Nickerson at Wizard World Chicago in 2011
|Died||July 10, 2019 (aged 62)|
Aurora, Colorado, U.S.
Denise Nickerson (April 1, 1957 – July 10, 2019) was an American child actress who played Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Allison on The Electric Company, and Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, & Amy Collins in the soap opera Dark Shadows.
Nickerson was born on April 1, 1957, in New York City, to Flo, a clerical worker, and Fred Nickerson, a mail carrier. The family, along with older sister Carol and her son, moved to Miami, Florida. Nickerson, at the age of two, worked on a television commercial for a Florida heating company. At the age of four, she was discovered by Zev Buffman of Neighborhood Playhouse, at a local fashion show. A few years later, she was in the play Peter Pan as Wendy's daughter starring Betsy Palmer at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse. Buffman selected Nickerson to go on the road with the play, first to Washington, D. C.. When Denise was nine, the play ended. Her parents moved Carol and Nickerson back to New York City at 56th and Lexington in a studio apartment while they (and Shane, Carol's son), stayed with her grandmother in Massachusetts.
Nickerson made appearances in the 1960s on such shows as The Doctors as Kate Harris, and opposite Bill Bixby in an unsold television pilot called Rome Sweet Rome on The New Phil Silvers Show. Nickerson's big break came in 1968 when she joined the cast of ABC Daytime's Dark Shadows, appearing as recurring characters Amy Jennings and Nora Collins from 1968–1970. Upon leaving Dark Shadows, she appeared in the 1971 television movie The Neon Ceiling.
In 1971, Nickerson, aged 13, was cast as the nymphet Lolita in the ill-fated musical, Lolita, My Love during its run on Boston, which closed on the road. That year, she debuted in her signature role as gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde in the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
From 1972–73, Nickerson joined the cast of The Electric Company as "Allison", a member of the Short Circus music group. Producers saw the potential in her fresh face and had her sing lead on several songs, including "The Sweet Sweet Sway." She guest starred as Pamela (one of two dates Peter Brady had on one night) in a final-season episode of The Brady Bunch, "Two Petes in a Pod", and auditioned for the role of Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, losing to Linda Blair. Also in 1974, Nickerson was in the unsold television pilot If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? as Sophie Pennington based on M. E. Kerr's novel of the same name with Teddy Eccles.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Nickerson was in television commercials for Doublemint gum, IBM typewriters, and Pampers (diapers). She said, of the IBM commercial, that she knew nothing about typewriters. Nickerson said, of the Pampers commercial, she was posing as a babysitter, but never had used a diaper. Nickerson created the role of Liza Walton on the CBS soap, Search for Tomorrow. She remained with the series until they decided to age the character and make her one of the show's romantic heroines.
In 1973, Nickerson starred in the TV movie The Man Who Could Talk to Kids, opposite Peter Boyle and Scott Jacoby. In 1975 she appeared in the satiric, beauty-pageant inspired motion picture Smile, as Miss San Diego's Shirley Tolstoy also starring a young Melanie Griffith and Annette O'Toole.
Nickerson appeared in the 1978 film Zero to Sixty opposite Darren McGavin and Sylvia Miles, and TV film Child of Glass. She turned 21 in 1978, and quit acting. Nickerson found her parents had squandered her prior savings, so began a nursing career. Instead of a nurse, she became a doctor's office receptionist. Nickerson was a longtime attendee at fan conventions for both Willy Wonka and Dark Shadows. In 2001, Nickerson was herself in the documentary Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory directed by J.M. Kenny. In the documentary, producer David L. Wolper convinced Breaker Confections (a subsidiary of the Quaker Oats Company at the time; then changed to The Willy Wonka Candy Company and bought by Nestlé, now known as Nestlé Candy Shop) to make a new candy bar, buy the rights to the book and finance the picture to promote the new candy bar.
Nickerson finished appearing on television sporadically, including an episode of the 2000–2002 version of To Tell the Truth, as contestant number two.[vague] In 2011, some of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory's key cast members reunited for an episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts, which challenged the contestants to create an edible world of wonder. They reunited again in 2015 on the Today show.
Nickerson was hit by a car in 1976 while crossing the street and left in a full leg cast for eight months. She was married twice. Her first marriage was to Rick Keller in 1981; he died two years later of a brain aneurysm. Her second marriage was to Mark Willard in 1995; they had one son, Josh, before divorcing in 1998.
Illness and death
In June 2018, Nickerson suffered a severe stroke and was hospitalized in intensive care. She was discharged to a rehabilitation center the following month. In August, she went home to live under her family's care. In September 2018, Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory visited Nickerson after being discharged from a rehabilitation center.
On July 8, 2019, Nickerson accessed her various medications and ingested as much as she could while her son and daughter-in-law were out of the house. Her son took her to a hospital in respiratory distress. While in intensive care, she developed pneumonia.
Nickerson suffered a massive seizure the following day and slipped into a coma. She had a DNR order in place and on July 10, her family removed her from life support. She died later that day at the age of 62.
|1971||Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory||Violet Beauregarde|||
|1975||Smile||Shirley||DeLuxe Color satirical comedy-drama film directed by Michael Ritchie|
|1978||Zero to Sixty||'Larry' Wilde||Comedy film directed by Don Weis|
|1991||Dark Shadows: Behind the Scenes||Archival footage of Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, & Amy Collins||Direct-to-video documentary directed by Dan Curtis|||
|1996||Dark Shadows 30th Anniversary Tribute||Herself||Documentary|||
|2001||Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory||Documentary directed by J.M. Kenny|||
|2012||Celluloid Bloodbath: More Prevues from Hell||Direct-to-video documentary directed by Jim Monaco & James F. Murray Jr.|||
|1963||The Doctors||Kate Harris||Pilot episode|||
|1964||Rome Sweet Rome||Guest||Unsold television pilot on The New Phil Silvers Show|||
|1965||Flipper||Tina||Episode: "Bud Minds Baby"|
|1968–1970||Dark Shadows||Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, & Amy Collins||71 episodes|
|1971||The Neon Ceiling||Paula Miller||Made-for-TV movie directed by Frank Pierson|||
|1971–1972||Search for Tomorrow||Liza Walton Kaslo Sentell Kendall||2 episodes|
|1972||Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law||Ardis Carpenter||Episode: "Words of Summer"|
|1972–1973||The Electric Company||Allison in The Short Circus||Contract role|
|1973||The Man Who Could Talk to Kids||Dena Pingitore||Made-for-TV movie directed by Donald Wrye|
|1974||The Brady Bunch||Pamela Phillips||Episode: "Two Petes in a Pod"|
|If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?||Sophie Pennington|||
|1976||The Dark Side of Innocence||Gabriela Hancock||Made-for-TV movie directed by Jerry Thorpe|
|Bert D'Angelo/Superstar||Guest||Episode: "What Kind of Cop Are You?"|
|1978||The Wonderful World of Disney||Connie Sue Armsworth|||
|2003||After They Were Famous||Herself||Episode: "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory"|
|2011||Top Chef: Just Desserts||Episode: "Pure Imagination"|
|2012||Beyond the Marquee||Episode: "Meet the Wonka Kids"|
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The family was clear in stating that Denise was not on life support and that she had a DNR — do not resuscitate — in place.
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