Fans of Gilda Radner, the beloved "SNL" comedienne whose fatal battle with ovarian cancer 23 years ago inspired the creation of “Gilda’s Club,” a cancer support organization, were outraged when a Madison, Wisc., chapter of the organization decided to remove her name from its title.
When Radner died in 1989 at the age of 42, ovarian cancer had far less awareness than it does today; she reportedly only began receiving medical treatment for the disease after ten months of incorrect diagnoses. But in spite of her untimely death, Radner was credited with bravely drawing attention to the disease. In tribute to her, friends and family, including her widower, Gene Wilder; her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull; and broadcast journalist Joel Siegel founded Gilda’s Club in 1991, inspired by Radner’s jest that the disease offered her "membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to.”
Recently, the Madison chapter of the club announced plans to change its title because it fears that having Radner’s name attached may no longer be an asset to its mission. According to Lannia Syren Stenz, the chapter’s executive director, that concern comes partly from the fact that younger patients may not know who Radner was.
"We are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis," said Stenz. "We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there's not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors."
Stenz’s comments outraged many Gilda’s Club supporters, some of whom protested the name change on Facebook. “Why would you change the name because the younger people don't know who she is, why not EDUCATE them on who this Great Lady was!” wrote Michael LePage.
“So disappointed that you and other Gilda's Clubs are looking to change your name and take her out of it altogether. Very disappointing ... you should be ashamed! Her legacy will live on ... and contributions will go to other organizations,” added Kathryn Jo Ottman.
Some fans even proposed alternative names, like Scott Williams, who wrote, “If you have to change the name, why not be inclusive of Gilda Radner? Something like ‘The Gilda Radner Cancer Support Group’ would be far more appropriate than just dropping her name altogether. Would the Susan B. Komen Foundation remove Susan's name from their title? I think not. You need to rethink this.”
When asked about his feelings on the potential name change, Wilder said that he had imagined having a conversation about it with Radner, speculating that she would ask, “do they have to throw me out?"
“I’d say, ‘It’s not throwing you out, honey, it’s getting more money.’ And she’d say, ‘OK, I guess if they have to, they have to,’” he said. “It’s too bad. I wish it weren’t so. But I understand.”