Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gilda Radner . . . It's Always Something


Gilda Radner, an Emmy Award winning American comedienne and actress, best known for her five years as part of the original cast of the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live. In my opinion, she was one of the great comic geniuses of the 20th century.

Radner began her career as the weather girl for college radio station and In 1975, Gilda was the first person ever cast for "Saturday Night Live" and was one of the original "Not Ready For Prime Time Players". She stayed on SNL for 5 years, from 1975 to 1980.

On this show, she created characters like Emily Litella, nerd Lisa Loopner, Baba Wawa, a talk show host with a speech impediment and my favorite . . . loudmouthed Roseanne Roseannadanna. A phrase the character Rosanne used all the time remains a part of my every day vocabulary . . . "It's Always Something" . . . because it is. She captured the absurdities of life and made a joke of it.



She became a star . . . 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. Gilda left the show in 1980 and married actor Gene Wilder, whom she met on a movie set and fell in love with nearly on the spot.

A short while after, Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, went through lots of chemotherapy and treatment, and finally her doctors told her that she was in remission. In this period of time, Gilda wrote her autobiography called "It's Always Something," about her battles with cancer. However, cancer was found in her liver and her lungs after a more comprehensive check a while later. Now it was too late to do anything.

Radner's death at 42 of ovarian cancer helped increase public awareness of the disease and the need for earlier detection and treatment.


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.

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


Along with a world of other faithful fans, I'm missing Gilda so much . . . she was an awesome funny lady with a cute little face and a sparkling personality that shined through her smile.

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