Gilda Susan Radner was an American comedienne and actress, best known for her five years as part of the original cast of the NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, for which she won an Emmy Award. Radner’s death at age 42 from ovarian cancer helped increase public awareness of the disease and the need for earlier detection and treatment.
Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Jewish parents Henrietta, a legal secretary, and Herman Radner, a businessman. She grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she called “Dibby”, and an older brother named Michael. She attended the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe. Radner wrote in her autobiography It’s Always Something toward the end of her life, “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. Her father, who died when she was fourteen, took her on trips to New York to see Broadway shows.
Radner enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she made a lifelong platonic friend of fellow student, David Saltman, who wrote a biography of her after her death. Radner joined Saltman and his girlfriend on a trip to Paris in the summer of 1966. Saltman wrote that he was so affectionate with his girlfriend that they left Radner to fend for herself during much of their sightseeing. Later, when details of Radner’s eating disorder surfaced, Saltman wrote that he realized she had been in a quandary over the French food, but had no one with whom she could discuss her situation.