“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” star Gene Wilder did not expect his third wife, “Saturday Night Live” comedian Gilda Radner, to die. It took him two years to speak candidly about her 1989 death, which he said could have been avoided.
After 10 months of going to doctor appointments, Radner was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. Doctors didn’t think she had much of a chance at survival, but they still went ahead with chemotherapy. Along the way, Radner tried to laugh even though she was dying.
Wilder, who married the comedian in 1984, wrote about Radner’s final days in an essay for People Magazine, which was originally published in 1991. The publication unearthed the essay after Wilder died Sunday at the age of 83. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Wilder never let Radner know, but doctors told him, “She doesn’t have much of a chance,” after she was diagnosed in October 1986. Until then, doctors told her she needed to relax; that she was just “a nervous woman” and suffered from chronic fatigue.
Wilder’s love for Radner jumped off the page when he talked about her losing her hair. “Of all the mistakes I made dealing with her illness, and I promise you I've made some I'm too ashamed to talk about, it was never an issue when Gilda lost her hair,” he wrote. “Those little bean sprouts growing on top of her head were adorable, like a newborn baby. I thought it was sexy. And the more I thought that, the happier it made Gilda.”
The “Blazing Saddles” actor was in shock after Radner died. “For weeks after Gilda died, I was shouting at the walls. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This doesn't make sense.’ The fact is, Gilda didn't have to die. But I was ignorant, Gilda was ignorant — the doctors were ignorant,” he said.
Even though Wilder didn’t feel comfortable making speeches, he vowed to raise awareness for ovarian cancer and spoke at Congress about the importance of early detection.
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