As reported by The New York Daily News, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’s Denise Nickerson—she played the gum-obsessed Violet Beauregarde—has died. The news was confirmed by her family, who had been posting regular updates on Facebook about Nickerson’s health as she had a “major medical emergency” earlier this week and had been transported to the ICU after developing pneumonia and experiencing multiple seizures. This morning, just hours after posting an update that she was not on life support and that she’s “going very slowly,” the family posted, simply, “she’s gone.” Nickerson was 62.
Born in New York City in 1957, Nickerson and her family moved to Florida when she was a kid, where she got her first acting job—appearing in a commercial for a local heating company. She later worked with a few theatrical productions and made a one-off appearance on Flipper before landing her first big break on supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows (where she showed up in over 70 episodes).
In 1971, she got another big break in the form of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, appearing alongside Gene Wilder as Violet Beauregarde, a very self-assured and mildly ill-mannered young kind with a tragic obsession with chewing gum. After ignoring Wonka’s instructions and grabbing an experimental piece of gum that offers the flavors of an entire full-course meal, she swells up into a human blueberry (“Violet, you’re turning violet!”) and gets rolled off by the Oompa-Loompas, never to be seen again—though Wonka does claim that she and the other children will be returned to normal.
After Willy Wonka, Nickerson appeared in Search For Tomorrow and one episode of The Brady Bunch (playing one of two girls that Peter Brady tried to date in a single night). She was also a longtime cast member on The Electric Company, singing as a member of the Short Circus group. Nickerson mostly retired from acting in the ‘70s, though she occasionally reunited with the other Willy Wonka kids for TV appearances.