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Remembering Gilda Radner: Detroit native, University of Michigan alum, comedy icon

Gilda Susan Radner was born in Detroit on June 28, 1946. (WDIV)
Gilda Susan Radner was born in Detroit on June 28, 1946. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Sunday would have been Gilda Radner’s 74th birthday. The Detroit-native died at the age of 42 on May 20, 1989.

Born in Detroit on June 28, 1946, Radner attended University Liggett School in Detroit, before it relocated to Grosse Pointe Woods, and enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1964. She would leave Ann Arbor for Toronto, where she joined the famed Second City comedy group.

After her time with the Second City and National Lampoon, Radner became one of the first cast members of “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. More than 40 years later, she still influences entertainers -- in a February 2015 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, she was ranked No. 9 out of the 141 cast members that had been on the show at that point, saying she was the “most beloved of the original cast.”

Barbara Walters spoke fondly of "Baba Wawa," Radner's impression of Walters, and said she was "the first person to make fun of news anchors. Now it’s done all the time."

In addition to Radner's contributions to popular culture, her fatal ovarian cancer helped raise awareness of the hereditary factors that raise the chances of cancer. Her husband and fellow comedy icon Gene Wilder became a cancer activist after her passing. He spoke to a congressional committee about the importance of doctors knowing the family background of their patients, as Radner had three family members that had passed from the same cancer that took her life in 1989. Congress would allocate $30 million to federal ovarian-cancer research.

Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

Director and producer Lisa D’Apolito’s 2018 documentary “Love Gilda” had its Michigan premiere June 10 at the 2018 Cinetopia Film Festival at the DIA. Covering her life, relationships and battle with cancer, the documentary features interviews with Amy Poehler, Cecily Strong, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase and more.


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