Today would have been Gilda Radner’s birthday. Born on this day, June 28, 1946 in Detroit, Michigan, Gilda was best known as one of seven original cast members of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL).
She attended the exclusive University Liggett School in Detroit (it began its relocation to Grosse Pointe later that year) 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, a Canadian sculptor named Jeffrey Rubinoff, to Toronto. Here she made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell, a production which featured 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 season of Saturday Night Live. The first performer cast for the show, she 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. She also played the character Emily Litella, an elderly, hearing-impaired woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on “Weekend Update” and parodied celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches.
Radner died from ovarian cancer in 1989, and her life and legacy from SNL established her as an iconic figure in the history of American comedy. Her widower, Gene Wilder, carried out her personal wish that information about her illness would help other cancer victims.
Following her untimely death, she was interred at Long Ridge Cemetery in Stamford, Connecticut. She was posthumously awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on June 27, 2003.