Gilda Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Jewish parents, Henrietta (née Dworkin), a legal secretary, and Herman Radner, a businessman. She grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she called "Dibby" (and on whom she based her famous character Emily Litella), and an older brother named Michael. She attended the exclusive University Liggett School in Detroit. Toward the end of her life, Radner wrote in her autobiography, It's Always Something, that during her childhood and young adulthood, she battled numerous eating disorders: "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."
Radner was close to her father, who operated Detroit's Seville Hotel, where many nightclub performers and actors stayed while performing in the city. He took her on trips to New York to see Broadway shows. As Radner wrote in It's Always Something, when she was 12, her father developed a brain tumor, and the symptoms began so suddenly that he told people his eyeglasses were too tight.Within days, he was bedridden and unable to communicate, and remained in that condition until his death two years later.
Radner graduated from Liggett and enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1964. In Ann Arbor, Radner dropped out in her senior year to follow her boyfriend, Canadian sculptor Jeffrey Rubinoff, to Toronto, where she made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell with future stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer. Afterward, Radner joined The Second City comedy troupe in Toronto.
Radner was a featured player on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy program syndicated to some 600 U.S. radio stations from 1974 to 1975. Fellow cast members included John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Richard Belzer, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Rhonda Coullet.
Radner gained name recognition as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players", the freshman group on the first (1975) season of Saturday Night Live. She was the first performer cast for the show, co-wrote much of the material that she performed, and collaborated with Alan Zweibel (of the show's writing staff) on sketches that highlighted her recurring characters. Between 1975 and 1980, she created characters such as obnoxious personal advice expert Roseanne Roseannadanna and "Baba Wawa", a parody of Barbara Walters.
After SNL, Radner wrote, played Broadway and did films. She met and wed comedian,
Gene Wilder and died too young of ovarian cancer in 1989, only 42 years old.
Here are two of her best characters from SNL-Emily Litella and Roseanne Rosannadanna...
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