Gilda Radner

Active - 1973 - 2015  |   Born - Jun 28, 1946 in Detroit, Michigan, United States  |   Died - May 20, 1989   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

At the height of her Saturday Night Live fame, Gilda Radner was characterized by one publication as "America's Sweetheart." Few performers, comic or otherwise, have so richly deserved this appellation. Born in Detroit to a well-to-do Jewish family, Radner forsook the usual social whirl attending girls of her background and opted for a career in comedy. After attending the University of Michigan, Radner joined the Toronto Second City improvisational troupe, where she worked for the first time with John Belushi, later one of her best friends and most frequent collaborators. Radner and Belushi moved to New York when they were selected to perform on The National Lampoon Radio Hour and in the popular stage production The National Lampoon Show. Along with several other "Lampooners," Radner was chosen by producer Lorne Michaels as a member of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on the NBC comedy weekly Saturday Night Live, which debuted in 1975. Radner soon distinguished herself as one of the most versatile of the bunch, portraying such characters as hard-of-hearing media critic Emily Litella ("Never mind"), nerdish Lisa Lupner ("That was so funny I almost fergot to LAFFFFF!"), frizzy-haired TV journalist Roseanne Roseanna-Dana ("Just goes to show ya -- it's always somethin'!), and of course, the inimitable Baba WaWa. Her efforts won her a 1978 Emmy, as well as the love and respect of her fans and fellow workers. After leaving SNL, Radner developed her own one-woman Broadway show, 1979's Radner Live; the following year, she made her Broadway acting bow in Lunch Hour. Among her many films was 1982's Hanky Panky, in which she co-starred with her future husband, Gene Wilder. Even when suffering from ovarian cancer in her final years, Gilda Radner never lost her sense of humor or her upbeat approach to life; her philosophy was eloquently put forth in her autobiography, It's Always Something, which was published shortly after her death in 1989.

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  • Made her stage debut in a 1972 Toronto production of Godspell.
  • Joined a Second City Toronto troupe in 1973 that included Dan Aykroyd, Brian Doyle-Murray and Eugene Levy. 
  • Made her first film appearance in 1973's The Last Detail, which featured future Saturday Night Live cast member Randy Quaid
  • Notable SNL characters Emily Litella, Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa were included in her 1979 Broadway debut Gilda Radner: Live From New York, which was released on film and as an album titled Gilda Live!
  • Met future husband Gene Wilder while filming the 1982 movie Hanky Panky and made her final film appearance opposite him in 1986's Haunted Honeymoon.
  • Wrote about her battle with ovarian cancer in the best-selling, posthumously published memoir It's Always Something.
  • The Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center conducts research for women at risk for breast and ovarian cancers.