Gilda Radner was born on June 28, 1946 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her older brother Michael once described her as “a little ham”. She was very close to her father, who died of brain cancer when she was 14. Gilda studied drama at the University of Michigan, then dropped out to move to Toronto, Canada. She was acting in the rock musical Godspell in 1972 when she was invited to join John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and John Candy in the cast of Toronto Second City, an improvisational comedy troupe. She was the first person Lorne Michaels hired for the inaugural cast of a ground-breaking new TV show, “Saturday Night Live”.
From 1975 to 1980, Gilda developed a host of brilliantly addled characters for SNL that won the hearts of the American television-viewing audience and remain archetypes in our comedic consciousness. Her most popular characters were the crotchety news commentator Emily Litella, and Roseanne Roseannadanna, whose infectious catch phrase was “It’s always something!”
She then concentrated on stage, film and TV guest appearances, including the one-woman Broadway show “Gilda Radner — Live From New York”, directed by Mike Nichols. She made over ten movies and appeared on many TV shows, including “The Muppet Show”, receiving an Emmy award in 1978.
In 1984, Gilda married Gene Wilder in a small village in the south of France with her dog, Sparkle, as wedding attendant. Gene, an accomplished comedic actor in his own right, had met Gilda through friends in 1980. Their efforts to have children failed. Gilda had two miscarriages and her health seemed to be failing. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986. For two years, she endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Joanna Bull, Gilda’s psychotherapist, introduced her to a cancer support community where she discovered that others shared feelings that not even caring family and friends could possibly understand. By sharing her confusion about treatments, relationships, sexuality, and the thousands of other challenges faced by other people with cancer, Gilda said she reclaimed her sense of humor, the essence of which had never deserted her.
Pouring her heart and creativity into her journal, she wrote, “I joined an elite club that I’d rather not belong to.” She talked about her new acting role, that of “Invisible Cancer Woman” starring in “The Adventures of the Independent Baldheaded Chemo Patient’. She said she wanted to establish a free cancer support community in New York when she felt better. Her writings became the book “It’s Always Something”, a New York Times bestseller.
Gilda’s cancer was diagnosed too late for effective treatment. She died on May 20, 1989. Following her death, Gene Wilder, Joanna Bull and many of her friends and family founded Gilda’s Club in her memory.