was in Hanky Panky (1982), a film directed by and co-starring Gene Wilder. After she divorced Smith in 1982, Wilder and Radner married in 1984. The couple went on to star in two other films together, Woman in Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986).

In 1986, Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She used her celebrity status to call attention to the Wellness Community, a cancer support group, and to start her own, Gilda's Club. In 1988, she earned an Emmy nomination for her appearance on It's Garry Shandling's Show. In 1989, she detailed her fight with cancer in her autobiography It's Always Something.

Radner died on May 20, 1989, at age 42 in Los Angeles, California.

Following her death, Gene Wilder established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. In 1992, Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for her achievements in arts and entertainment. In 2002, the ABC television network aired a TV-movie about her life.


Sources: “Gilda Radner (1946 - 1989),” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 478-9; Encyclopaedia Judaica, Wikipedia

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