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1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an absolute classic. It's one of Gene Wilder's greatest roles. However, one of the other reasons the movie works so well is the collection of impressive child actors that came together to play the winners of Willy Wonka's contest. Denise Nickerson played the role of Violet Beauregard, the chewing gum obsessed kid who blows up into a blueberry following an unsanctioned test of a new piece of gum in Wonka's factory. Sad news came overnight as the family of Nickerson announced that she had passed away at the age of 62.
Nickerson's family revealed on Facebook that on Monday she had experienced a "major medical emergency." She suffered seizures and developed pneumonia. She was on life support following the event because she was unable to breathe on her own. She entered what was being called a "coma-like state." At that point, the family decided yesterday to take Nickerson off life support. She apparently lasted longer than expected once the machines were removed, but she eventually faded away late last night.
Her death follows on what has been a difficult period for Denise Nickerson and her family. The former actress suffered a stroke last year which resulted in her spending time in a rehab facility before she was able to return home.
Denise Nickerson made her TV debut in an episode of Flipper in 1965. She would go on to regular series rolls on Dark Shadows as well as the PBS childrens' show The Electric Company. She would continue to do many additional film and TV appearances, but would end her acting career in 1978.
Her role in Willy Wonka and the Chcolate Factory would clearly be her most popular role due to the way the film has remained relevant over the decades. It really is a fantastic film. When you watch it as a kid it's bright and fun and silly. Then, when you watch it again when you get older, you realize just how dark and twisted the humor really is. This ability to provide something that appeals to a wide audience, and actually change over time, is why the film has remained popular to this day.
The family of Nickerson has set up a GoFundMe to help deal with expenses associated with her death. She unfortunately leaves behind little or nothing in savings, largely due to the expenses that were incurred regarding her care following her stroke last year. Nickerson also apparently wished to be cremated and have her ashes be used to create a piece of glass art. While the family was asking for $10,000, the campaign has already raised over $12,000 and is still increasing.
Clearly, with almost 600 people donating, there are a lot of people giving a few dollars who never met Denise Nickerson, but will never be able to forget her. The classic musical isn't going anywhere, so Nickerson's biggest role (blueberry joke) will be around to entertain new generations into the future.