Gilda Radner

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Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner - 1980.jpg
Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna in 1980
Gilda Susan Radner

(1946-06-28)June 28, 1946
DiedMay 20, 1989(1989-05-20) (aged 42)
Cause of death Ovarian cancer
Alma mater University of Michigan
OccupationComedian, actress
Years active1972–1989
Known forOriginal cast member of Saturday Night Live
Awards Emmy Award
1977 Saturday Night Live
Grammy Award
1990 (posthumously)
Michigan Women's Hall of Fame
1992 (posthumously)
Hollywood Walk of Fame
2003 (posthumously)

Gilda Susan Radner (June 28, 1946 – May 20, 1989) was an American comedian and actress who was one of the seven original cast members for the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL). In her routines, Radner specialized in parodies of television stereotypes, such as advice specialists and news anchors, and in 1977, she won an Emmy Award for her performances on the show. She also portrayed those characters in her highly successful one-woman show on Broadway in 1979.

<i>Saturday Night Live</i> cast members Wikimedia list article

As of September 2018, the late-night live variety series Saturday Night Live (SNL) has featured 151 cast members. The ensemble was originally referred to as the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players."

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

Emmy Award American television production award

An Emmy Award, or simply Emmy, is an American award that recognizes excellence in the television industry. It is presented at numerous annual events held throughout the calendar year, each honoring one of the various sectors of the television industry. The two ceremonies that receive the most media coverage are the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Daytime Emmy Awards, which recognize outstanding work in American primetime and daytime entertainment programming, respectively. Other notable Emmy events include those honoring national sports programming, national news and documentary shows, and technological and engineering achievements in television, including the Primetime Engineering Emmy Awards. Regional Emmy Awards are also presented throughout the country at various times through the year, recognizing excellence in local and statewide television. In addition, the International Emmy Awards honor excellence in TV programming produced and initially aired outside the United States.


Radner's SNL work established her as an iconic figure in the history of American comedy. She died from ovarian cancer in 1989. Her autobiography dealt frankly with her life, work, and personal struggles, including those with the illness. Her widower, Gene Wilder, carried out her personal wish that information about her illness would help other cancer victims, founding and inspiring organizations that emphasize early diagnosis, hereditary factors and support for cancer victims. She was posthumously awarded a Grammy Award in 1990. Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1992; and she posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

Gene Wilder American actor and comedian

Jerome Silberman, known professionally as Gene Wilder, was an American actor, screenwriter, director, producer, singer-songwriter and author.

Grammy Award Accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States

A Grammy Award, or Grammy, is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievements in the music industry. The trophy depicts a gilded gramophone. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. The Grammys are the second of the Big Three major music awards held annually.

Michigan Womens Hall of Fame hall of fame in Michigan

The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame (MWHOF) honors distinguished women, both historical and contemporary, who have been associated with the U.S. state of Michigan. The hall of fame was founded in 1983 by Gladys Beckwith and is sponsored by the Michigan Women's Studies Association. The formation of the Association and the Hall was prompted by five professors from Michigan State University who were teaching a Women in American Society course.

Early life

Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Jewish parents, Henrietta (née Dworkin), a legal secretary, and Herman Radner, a businessman. [1] [2] Through her mother, Radner was a second cousin of business executive Steve Ballmer. [3] She grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she called "Dibby" (and on whom she based her famous character Emily Litella), [4] and an older brother named Michael. She attended the exclusive University Liggett School in Detroit. Toward the end of her life, Radner wrote in her autobiography, It's Always Something, that during her childhood and young adulthood, she battled numerous eating disorders: "I coped with stress by having every possible eating disorder from the time I was nine years old. I have weighed as much as 160 pounds and as little as 93. When I was a kid, I overate constantly. My weight distressed my mother and she took me to a doctor who put me on Dexedrine diet pills when I was ten years old." [5]

Detroit Largest city in Michigan

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest American city on the United States–Canada border, and the seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a 2017 estimated population of 673,104, making it the 23rd-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design.

Steve Ballmer American businessman who was the chief executive officer of Microsoft

Steven Anthony Ballmer is an American businessman and investor who was the chief executive officer of Microsoft from January 13, 2000, to February 4, 2014, and is the current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). As of April 2019, his personal wealth is estimated at US $51.3 billion, ranking him the 19th richest person in the world.

Emily Litella

Emily Litella is a fictional character created and performed by comedian Gilda Radner in a series of appearances on Saturday Night Live. Based on a person in her early life, Emily Litella was a popular character in Radner's comedy repertoire.

Radner was close to her father, who operated Detroit's Seville Hotel, where many nightclub performers and actors stayed while performing in the city. [6] He took her on trips to New York to see Broadway shows. [7] As Radner wrote in It's Always Something, when she was 12, her father developed a brain tumor, and the symptoms began so suddenly that he told people his eyeglasses were too tight. [8] Within days, he was bedridden and unable to communicate, and remained in that condition until his death two years later. [8]

Broadway theatre class of professional theater presented in New York City, New York, USA

Broadway theatre, also known simply as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

Brain tumor type of tumor

A brain tumor occurs when abnormal cells form within the brain. There are two main types of tumors: cancerous (malignant) tumors and benign (non-cancerous) tumors. Cancerous tumors can be divided into primary tumors, which start within the brain, and secondary tumors, which have spread from elsewhere, known as brain metastasis tumors. All types of brain tumors may produce symptoms that vary depending on the part of the brain involved. These symptoms may include headaches, seizures, problems with vision, vomiting and mental changes. The headache is classically worse in the morning and goes away with vomiting. Other symptoms may include difficulty walking, speaking or with sensations. As the disease progresses, unconsciousness may occur.

Radner graduated from Liggett and enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1964.[ citation needed ]

University of Michigan Public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

The University of Michigan, often simply referred to as Michigan, is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university is Michigan's oldest; it was founded in 1817 in Detroit, as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, 20 years before the territory became a state. The school was moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 34 million gross square feet spread out over a Central Campus and North Campus, two regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, and a Center in Detroit. The university is a founding member of the Association of American Universities.

Ann Arbor, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Ann Arbor is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the county seat of Washtenaw County. The 2010 census recorded its population to be 113,934, making it the sixth largest city in Michigan.


In Ann Arbor, Radner dropped out in her senior year [9] to follow her boyfriend, Canadian sculptor Jeffrey Rubinoff, to Toronto, where she made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell with future stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer. Afterward, Radner joined The Second City comedy troupe in Toronto.

Jeffrey Rubinoff Canadian artist

Jeffrey Rubinoff was a Canadian sculptor and founder of the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park where he lived and worked since 1973. He produced over 100 sculptures in the last four decades.

Toronto Provincial capital city in Ontario, Canada

Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, with a population of 2,731,571 in 2016. Current to 2016, the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), of which the majority is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), held a population of 5,928,040, making it Canada's most populous CMA. The city is the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of 9,245,438 people surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario. Toronto is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.

<i>Godspell</i> musical

Godspell is a musical composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak. The show opened off-Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has since been produced by multiple touring companies and in many revivals. The 2011 revival played on Broadway from October 13, 2011 through June 24, 2012.

Radner was a featured player on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy program syndicated to some 600 U.S. radio stations from 1974 to 1975. Fellow cast members included John Belushi, [10] Chevy Chase, [10] Richard Belzer, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Rhonda Coullet.[ citation needed ]

Saturday Night Live

Radner gained name recognition as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players", the freshman group on the first (1975) season of Saturday Night Live. She was the first performer cast for the show, [7] co-wrote much of the material that she performed, and collaborated with Alan Zweibel (of the show's writing staff) on sketches that highlighted her recurring characters. [11] Between 1975 and 1980, she created characters such as obnoxious personal advice expert Roseanne Roseannadanna and "Baba Wawa", a parody of Barbara Walters. After Radner's death, Walters stated in an interview that Radner was the "first person to make fun of news anchors, now it's done all the time." [12]

"Of the three female cast members [SNL], Gilda Radner made the deepest impact. There is hardly a female sketch comic today who does not claim Radner as an inspiration for her comedy career."

Yael Kohen,
author, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy [13] [14]

She also played the character Emily Litella, an elderly, hearing-impaired woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on "Weekend Update". [7] Additionally, Radner parodied celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches. She won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on SNL. In Rolling Stone 's February 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to date, Radner was ranked ninth in importance. "[Radner was] the most beloved of the original cast," they wrote. "In the years between Mary Tyler Moore and Seinfeld's Elaine, Radner was the prototype for the brainy city girl with a bundle of neuroses." [15]

Radner battled bulimia while on the show. She had a relationship with SNL castmate Bill Murray, with whom she worked at the National Lampoon, which ended badly. Few details of their relationship or its end were made public. In It's Always Something, this is the one reference Radner made to Murray in the entire book: "All the guys [in the National Lampoon group of writers and performers] liked to have me around because I would laugh at them till I peed in my pants and tears rolled out of my eyes. We worked together for a couple of years creating The National Lampoon Show, writing The National Lampoon Radio Hour, and even working on stuff for the magazine. Bill Murray joined the show and Richard Belzer ..." [16]

In 1979, incoming NBC President Fred Silverman offered Radner her own primetime variety show, which she turned down. [9] That year, she was a host of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly. [17] [ citation needed ]

Alan Zweibel, who co-created the Roseanne Roseannadanna character and co-wrote Roseanne's dialogue, recalled that Radner, one of three original SNL cast members who stayed away from cocaine, chastised him for abusing it. [11]

While in character as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Radner gave the commencement address to the graduating class at the Columbia School of Journalism in 1979. [18]

Radner had mixed emotions about the fans and strangers who recognized her in public. She sometimes became "angry when she was approached [by strangers in public], and upset when she wasn't," according to the book by Hill and Weingrad. [19]

Work in theater, a record album and her first movie

In 1979, Radner appeared on Broadway in the successful one-woman show, Gilda Radner – Live from New York. [20] The show featured material that was racier than NBC censors allowed on Saturday Night Live, such as the song "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals". In 1979, shortly before Radner's final season on Saturday Night Live, her Broadway show was filmed by Mike Nichols under the title Gilda Live , co-starring Paul Shaffer and Don Novello, and the movie was released in theaters nationwide in 1980, with poor results. A soundtrack album was also unsuccessful. During the Broadway production, Radner met her first husband, G. E. Smith, a musician who worked on the show. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1980. [9]

In the fall of 1980, after all original SNL cast members departed from the show, Radner began working with actor Sam Waterston in the Jean Kerr play Lunch Hour. They played two people whose spouses are having an affair, and as a reaction they start their own relationship consisting of trysts on their lunch hour. [21] The show ran for more than seven months in various theaters in the United States, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Newspaper critics, including Tom Shales, praised the play and Radner's performance in it. [22]

Personal life

Radner with Gene Wilder in 1986 Gene Wilder - Gilda Radner.jpg
Radner with Gene Wilder in 1986

Radner and Smith divorced in 1982. [23] [24] Radner met actor Gene Wilder on the set of the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky (released in 1982), when the two worked together making the film. She described their first meeting as "love at first sight". [9] After meeting Wilder, her marriage to guitarist G. E. Smith deteriorated. Radner went on to make a second film with Wilder, The Woman in Red (released in 1984), and their relationship grew. The two were married on September 18, 1984, in Saint-Tropez. [9] The pair made a third film together, Haunted Honeymoon (released in 1986) [9] and remained married until her death in 1989.

Details of Radner's eating disorder were reported in a book about Saturday Night Live by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, [19] The book by Hill and Weingrad was published and received much media coverage during a period when Radner was consulting various doctors in Los Angeles about her symptoms of illness that turned out to be cancer.


Radner's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame GildaRadner-walkoffame.jpg
Radner's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

In 1985, Radner was experiencing severe fatigue and suffered from pain in her upper legs on the set of Haunted Honeymoon in the United Kingdom. She sought medical treatment, and for a period of 10 months, various doctors, most of them in Los Angeles, gave her several diagnoses that all turned out to be wrong because she continued to experience pain. [9]

During those 10 months, she faced hardships such as the publication of Hill and Weingrad's highly publicized book about Saturday Night Live, which provided many details about her eating disorder [19] [9] as well as the financial failure of Haunted Honeymoon, which grossed only $8,000,000 in the United States, entering the box office at number 8, then slipping to 14 the following week. As Radner wrote in It's Always Something:

On July 26 [1986], Haunted Honeymoon opened nationwide. It was a bomb. One month of publicity and the movie was only in the theaters for a week – a box-office disaster. [9]

Finally, on October 21, 1986, Radner was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. [9] [25] She immediately underwent surgery and had a hysterectomy. [25] On October 26, surgeons removed a grapefruit-size tumor from her abdomen. Radner then began chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment, as she wrote in It's Always Something, and the treatment caused extreme physical and emotional pain. [9]

After her diagnosis, the National Enquirer ran the headline "Gilda Radner In Life-Death Struggle" in its following issue. Without asking for her comment, [9] the editors of the publication asserted that she was dying. Radner wrote in It's Always Something:

They found an old photo of me looking frightened from a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch and blew that up to make the point. What they did probably sold newspapers, but it had a devastating effect on my family and my friends. It forced Gene [Wilder] to compose a press release to respond. He said that I had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had had surgery, and my prognosis was good. The Enquirer doesn't like good news, so the Gilda Radner story stopped running. [9]

Four months after her ordeal with the National Enquirer, Radner saw her Saturday Night Live castmates one last time at Laraine Newman's 35th birthday party (in March 1987). According to Bill Murray [26] when he heard she was leaving the party, he and Dan Aykroyd carried her around the Los Angeles house where the party was held, repeatedly saying goodbye to everyone.


After Radner was told that she had gone into remission, she wrote It's Always Something (a catchphrase of her character Roseanne Roseannadanna's), [9] which included details of her struggle with the illness. Life did a March 1988 cover story on her illness, titled "Gilda Radner's Answer to Cancer: Healing the Body with Mind and Heart." In 1988, Radner guest-starred on It's Garry Shandling's Show on Fox TV, to critical acclaim. When Shandling asked her why she had not been seen in public for a while, she replied, "Oh, I had cancer. What did you have?" Shandling's reply: "A very bad series of career moves ... which, by the way, there's no treatment for whatsoever." She repeated on-camera Mark Twain's apocryphal saying, [27] "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Radner planned to host an episode of Saturday Night Live that year,[ citation needed ] but a writers' strike caused the delay of the network television season.

Illness and death

In September 1988, after tests showed no signs of cancer, Radner went on a maintenance chemotherapy treatment to prolong her remission, but three months later, in December, she learned the cancer had returned. [25] She was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 17, 1989, to undergo a CT scan. She was given a sedative and went into a coma during the scan. [28] She did not regain consciousness and died three days later, from ovarian cancer on May 20, 1989; Wilder was at her side. [7]

News of Radner's death broke as Steve Martin was rehearsing to act as the guest host for that night's season finale of Saturday Night Live. The show's performers and crew, including Lorne Michaels, Phil Hartman, and Mike Myers (who had, in his own words, "fallen in love" with Radner after playing her son in a BC Hydro commercial on Canadian television and considered her the reason he wanted to be on SNL), [29] had not known how grave her situation was. Martin's planned opening monologue was scrapped; in its place Martin, in tears, introduced a video clip of a 1978 sketch in which he and Radner had parodied Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in a well-known dance routine from The Band Wagon (1953). [30] After the clip, Martin said it reminded him of "how great she was and of how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you."


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center hosts the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center Cedars-Sinai West.jpg
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center hosts the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center

Wilder established the Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program [31] at Cedars-Sinai to screen high-risk candidates (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent) and to run basic diagnostic tests. He testified before a Congressional committee that Radner's condition had been misdiagnosed and that if doctors had inquired more deeply into her family background they would have learned that her grandmother, aunt, and cousin all died of ovarian cancer, and therefore they might have attacked the disease earlier. [32]

Radner's death helped raise awareness of early detection of ovarian cancer and the connection to familial epidemiology. [33] The media attention in the two years after Radner's death led to registry of 450 families with familial ovarian cancer at the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry, a research database registry at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. The registry was later renamed the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry (GRFOCR). [34] In 1996, Gene Wilder and Registry founder Steven Piver, one of Radner's medical consultants, published Gilda's Disease: Sharing Personal Experiences and a Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer.

In 1991, Gilda's Club, a network of affiliate clubhouses where people living with cancer, their friends, and families, can meet to learn how to live with cancer, was founded by Joanna Bull, Radner's cancer psychotherapist, along with Radner's widower, Gene Wilder (also a cancer survivor) and broadcaster Joel Siegel (who later died after a long battle with cancer). The first club opened in New York City in 1995. The organization took its name from Radner's comment that cancer gave her "membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to". [35] Radner's story can be read in her book, It's Always Something. [9]

Many Gilda's Clubs have opened across the United States and in Canada. In July 2009, Gilda's Club Worldwide merged with The Wellness Community, another established cancer support organization; the name Cancer Support Community (CSC) was legally adopted in 2011 by the merged organization. [36] [37] [38] As of 2012, more than 20 local affiliates of Gilda's Club were active. Although some local affiliates of Gilda's Club and The Wellness Community have retained their names, many affiliates have adopted the name Cancer Support Community following the merger.[ citation needed ]

In 2002, the ABC television network dedicated a three-hour block of programming to Radner. The evening kicked off with a one-hour special, "Gilda Radner's Greatest Moments." Hosted by Saturday Night Live alumna Molly Shannon, the special featured highlights from her career and appearances by friends and co-stars Victor Garber, Kermit the Frog, Eugene Levy, Steve Martin, Paul Shaffer, Lily Tomlin and Barbara Walters. It was followed by a television movie about her life: Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, starring Jami Gertz as Radner.

In 2007, Radner was featured in Making Trouble, a film tribute to female Jewish comedians, produced by the Jewish Women's Archive. [39] Radner makes two comic book appearances. DC Comics Young Love #122 in 1976 and Marvel Team-Up #74 from 1978.

Awards and honors

Radner won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music" for her performance on Saturday Night Live in 1977. She posthumously won a Grammy Award for "Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording" in 1990.

In 1992, Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in arts and entertainment. Through the generosity of many who participated in the 2002 ABC special, "Gilda Radner's Greatest Moments," including Lynda Carter, Victor Garber, Eric Idle, David Letterman, Eugene Levy, Peter Mann, Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Paul Shaffer, Lily Tomlin and The Jim Henson Company, producer/actor James Tumminia spearheaded a campaign to dedicate a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Gilda. On June 27, 2003, Gilda received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. Saturday Night Live alumna Molly Shannon (and the host of the ABC special) served as Master of Ceremonies at the induction ceremony at which Laraine Newman, Gilda's Club founder Joanna Bull and Gilda's brother Michael F. Radner appeared to present the honor. [40]

Parts of West Houston Street in New York City, Lombard Street in Toronto, Kirk Road in Warminster, Pennsylvania, and Chester Avenue in White Plains, New York, have been renamed "Gilda Radner Way".



1973 The Last Detail Nichiren Shoshu MemberOne spoken line
1978 All You Need Is Cash Mrs. Emily PulesTV movie, cameo
1979 Mr. Mike's Mondo Video Herself
1980 Animalympics Barbara Warbler / Brenda Springer / Coralee
Perrier / Tatiana Tushenko / Doree Turnell / The Contessa
TV film, Voice
1980 Gilda Live Herself / Various CharactersAlso writer
1980 First Family Gloria Link
1982 Hanky Panky Kate Hellman
1982 It Came from Hollywood Herself
1984 The Woman in Red Ms. Millner
1985 Movers & Shakers Livia Machado
1986 Haunted Honeymoon Vickie Pearle
2018 Love, Gilda HerselfDocumentary, (archive footage)


1974Jack: A Flash FantasyJill of Hearts
1974The Gift of WinterNicely / Malicious / NarratorVoice
1974–1975 Dr. Zonk and the Zunkins Voice
1975–1980 Saturday Night Live Various Characters107 Episodes; Also Writer
Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
1978 The Muppet Show Herself1 episode
1978 Witch's Night Out WitchVoice
1979Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & GildaHerself
1985 Reading Rainbow HerselfVoice only; 1 episode
1988 It's Garry Shandling's Show Herself1 episode, (final appearance)

See also

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