Gilda Radner Fans Say Gilda’s Club Name Change Is an Insult to the Comedienne

Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live in 1976. NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

As Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something."

The "something" in this case, though, is Radner's legacy — which fans say is being threatened by a local Wisconsin chapter of Gilda's Club, a national cancer support group founded in her honor.

Leaders of the Madison-area club, worried that younger generations don't remember or recognize the late Saturday Night Live standout, have decided to change the chapter's name to Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, a move that has outraged some supporters, who say it's an insult to Radner's memory. (Radner passed away in 1989.)

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"We are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis," executive director Lannie Syren Stenz told the Wisconsin State Journal of the decision to change her club's name. "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."

Fans of the comedienne, however, argue that changing the name also changes the mission and message of the organization, which was started by Radner's friends in family in 1991 to honor the star's brave three-year battle with ovarian cancer. The name Gilda's Club was inspired by something she said after her 1986 diagnosis with the disease: "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to."

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"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," 44-year-old Texan Mark Warneke wrote on the organization's Facebook page. "Way to give them hope!"

Hope was certainly a big part of Radner's life — and, in particular, of her battle with cancer. Throughout her fight with what she called "the most unfunny thing in the world," she nevertheless maintained her sense of humor and strength of spirit.

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"I wanted a perfect ending," she wrote in her autobiography, It's Always Something, toward the end of her life. "Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next."

Radner's husband, actor Gene Wilder, is trying to take that advice to heart. As he told the Associated Press, he's not happy about Stenz's decision to change the chapter's name — but he accepts it.

"It's too bad," he said. "I wish it weren't so. But I understand."

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