Gilda Radner Biography: A Life Of Humor

Biography of Gilda Radner, an extraordinary comedian whose life was cut short by ovarian cancer in 1989. This bright star had many fires going during the time of her death, including a successful film career and book project.

Gilda Susan Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 28, 1946. The second of two children born to Herman and Henrietta Radner, Gilda was five years younger than her brother, Michael. Even as a child, Gilda delighted small audiences with her antics, earning the nickname "little ham" from her businessman father.

After graduating High School, Radner was accepted at the University of Michigan, where she planned to major in public speaking and oral interpretation. Her college career was short lived, however. Shortly after taking up residency in Michigan, an eager Radner dropped out and relocated to Toronto to join in the production of "Godspell." Following her impressive on-stage performance in the well-received musical, Radner was cast as a regular (opposite John Belushi) with "Second City" troupe, a popular Toronto-based, improvisational comedy show.

In 1974, Radner and Belushi moved from Canada to New York, after accepting on-air positions with the "National Lampoon Radio Hour," a syndicated weekly show. Belushi and Radner bonded and formed a serious professional relationship. A short time later, the comedic duo appeared in the off-Broadway version, "The National Lampoon Show."

Well-known for her biting humor routines and ingenious improvisational skills, Radner attracted the attention of NBC studio executives who were putting together a new TV show. In 1975, at the age of 30, Gilda Radner was cast as the first regular on "Saturday Night Live (SNL)," becoming one of the original, and now memorable, "Not Ready For Prime Time Players." One of her first characters on the popular late night series, Emily Litella, based loosely on Gilda's hearing impaired childhood nanny, would forever mark Radner as a top-notch comedian. When not acting with the show, Radner wrote scripts, invented new characters, and took as many positions behind the camera as she could. Her long hours and incredible talent won her an Emmy for her work with SNL in 1978.

In 1979, Gilda left SNL and put together her own show, which she called "Gilda Radner, Live From New York." The popular one-woman show was a hit and so was its star. Her impressive acting and comedic talent won her a Broadway role in "Lunch Hour," and numerous guest appearances on television shows like "The Muppets," and "It's Garry Shandling's Show." Radner also began a career on the big screen, taking parts in such well known movies as "Hanky Panky," "Movers and Shakers," and "The Woman in Red." It was while filming that Gilda met and fell in love with her second husband, Gene Wilder. (She was briefly married to SNL band member, G.E. Smith.) The duo would go on to star in "Haunted Honeymoon."

Radner was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer in 1986. While suffering through various forms of anti-cancer treatments and operations, she began to write her memoirs and record her struggle with ovarian cancer.

Gilda Radner died May 20, 1989 in Los Angeles, California. She was 42 years old.

Gilda's autobiography, "It's Always Something," was published shortly after her death. Gene Wilder opened "Gilda's Club" in New York on October 17, 1993. A support facility and meeting place , Gilda's Club is open to all cancer patients and their families free of charge.

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