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GILDA RADNER WAS A BEACON OF LOVABILITY ON 'SNL' THE DELICIOUS COMIC ACTRESS DIED BEFORE ANYONE REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE COULD DO

IT'S ALWAYS something."
The phrase was her father's long before she ever put it into the spectacularly loose mouth of Roseanne Roseannadanna. It's the title of the autobiographical memoir whose review copy arrived here on the same day as the dreadful news of Gilda Radner's death from ovarian cancer.

Her father died in his 40s when she was a young teen-ager. Radner herself was only 41 at her death.

You could understand completely why Steve Martin choked up while introducing an elaborate dance clip of Radner from 1978 on last week's season finale of "Saturday Night Live." For much of an entire TV generation, the death of Gilda Radner isn't something anyone could be expected to handle well, least of all a longtime colleague and friend.

She was a beacon of lovability in a generation's deliberately unlovable comic revolution. To have seen and reviewed those first few editions of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975 was to have seen wild and wicked comedy no one ever dreamed we'd see on TV -- Michael O'Donoghue miming Oedipal impalings in his eyes, Jerry Rubin in a skit selling wallpaper festooned with some of the choicer rhetorical fatuousnesses of the '60s.

Gilda Radner seemed to be an outpost of genuine sweetness in a snarling bear pit.

Grief is a peculiar thing -- especially public grief, after it has been ground up into a fine powder in the remorseless machines of American media sanctimony.

At the time of the media blitz touched off by the death of Lucille Ball, you'd have thought a president had died. (In truth, many would no doubt treat that as a somewhat lesser event. They wouldn't be entirely wrong, either.)

CBS' hour of prime-time obituary with Dan Rather was particularly disingenuous since it was clearly a result of the fix having been put in from the highest aeries of the CBS towers. The whole point was, clearly, to give CBS founder William Paley an expansive public opportunity to tell the world how he came to help invent Lucy.

The death of Lucille Ball was little more than a horse American media were expected to ride.

Try as I might, I couldn't be all that moved by it. When Lucille Ball died, she was old, rich and near-universally revered. It scarcely mattered how out-of-touch most of her later work was; she had changed the nature of an entire medium and everyone knew it. And she'd lived long enough to see her children straighten out -- more or less, anyway.

Who could wish for more for any one of us?

Gilda Radner (she tells us in her final book) wanted desperately to have children but couldn't; and she died before anyone really knew what she could do.

Old "SNL" cohorts like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Chevy Chase turned into wretched cinematic bores just a few years after leaving the late-night TV fold. One of them -- Belushi -- turned into a permanent cautionary tale.

Laraine Newman all but disappeared and Jane Curtin grimaced her way into (and now out of) "Kate & Allie."

Gilda Radner, though, was a terribly unfinished talent. And few things are sadder.

Despite the horrendous reviews for her Broadway show, it was hard not to believe something wonderful might have come of it -- that is, once she'd gotten her fill of domestic life (and bad movies) with husband Gene Wilder.

She was a delicious comic actress.

Chevy Chase had no characters to play, only his hopelessly self-regarding self. Belushi had only his dreaded bee, his Samurai warrior and his Blues Brother. Only Aykroyd's other Blues Brother was memorable (though his comic mimetic talent was clearly the largest and most accurate of the whole original "SNL" bunch).

Radner, though, somehow contrived to invent a small roster of delectable satiric miniatures -- gruesomely loquacious Roseanne Roseannadanna, who far outweighed Rosemary Scamardella, the real New York City TV newswoman on whom she was based; Emily Litella, the definitive hard-of-hearing little old lady who always stood to be corrected and said, "Never mind"; and eternally earnest Lisa Loopner, everyone's image of a friend's hopelessly nerdy younger sister.

Somewhere inside Gilda Radner, I always hoped that there was a Lily Tomlin struggling to get out -- or somethingsweeter and almost as good.

To remember her fragility (and constant comic victimization) makes reading "It's Always Something" (Simon and Schuster, 269 pages, $17.95) all the more harrowing.

This is an utterly unsparing book about cancer and surgery and chemotherapy -- by no means intentionally grim but, because of the crushing facts and Radner's totally candid (indeed microscopic) examination of them, unavoidably so.

The Radner who emerges from it is certainly more mildly neurotic than we might have thought, but also an exceptionally courageous and terrifyingly honest celebrity caught in a grinding ordeal.

The ending is terribly moving, especially in light of her crushed hopes and the irony of the book's release on the day of her death.

When I was little, Dibby's cousin had a dog, just a mutt, and the dog was pregnant. I don't know how long dogs are pregnant but she was due to have her puppies in about a week. She was out in the yard one day and got in the way of the lawn mower, and her two hind legs got cut off. They rushed her to the vet and he said, "I can sew her up or you can put her to sleep if you want but the puppies are OK. She'll be able to deliver the puppies.

Dibby's cousin said, "Keep her alive."

So the vet sewed up her backside and over the next week the dog learned to walk. She didn't spend any time worrying, she just learned to walk by taking two steps in the front and flipping up her backside, and then taking two steps and flipping up her backside again. She gave birth to six little puppies, all in perfect health. She nursed them and then weaned them. And when they learned to walk, they all walked like her.

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