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Gilda Radner's Legacy of Laughter

undefined / NBC / Alan Singer

Gilda Radner's Legacy of Laughter

Gilda Radner should have turned 71 this year. It's been almost a quarter century since she died, cutting short the promising career of one of the funniest women of all time.

Radner, born June 28, 1946, was the very first performer cast in Saturday Night Live, back in 1975 when the now long-running sketch show was brand new. Radner's sketches are still funny – funnier, some would argue, than much of the material from the last couple decades of the show – and many of her characters have gone down in comedy history. Roseanne Rosannadanna, Baba Wawa, Emily Litella, and countless other incarnations helped Radner win an Emmy in 1978.

When Gilda Radner left SNL in 1980, a rich movie career should have followed – as it has for fellow alums like Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig, and many more. And Radner did see the beginnings of that career. In Hanky Panky, she starred with Gene Wilder – who would become her second husband, after the two discovered an inability to resist each other while on set.

It was one of three movies the pair would star in together, concluding with Radner's last film, Haunted Honeymoon. Radner got to show off her musical comedy skills in a duet with Dom DeLuise.

Just a few months after Haunted Honeymoon was released, Radner received a diagnosis that explained the fatigue and pain she had suffered while filming – she had ovarian cancer. She died of the disease three years later, leaving behind a legacy of laughter – and of strength. Gilda's Club, named in memory of Radner, gives people living with cancer and their families and friends a place to meet and join together for support, comfort, information and inspiration.