I keep thinking about a thing I read on Ye Olde Internet earlier this week. It was a passage from the “Saturday Night Live” oral history, Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Gilda Radner was a regular “SNL” cast member from 1975 to 1980, and at one time dated Bill Murray, though their relationship was stormy and contentious. After five years, she left the show to pursue film work, and eventually married fellow comedian Gene Wilder in 1984 (after divorcing from first husband, “SNL” bandleader G.E. Smith).
In 1986, Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She suffered through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and went into remission. But two years after first being diagnosed, the cancer came back. She passed away in May 1989 at the age of 42. In the following passage, Bill Murray recounts the last night he spent with Radner.
Gilda got married and went away. None of us saw her anymore. There was one good thing: Laraine had a party one night, a great party at her house. And I ended up being the disk jockey. She just had forty-fives, and not that many, so you really had to work the music end of it. There was a collection of like the funniest people in the world at this party. Somehow Sam Kinison sticks in my brain. The whole Monty Python group was there, most of us from the show, a lot of other funny people, and Gilda. Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.
So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams. We kept carrying her around, but like upside down, every which way—over your shoulder and under your arm, carrying her like luggage. And that went on for more than an hour—maybe an hour and a half—just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick—hello?”
We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And we said good-bye to the same people ten, twenty times, you know.
And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.
It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.