Denise Nickerson, best known for playing the snobby, gum-chomping Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, has died following a series of medical issues. The actress’ family confirmed her death in a Facebook post, writing, “She’s gone.” Nickerson was 62.
Nickerson suffered a “major medical emergency” at home on Monday, followed by seizures and both pulmonary and respiratory distress. She was admitted to the intensive unit of a Colorado hospital, where doctors also discovered that she had aspirated and developed pneumonia. She previously endured a severe stroke in June 2018.
Born in New York City in 1957, Nickerson began her television career in the 1960s, debuting with a role in the adventure-drama series Flipper, and her breakout gig came in 1968 with a recurring spot on the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.
She landed her most iconic part at age 13 in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, director Mel Stuart’s film musical adaptation of the 1964 Roald Dahl novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She stole scenes as the mean-spirited Beauregarde, one of several children antagonists promised a lifetime supply of chocolate from titular chocolatier Wonka, played by Gene Wilder. (She winds up with purple skin, swollen into a massive blueberry.)
Nickerson continued to work in television and film throughout the 1970s, including spots on The Brady Bunch, educational children’s series The Electric Company and Michael Ritchie’s satirical comedy-drama Smile. She retired from acting in 1978, later working in doctor’s offices and as a receptionist. Despite reports to the contrary, she never worked as a professional nurse: “The career I would most closely say she held was an accountant,” her family wrote on Facebook.
Nickerson is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Joshua and Jasmine Nickerson, who created a Go Fund Me page to help pay her death expenses.