Gilda's Club

Gilda Radner’s Widower Gene Wilder Speaks Up About Organization’s Name Change

Commentary | News this week that Gilda Radner’s namesake organization, Gilda’s Club, was seeing some branch name changes to remove the late comedienne’s moniker from their title was very controversial and considered by many to be an insult to the revered SNL star’s legacy, and now her widower Gene Wilder has commented on the baffling decision by some of the centers.

Gilda Radner died in 1989 at the age of 42 of ovarian cancer during a time when the condition had far less awareness and fewer treatment options. But Radner was a trailblazing entertainer, and her tragic and far too young death was only a small part of the star’s story.

Radner’s influence on young female fans of the genre, one might imagine, still remains. Myself a New Yorker and early-on comedy fan, I remember being moved and saddened by her death and recalling many of her bits well, even then — and I’m only 33. The idea that anyone who is a woman and loves comedy would be unaware of the early SNL star (one who invaded the boys’ club a quarter century before Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) is quite stunning and depressing, but, still, the notion is strong enough to have prompted the sad change.

Wilder has largely retired in recent years, though, since his wife’s 1989 death, he has championed the cause of ovarian cancer awareness and advocated for Gilda’s Club. And asked about his feelings on the erasing of Radner’s name from centers, Wilder opines in a way that makes the news seem ever sadder.

When asked about the decision, Wilder said he imagined telling Gilda of the decision by some Gilda’s Club affiliates, suspecting she would reply: “Do they have to throw me out?”

Wilder adds:

“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.”

Hopefully, the outcry against the erasure of Gilda Radner’s name from her former namesake organization will prompt reconsideration of the sad choice. Many have taken to the group’s Facebook page to protest it.

One fan fumed:

“The only educating you’re doing is teaching kids that when they die from cancer, their name will be erased from history in 20 years because the next generation doesn’t know who they are. Way to give them hope!”

But if you’re one of the young women who might not recognize Gilda Radner’s name, below is a clip of Steve Martin, breaking down on SNL as he pays tribute to his frequent stage-mate.

Do you think the decision was an insult to the legacy Gilda Radner left female funnywomen everywhere?

Steve Martin Gilda Radner Tribute from buford on Vimeo.