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Willy Wonka star Denise Nickerson, who played gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, dies at 62

By Josh Grossberg
Denise Nickerson

Denise Nickerson, the child star celebrated for her gum-loving portrayal of Violet Beauregarde opposite Gene Wilder's cagey candy man in the 1971 film classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, died Wednesday night.

She was 62.

Her family confirmed her death in a Facebook update, which read simply, "she's gone."

Nickerson had suffered a "major medical emergency" on Monday night and was admitted to a Colorado hospital where she was placed in an intensive care unit. In earlier posts, her family shared that she had subsequently caught pneumonia and had a massive seizure suffered from "pulmonary and respiratory distress."

Correcting early misinformation, the family added that Nickerson was "not taken off life support" but had a "DNR," or Do No Resuscitate order in place.

Nickerson had suffered a severe stroke in June 2018 that necessitated long-term care. Nickerson's son, Josh, and his wife Jasmine, has set up a GoFundMe to help them with her medical bills as well as fulfill her final wish that her remains be cremated and her ashes be turned into a "a piece of glass art."

Born April 1, 1957 in New York City, Nickerson's first brush with Hollywood came in a 1965 episode of TV's Flipper when she was eight-years-old. She was later cast as two recurring characters, Amy Jennings and Nora Collins, in the ABC cult series Dark Shadows. She also scored parts on The Electric Company and appeared in The Brady Brunch.

But it was her turn at the age of 13 as the gum-obsessed snobby Violet Beauregarde in director Mel Stuart's big screen adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – retitled Willy Wonky & the Chocolate Factory – for which she'll forever be remembered.

Violet Beauregarde

In the movie, Violet is one of five children who find a Golden Ticket in their Wonka bar and are invited to tour the mysterious candymaker's candy factory and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Unfortunately for Violet, her sweet tooth gets the better of her. After sampling an Everlasting Gobstopper in the Inventing Room, and despite Wonka's warnings, she tries a gum containing a three-course meal that turns her into a giant blueberry and the Oompa-Loompas roll her away to be squeezed before she explodes.

Violet Beauregarde Blueberry

Nickerson went on to act in two subsequent films, Smile and Zero to Sixty, before leaving show business at the age of 21.

Contrary to news reports, her family noted on Facebook that Nickerson was not a nurse, but pursued a career as an accountant. But she always embraced her Wonka legacy, participating in several cast reunions, including a scrumptious 2011 gathering on Top Chef: Just Desserts and a 2015 appearance on The Today Show.

Nickerson is survived by her son and daughter-in-law.

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