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Comedian Gilda Radner Dies of Cancer at 42

May 21, 1989 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Comedian Gilda Radner, one of the original stars of ″Saturday Night Live″ and the creator of such memorable characters as Roseanne Roseannadana and Emily Litella, died of cancer Saturday. She was 42.

Miss Radner died in her sleep about 6:20 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, hospital spokesman Ron Wise said. Her husband, actor Gene Wilder, was at her side.

She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986 and underwent nine months of chemotherapy, which by 1988 had sent the disease into remission. She had radiation therapy and other treatments, including surgery, as recently as February and re-entered the hospital on Wednesday, Wise said.


Miss Radner had recently completed a book about her battle against the disease. ″Cancer is about the most unfunny thing in the world,″ she told Life magazine in a 1988 interview.

In recent years Miss Radner appeared in several movies but she was best known for her roles on NBC’s ″Saturday Night Live″ for five years ending in 1980, with such stars as Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray and the late John Belushi.

Word of Miss Radner’s death ″stunned″ everyone on the set of ″Saturday Night Live,″ said executive producer Lorne Michaels.

On that night’s show, host Steve Martin, his voice thick with emotion, led off with a clip of a 1978 comedy routine that starred Miss Radner and him cavorting to ″Dancing in The Dark″ in a silent burlesque of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

″When I look at that tape I can’t help but think how great she was, and how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you,″ Martin said.

″She was just incredibly funny. And she was very warm, very generous and had this remarkable spirit, and I think that is what people responded to,″ Michaels said earlier from NBC’s headquarters in New York City.

″She fought (cancer) the way she fought everything else - very strong,″ he said. ″She never complained. She bore what she bore in silence and was very strong. Her husband Gene was incredibly supportive and wonderful.″

″I loved her like a sister,″ Aykroyd said through a spokeswoman. ″My thoughts are with Gene and her family.″

Miss Radner had a ″very natural effervescence that seemed to come out of her during those five years,″ Morris said. ″It was just an electric thing that would even help you get through a performance if you were down.″


As the obnoxious, nasal-voiced TV news commentator Roseanne Roseannadana, her catch-phrase was ″It’s always something,″ which became the title of her book on cancer.

She also created Baba Wawa, a spoof of news interviewer Barbara Walters, and nerdy teen-ager Lisa Lupner. There also was Emily Litella, the dowdy, bewildered commentator whose misguided news opinion pieces on such topics as ″violins on television″ always ended with the phrase, ″Never mind.″

The show brought her an Emmy Award for outstanding performance by an actress in a variety series.

In addition to Wilder, 53, survivors include her mother and a brother.

Born on June 28, 1946, in Detroit, Miss Radner attended the University of Michigan. She began her entertainment career in the Toronto company of ″Godspell,″ then became a member of the Toronto branch of the Second City troupe, the improvisational group that gave several ″Saturday Night″ stars their starts.

″Gilda was possessed of the spirit of the theater,″ said Andrew Alexander, president of The Second City organization. ″When she left to join ‘Saturday Night Live’ it was an exciting time for all of us in spite of the fact that we missed her then.″

She was a writer and performer for the New York-based ″National Lampoon Radio Hour″ and its stage counterpart, the ″National Lampoon Show,″ in the early 1970s. In 1975, she was chosen for the original cast of ″Saturday Night Live,″ staying with the groundbreaking late-night comedy show until 1980.

While working on ″Saturday Night Live,″ she also appeared on Broadway in 1979 in ″Gilda Live.″ The show was later produced as a movie and then an album, ″Live From New York Gilda Radner.″

She met Wilder in 1981 on the set of the movie ″Hanky Panky″ and the romance blossomed three years later while making ″The Woman in Red,″ which was written and directed by co-star Wilder.

Other movies included ″Haunted Honeymoon,″ co-written and directed by Wilder, as well as ″It Came From Hollywood.″

She also starred on Broadway in ″Lunch Hour″ with Sam Waterson in 1980.

A return to television as a special guest on ″It’s Garry Shandling’s Show″ earned her an Emmy nomination for comedy performance in 1988.

As an author she wrote ″Roseanne Roseannadana’s ‘Hey, Get Back to Work’ Book,″ which was very popular in 1983. ″It’s Always Something″ is due out in June.

Memorial services will be private, said family spokeswoman Rachel McCallister.