As one of the original cast members on Saturday Night Live (SNL), Radner holds a special place in SNL history. Her characters became legendary, helping to make her an inspiration for the generations of comedians that would follow. However, her career was cut tragically short after she lost her fight against ovarian cancer at age 42 in 1989.
Gilda Radner was born on June 28, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan. Radner came from an affluent Jewish family, but her early life had its challenges. Her mother loathed winter in Detroit, so she uprooted Radner from school to go to Florida for several months each year. This move interrupted her studies and made it hard for her to make friends. Radner was also teased for being overweight while growing up.
As a child, Gilda dealt with stress by eating. Her mother took 9-year-old Gilda to a doctor who prescribed her diet pills. Gilda would continue a pattern of gaining and losing weight into adulthood, and years later, would recount her battle with an eating disorder in her autobiography, It’s Always Something.
“I coped with stress by having every possible eating disorder from the time I was nine years old. I have weighed as much as 160 pounds and as little as 93. When I was a kid, I overate constantly. My weight distressed my mother and she took me to a doctor who put me on Dexedrine diet pills when I was ten years old.”
Closer to her father, Radner went to see theatrical productions in Detroit with him. It was just one of the ways he supported her interest in performing. Sadly, her father passed away when she was only in her early teens.
After high school, Radner went to the University of Michigan. She studied theater there, but she never completed her degree. Instead Radner moved to Toronto. She eventually became a member of the renowned Toronto-based comedy troupe Second City, performing with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
|Gilda Radner as a baby, pictured with her nanny Elizabeth Clementine “Dibby” Gillies, who served as the inspiration for the character Emily Litella.|
|Radner and her mother, Henrietta.|
|Radner and her father, Herman.|
|Gilda Radner’s school yearbook photo.|
|Radner’s mother put her on diet pills at a young age, and Radner would battle bulimia later on as an adult.|