Friday, January 3, 2014

THE LAST DAYS OF MADELINE KAHN

One of the most talented and versatile actresses of recent generations was Madeline Kahn. She died too young, but left behind some monumental performances in movies. Madeline Kahn was an Oscar & Golden Globe-nominated & Tony Award-winning actress best known for her zany, bawdy roles in Mel Brooks' classics: Blazing Saddles; Young Frankenstein; and High Anxiety. Off-screen she was an intensely private and shy person who made her home in New York City. When she gave commencement speeches at colleges she often described herself "apart from the herd but able to get sustenance." She encouraged students to "follow their own vision and not be driven by the herd."

She was born in 1942 and grew up in New York City was a stage mother than got her involved in the business. A role in the Broadway musical Two by Two attracted the attention of a casting director - which led to her feature film debut in Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? Madeline was more than happy to leave the Broadway show and her nasty co-star Danny Kaye for work in Hollywood. Years later she was asked to star opposite Danny Kaye in another Broadway show and made no bones about telling producers: "If you hire him, you lose me." She had another bad experience with a huge legend - Lucille Ball. Kahn was supposed to star opposite Ball in the film of Mame in 1974, but Ball disliked her voice and had her removed from the film. Kahn was hurt but it opened her up to star in Blazing Saddles.

Madeline went on to do more film, stage and TV work throughout the 1980s and 90s and became known for her professionalism. ("I have appeared in crap...but I never treat it as such. Never!" ). Her funny but nuanced and endearing portrayal of an affluent Jewish suburban matron in the Broadway play The Sisters Rosensweig earned her a Tony Award in 1993. Her final film role was in the indie film Judy Berlin (1999) where Madeline showed that underneath her amusingly frazzled housewife character was a woman with a core of strength.


For the next two decades, Kahn work steady rotating between film, television, and stage roles. While shooting the NY-based sitcom "Cosby" in fall 1998 with Bill Cosby, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (the same disease that claimed the life of her friend Gilda Radner). Madeline endured three rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and experimental treatments for the—notoriously hard to detect and resistant to treatment—cancer. Her work on Cosby was reduced to only 4 episodes in the final season. Madeline thanked "the entire extended family on Cosby who moved heaven and earth to make me feel as comfortable as possible" these past few months.

Despite being desperately ill (or because of), in October 1999, Madeline married her partner of 10 years John Hansbury. She managed the strength to stand for the ceremony, and her voice, which had been reduced to a whisper in recent weeks, spoke loudly and clearly, "I do."

On Nov. 4th 1999, Madeline made a public statement about her cancer battle. "It is my hope that I might raise awareness of this awful disease and hasten the day that an effective test can be discovered to give women a fighting chance to catch this cancer at its earliest stage." Three weeks later, Kahn entered Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan for her latest dose of chemotherapy - where she stayed and fought until the end.
She died on December 3, 1999 at the age of 57. By her side were her husband and her brother Jeffrey. A comic genius was silenced, but the laughter lives on...

4 comments:

  1. I always loved Madeline Kahn. Her talent in making me laugh was awesome.
    Bless those who loved you, Ms. Kahn. Your presence in Heaven must be a wonder of joy.

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  2. She was so beautiful and so talented. She is still missed even today.

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  3. She should have been nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, etc., for her role of Eunice Burns in What's Up Doc; she made that movie, her first major film. Her comic genius is evident in this film.

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  4. She should still be alive fuck you cancer

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