June 28, 1946 - May 20, 1989
"I'm so full I can't hear."
She seemed like the nicest person in the world,
and I miss her like a friend. Silly isnt it? Celebrity deaths dont usually
bother me, but her's made me cry. Yeah, I know big fag. Cant help it.
Larraine Newman put it best in a comment shortly after Gildas death,
"Sometimes, if you have a faith in God, you can evaluate it or see some
lesson in it, but Im having trouble with this one. I really am."
Gilda grew up in Detroit, and so did I. As a young adult, I felt an affinity
with her. You could even say I had a crush on her. I still do. She was someone
you just wanted to know, and be "best friends" with.
Weird, isnt it? I guess Im not the only one Mike Myers said the same
thing a while back. He did a commercial with her when he was 9 years old, and
fell in love with her.
This is going to sound pathetic. I liked her so much that when I was done
working at the now defunct Punch
and Judy Theatre nearby that is now destroyed, I would drive to Gildas
high school parking lot, sit in my car, and listen to the tape of her live show with her
talking about her high school days.
My eyes would well up, because I liked her
so much. For some reason, I probably sensed vulnerability, and wanted to protect
her. I know, Im a sap. Funny thing is, I found out I was
parked in the wrong school parking lot. After a bit of research, I found the
right one. Okay, Ill get on with it.
Did you ever see the film, Gilda Live? Though I never got to
see her perform in person, seeing this film was the next best thing. I remember
that the film didnt have a major theatrical release in my area, so I had to
drive out to the sticks (Dearborn, for God Sake!) to see it. It was magical. I
purchased the audiotape of the show, and I wore my first copy out. I knew that
Gilda went to University
Liggett High School, in the ever-so-posh Grosse Pointe
If you know Gilda Live, in her last story/song, she talks
about her high school prom. She goes on about the transformation of the
gymnasium, into a crepe paper fantasyland. Here
is Gildas gym. This is the room where the prom was
Findadeath.com friend JimEd sends us:
Gilda Radner was once briefly married to G.E. Smith, the former musical director
for the Saturday Night Live band. I saw "Gilda Live" a couple of
times; it was absolutely hysterical. I'm having a hell of a time finding it on
I wrote Gilda a fan letter. She was kind enough to send me
postcard. I cherish it.
Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Cancer ran in her
family. It claimed her grandmother, her aunt and her cousin. She once said,
"Ive been having cancer premonitions since I was twelve."
Unfortunately, she was right. They say that if the doctors would have questioned
her about her family history, they may have stopped the cancer in time.
She and her husband Gene Wilder were filming Haunted Honeymoon here in
London, when the illness started showing symptoms. (By the way, I used to detest
Gene Wilder, until he married Gilda. I thought that if she loved him, he must be a good person. I met him briefly about 2 years ago. Just a backstage door
kind of thing but when he looked into my eyes, there was a magic there too.
I cannot explain it, but he just seemed good.) During the filming, Gilda was
fatigued. Upon their return to America (they were living in Connecticut), she
saw dozens of doctors who failed to diagnose the problem properly. In October of
1986 - one eventually did, and if you read her book, it was a painful ordeal,
physically and emotionally. For both of them. She thought she had licked the
disease and was on the cover of LIFE
magazine in March of 1988 - with the caption reading,
"Wisecracking actress laughs in the face of cancer."
In the spring of 1988 she made what was to be her last television
appearance, on Its Garry Shandlings Show. It was a great
cameo. Garry asked her where she had been. "Ive been away from TV for
awhile." "Yeah, what happened?" "I had cancer," she
chirped brightly, "what did you have?" The future looked bright for
her then. She was hoping to have her own television show, and was in discussions
for it. She was also working on her autobiography, Its Always Something.
It began with her wedding to Gene Wilder, and concluded with her cancer
treatment. She found solace in an organization called The Wellness
Community. In May of 1988 the cancer returned. She was mortified and
In December of 1988 Gene and Gilda moved back to California. She and Gene
(and their dog Sparkle) owned a house on Chalon Road, in LA. Heres
the house, and another
shot of it, oh - and of course - her
Thank you so much to Findadeath.com friends
Mark Cramer, Lilieth Lawrence and Janet Schiessl for getting these photographs
for us. Cheers, guys. You are the best.
Gilda saw the first hardbound copy of her book one week before she died. (I
had a copy, but lent it to someone, and never got it back. Dont you hate
that? Funny thing is, I got another copy a
paperback - from O.J. Simpsons garbage on
Rockingham. It wasnt his he was in prison at the time Im sure it
was his daughter's.)
Gilda re-entered Cedars
Sinai Medical Center (Thank you Terri Rios, for the
photo) on Wednesday, May 17, 1988 for a CAT scan.
This is such a painful thing to
read an account by Gene Wilder,
"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 shed 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. Were just going to go down and come
back up." She kept saying, "Get me out, get me out!" Shed look
at me and beg me, "Help me out of here. Ive got to get out of
here." And Id tell her, "Youre 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. Its 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."
She died at 6:20am, on Saturday May 20, 1989. She was only 42 years old. We
On May 24th, there was a small private funeral for Gilda, back in
Connecticut. It rained that day.
Family members requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the
On March 31st, Gilda gave what was to be her last interview, for
Glamour magazine. About her husband, she said, "Hes never broken down
and cried. Hes always had this total confidence that I would be well. Ive
never seen fear in his eyes." She also added, "I sat down and told
him, "You have handled this about the best anyone could. After I finish the
book, every woman in the world will be after you. The trouble is, theyre all
gonna have some major disease."
After her death, Wilder took it upon himself to warn others about detecting
ovarian cancer early. On October 17th, 1993, Gene opened Gildas
Club, in New York.
A psychological and social support facility, very
much like the Wellness Community, for cancer patients and their
families. There are now branches all over the world. It is her legacy.
Thank you to Kevin Fitzpatrick for that photograph.
Even more tragically - Gene Wilder is himself now suffering from
lymphoma. According to Findadeath.com friend Kevin Kusinitz, he is hospitalized
at Manhattan Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He was admitted the week of February
April 07 - Gene is doing great. Know how
I know? Coz I just met him again.
There was a great article written about Gilda shortly after her death. It
just reaffirms how nice she was. If you are over sapped now, skip it, but if you
want another dose of it, read
Findadeath.com friend Gene Miller sends this
in: "One of the best comments on her passing came from of all places, the Bloom County comic strip. Opus the Penguin said:
"Gilda Radner isn't supposed to end."
JUNE 2000: Gilda's dad used to own a hotel in Detroit,
called the Park Shelton.
My nephew Richard Michaels III lives in an apartment there now, and kindly
contributed this photograph. Thanks, Rick!
Thanks to Findadeath.com friend Bob Gary, I have now seen the E True Hollywood
Story that aired, about
Gilda. It was great, and the home movies were fantastic. Thanks so
Have you ever read the book, Bunny
by Alan Zweibel? Alan was a good friend of Gilda's, and even helped develop
some of her characters. This book documents their friendship. It is heart
breaking and wonderfully funny at the same time. I like to think that it was the real Gilda just who I expected her to be. Ive always meant to
write him a letter saying how great a book it was, but I never have. One of his
quotes and I hope he forgives me, sums it all up magnificently. "I dont
know why God makes people and them takes them back while theyre still having
fun with the life he gave them in the first place. Even as her body grew to
betray her, spirits just dont die. And thats what Gilda was. Even as an
adult, she was still a little girl who believed in fairy tales and that if she
said, "Bunny Bunny," on the first day of every month, it would bring
her love, laughter and peace. Well Gilda, this is June 1st and if youre
in a place where you cant say it, Ill say it for you "Bunny,
Bunny" and I hope youre okay. Im gonna miss you."
Oh Blanche. Stop blubbering.