On this Day in Movie History, May 20, 1989: Actress/Comedienne Gilda Radner Dies

Actress/comedienne Gilda Radner died on this day, May 20,1989 in a Los Angeles hospital after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 42. Radner’s death helped increase public awareness of the disease and the need for earlier detection and treatment.

Radner gained name recognition as one of the original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players”. A member of the freshman group on the first season of Saturday Night Live, she was the first actor cast for the show.

Between 1975 and 1980, she created such characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, an obnoxious woman with wild black hair who would tell stories about the gross habits of celebrities on the show’s “Weekend Update” news segment, inspired in name and appearance by Rose Ann Scamardella, a news anchor at WABC-TV in New York City. Other SNL characters included “Baba Wawa,” a spoof of Barbara Walters, and Emily Litella, an elderly woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on “Weekend Update” on topics such as “violins on television,” the “Eagle Rights Amendment,” “presidential erections,” and “protecting endangered feces.” Once corrected on her misunderstanding, Litella would end her segment with a polite “Never mind.” Radner parodied such celebrities as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches. Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on SNL.

In 1979, Radner appeared on Broadway in a successful one-woman show entitled Gilda Radner – Live From New York. The show featured racier material, such as the song Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals. In 1981, the show was filmed as Gilda Live!, co-starring Paul Shaffer and Don Novello, and was released as a film and an album recording.


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