Madeline Kahn, the offbeat comedienne and singer who won a Tony Award and earned back-to-back Oscar nominations for her work in “Paper Moon” and “Blazing Saddles,” died Friday in New York of ovarian cancer. She was 57.
Kahn first acknowledged the illness publicly just last month, saying she was undergoing “aggressive treatment.” She had been battling the disease for the past year, said Jeff Schneider, a spokesman for the William Morris Agency.
Her husband, John Hansbury, and brother, Jeffrey Kahn, were at her side.
“We all suffered a great loss today. Madeline was a performer of brilliance and a loyal and trusted friend to everyone she encountered,” Hansbury said in a statement. “While we mourn her passing, we celebrate a full and wonderful life.”
Kahn was born Sept. 29, 1942, in Boston and attended Hofstra U. on a drama scholarship. The actress, who also trained as an opera singer, made her Broadway debut in “New Faces of ’68.” That same year, she made her film bow in a short Ingmar Bergman spoof, “The Dove.”
Her first feature film was the 1972 Peter Bogdanovich-directed farce “What’s Up Doc?” She was nominated for supporting actress Academy Awards two years in a row: for her portrayal of a floozy named Trixie Delight in “Paper Moon” (1973) and as saloon singer Lili Von Shtupp in “Blazing Saddles” (1974).
In “Blazing Saddles,” Kahn used her classically trained voice in her amusing portrayal of a singer in the Wild West who helps Gene Wilder foil Brooks’ evil plan to do in the new sheriff in town.
“She is one of the most talented people that ever lived,” Brooks once said. “I mean, either in standup comedy, or acting, or whatever you want, you can’t beat Madeline Kahn.”
She won a Tony Award for best actress in 1993 with her role as ditsy Jewish matron Gorgeous Teitelbaum in “The Sisters Rosensweig.”
She also received Tony noms for “In the Boom Boom Room” in 1973, “On the 20th Century” in 1978 and “Born Yesterday” in 1989.
On TV, she was a regular on CBS’ 1970 summer series “Comedy Tonight”; in her own ABC sitcom in 1983, “Oh Madeline”; Fox Broadcasting’s 1987 sitcom “Mr. President,” with George C. Scott; and the CBS skein “Cosby,” which debuted in 1996.
She won an Emmy for an ABC afterschool special in 1987.
She also demonstrated her musical range on the bigscreen in “At Long Last Love” (1975) and in the TV specs “Celebrating Gershwin” (1987), “Sesame Street Special” and “Irving Berlin’s 100th Birthday Celebration” (1988).
In addition to “Blazing Saddles,” Kahn also made notable performances in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” and “High Anxiety.” From the 1970s through the ’90s, she appeared in a string of film comedies, including “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” “The Cheap Detective,” “The Muppet Movie,” “First Family,” “Clue” and “Betsy’s Wedding.”
Recent film roles included last year’s “A Bug’s Life” (as the voice of Gypsy), “Nixon” (1995) and “Mixed Nuts” (1994). She appeared as an unhappy housewife in festival favorite “Judy Berlin,” which will be released theatrically next year.
Kahn and Hansbury had been together since 1989; they married this past October.
When announcing her battle with ovarian cancer, Kahn said she wanted to inform others about the illness.
“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 in its earliest stage,” she said.
In addition to her husband, Kahn is survived by a brother. Memorial services are pending.