The 42-year-old comedy legend Gilda Radner entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 17, 1989, and died three days later of ovarian cancer. Her husband, actor Gene Wilder, was at her side. But experts say the star known for her Saturday Night Live character “Roseanne Roseannadanna” didn’t have to die then. Childhood eating disorders may have played a role.
“Her early battle with weight led her down a dangerous path. As she grew up, Gilda’s world became dominated by binge-eating,” says series expert Dr. Michael Hunter. “She used to do a thing on Saturday Night Live where she would talk about what she ate. It was called ‘What Gilda Ate,’ offers SNL historian Stephen Tropiano.
Radner’s endearing characters on Saturday Night Live catapulted her into the nation’s heart. But the laughter masked a dangerous illness and covered up a life blighted by sorrow from multiple miscarriages to bulimia.
”I was very aware of her eating disorder, I mean I knew that every time she ate she went into the bathroom,” says Franne Lee, the SNL designer credited with costumes for “The Coneheads” and “The Killer Bees.”
“By the time she is on Saturday Night Live, not only is she dealing with her own reflection in the mirror, but she’s dealing with her reflection in the eyes of everybody else. As a consequence, we see eating disorders flare up,” says psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos.
“Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa can have catastrophic effects on the body,” adds Dr. Hunter. “They are one of the leading causes of death related to mental health problems.”
Did Gilda Radner’s eating disorders delay a life-saving diagnosis of her cancer? Tune-in to Autopsy: The Last Hours of… Gilda Radner, Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on REELZ!
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