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'Willy Wonka' actress Denise Nickerson dies at age 62

The former actress played Violet Beauregarde in the classic film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."
Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate FactorySteve Granitz/WireImage, Alamy Stock
/ Source: TODAY

Denise Nickerson, known for her role as sassy, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde in the classic film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” has died. She was 62.

Nickerson’s son, Josh, and daughter-in-law, Jasmine, made the announcement on their Facebook page.

“She’s gone,” it read.

Cast of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," (Back Row L-R) Michael Bollner, Ursula Reit, Leonard Stone, Gene Wilder, Roy Kinnear; (Front Row L-R) Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Nora Denney, Paris Themmen, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, 1971.Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection

Jasmine Nickerson later confirmed the death to NBC News. “She passed at approximately 10:15 tonight,” she said Wednesday evening.

Prior to her passing, the family posted an update announcing her death was imminent.

“They just took off all the equipment. None of it was helping, but making her only more uncomfortable. We’re telling her it’s okay to let go,” it read.

The actress had been on life support, reported Variety, although her family disputed that claim in a Facebook post shortly before her death.

“Denise was not taken off life support,” the family wrote, in part. “She has a DNR in place. She was never ON life support. She simply had basic machines running like the IV drip with antibiotics and anti seizure meds, and a very strong oxygen pump (not a ventilator which is a life support device).”

Nickerson had been in intensive care after she had a stroke in June 2018.

“She’s stable and had the feeding tube put in this afternoon,” her family said in a statement to TODAY after the stroke. “She’s doing OK. We are holding strong as well. The only message we really have is that we are positive she’s getting better and continuing to fight so we have hope. We appreciate all the thoughts, prayers, love, donations, and kindness sent to us and her at this time.”

Nickerson enjoyed success as a young actress, appearing on “The Electric Company” and “Dark Shadows,” but her most memorable role was Violet in 1971’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” One of the film’s more memorable scenes featured her turning violet (“Violet, you're turning violet, Violet!”) and blowing up like a blueberry after she chews a piece of gum that’s actually a three-course meal.

Violet turns violet while eating a piece of gum inside the chocolate factory.Alamy Stock

Nickerson retired from acting by the end of the 1970s and went to work in a doctor’s office. While some reports indicated she was a nurse, her family clarified that on Facebook. “Denise was not a nurse. She worked in doctor’s offices as a receptionist and that wasn’t even the ‘end all, be all’ job for her,” they wrote.

Back in 2015, Nickerson appeared with several of the film’s stars on TODAY and said she didn’t mind chewing so much gum for the movie. “I was having a ball,” she said.