Denise Nickerson, the former child star best known for playing the gum-chewing, blueberry-loving Violet Beauregarde in the classic film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, has died. Nickerson passed away at age 62 after being rushed to the hospital following a “medical emergency” and massive seizure that put her in a coma-like state, Us Weekly reports. Nickerson reportedly suffered a stroke last summer, which she never fully recovered from.
Nickerson’s only son, Josh, announced the news of his mother’s death in a Facebook post, simply writing, “She’s gone.” Nickerson’s son and his pregnant wife, Jasmine, had been providing fans with updates on the actress’ condition ever since she suffered a severe stroke in June, 2018. Shortly ahead of Nickerson’s death, her son informed fans that he told her “it’s okay to let go.”
In 1971, Nickerson co-starred with fellow child stars Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Michael Bollner and Paris Themmen in the Gene Wilder film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. After Nickerson suffered a stroke last summer, Cole (Veruca Salt in the film) and Themmen (Mike Teavee) went to visit her. Cole told Fox News that Denise “never really recovered” from the debilitating stroke.
“Paris [Themmen] and I went to visit her in September,” Cole revealed. “It was a very sad visit as she couldn’t verbally communicate. But we sang songs — Willy Wonka of course! And that made her smile and laugh.”
On Thursday morning, Cole took to Twitter to announce that her Willy Wonka co-star had died.
“So very sorry to say that my dear friend and Wonka sister, Denise Nickerson, has gone.”
— WYFF News 4 (@wyffnews4) July 11, 2019
Cole told Fox News that the fate of Denise Nickerson was especially sad as she was about to become a grandmother in August.
“I am sure we would have had a lot to share with each other around that,” Cole told Fox.
Denise Nickerson got her big acting break in the late 1960s playing Amy Jennings and Nora Collins in the ABC soap opera Dark Shadows. At the age of 13, she landed her signature role as the sassy Violet in the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
One of the Nickerson’s memorable scenes, which you can see below, featured her turning violet and blowing up like a blueberry after she chewed a forbidden piece of Wonka gum that was actually a three-course meal. “Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!” her father cried before she was rolled out of the chocolate factory — the second “bad” child to break Mr. Wonka’s rules
Nickerson’s later roles included a lengthy stint as Allison, Member of the Short Circus, on PBS’ The Electric Company, and a one-episode guest role as the date of Peter Brady (Christopher Knight) on the 1974 Brady Bunch episode “Two Petes in a Pod.’
Nickerson quit acting at age 21 after her final onscreen appearance in the 1978 movie Zero to Sixty, and she later worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office and as a bookkeeper. The former child actress reunited with her Willy Wonka co-stars for fan events over the years.
In a 2015 appearance on The Today Show, Nickerson revealed that she had to give up chewing gum after her Violet Beauregarde role because she got 13 cavities while shooting Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Still, she had fond memories of working on the beloved film.
“Look, I mean, we are the fortunate ones. We’re here. We got to really see it and experience it,” Nickerson said. “The first thing people do when they find out who we are is they smile.”
Nickerson’s’ family has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money to fund her final wish of turning her ashes into a piece of glass art.