Denise Nickerson

Denise Marie Nickerson (April 1, 1957 – July 10, 2019)[1] was an American actress. She started her career as a child actress playing bratty bubblegum-chewing Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory; Allison on The Electric Company; and Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, and Amy Collins in the soap opera Dark Shadows.

Denise Nickerson
Denise Nickerson by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Nickerson in 2017
Born(1957-04-01)April 1, 1957
DiedJuly 10, 2019(2019-07-10) (aged 62)
Years active1959–2012
Rich Keller
(m. 1981; died 1983)
Mark Willard
(m. 1995; div. 1998)

Early lifeEdit

Nickerson was born on April 1, 1957,[2] in New York City,[3] to Flo, a clerical worker, and Fred Nickerson, a mail carrier. The family, along with older sister Carol and her son, moved to Miami.[2] Nickerson, at the age of two, worked on a television commercial for a Florida heating company. At the age of four, she was discovered at a fashion show by Broadway Theatre producer Zev Buffman of drama school the Neighborhood Playhouse[2] 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.[2] 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.[4]

Acting careerEdit

Nickerson made appearances in the 1960s on such shows as The Doctors as Kate Harris,[4][5] and opposite Bill Bixby in an unsold television pilot called Rome Sweet Rome on The New Phil Silvers Show.[6][7] Nickerson's big break came in 1968 when she joined the cast of ABC Daytime's Dark Shadows, appearing as recurring characters Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, and Amy Collins from 1968 to 1970.[8][9] Upon leaving Dark Shadows, she appeared in the 1971 television movie The Neon Ceiling.[10][11]

In 1971, Nickerson, aged 13, was cast as the nymphet Lolita in the ill-fated musical, Lolita, My Love during its run in Boston, which closed on the road.[3][12] 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.[8][9][13]

Nickerson at Wizard World Chicago in 2011

From 1972 to 1973, 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.[14] 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.[15][16]

During the 1960s and 1970s, Nickerson was in television commercials for Doublemint gum, IBM typewriters, and Pampers (diapers).[17] 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.[18] Nickerson created the role of Liza Walton on the CBS Daytime soap opera, 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.[3][11]

In 1973, Nickerson starred in the TV movie The Man Who Could Talk to Kids, opposite Peter Boyle and Scott Jacoby.[19] 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.[20]

Nickerson appeared in the 1978 film Zero to Sixty opposite Darren McGavin and Sylvia Miles,[21] and TV film Child of Glass.[11]

Post-Acting CareerEdit

After turning 21 in 1978, Nickerson quit acting and subsequently discovered that her parents had squandered her prior savings from her television and film career.[1][22] Nickerson began nursing school, but ultimately worked as a receptionist and later as an office manager/accountant in a doctor's office.[9]

Nickerson was a longtime attendee at fan conventions for both Willy Wonka and Dark Shadows.[21]

In 2001, Nickerson appeared in the documentary Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory directed by J.M. Kenny.

In later years, Nickerson appeared on television sporadically, including an appearance on an episode of the 2000–2002 version of To Tell the Truth, in which three of the four celebrity panelists correctly identified her as Violet, though a majority of the studio audience did not.[vague]

In 2003, Nickerson and some of her Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory castmates appeared on an episode of the British television documentary series, After They Were Famous, also directed by J. M. Kenny.

In 2011, some of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory's key cast members, which included Nickerson, reunited for an episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts, which challenged the contestants to create an edible world of wonder. The partial Wonka cast reunited again in 2015 on the Today show.[23]

Personal lifeEdit

Nickerson was hit by a car in 1976 while crossing the street and left in a full leg cast for eight months.[24]

She was married twice. Her first marriage was to Rick Keller in 1981; he died two years later of a brain aneurysm.[25] Her second marriage was to Mark Willard in 1995; they had one son, Josh, before divorcing in 1998.[25]

Illness and deathEdit

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.[26] In September 2018, Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory visited Nickerson after she was discharged from a rehabilitation center.[8]

On July 8, 2019, Nickerson "got into her medicines and took 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.[27]

Nickerson suffered a massive seizure the following day and slipped into a coma. She had a DNR order in place[28] and on July 10, her family removed her from life support.[29][30] She died later that day from pneumonia at the age of 62.[1][23]



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Violet Beauregarde [13]
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
(final film role)
1991 Dark Shadows: Behind the Scenes Archival footage of Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, & Amy Collins Direct-to-video documentary directed by Dan Curtis [31]
1996 Dark Shadows 30th Anniversary Tribute Herself Documentary [32]
2001 Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Documentary directed by J.M. Kenny [33][34]
2012 Celluloid Bloodbath: More Prevues from Hell Direct-to-video documentary directed by Jim Monaco and James F. Murray Jr. [35]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1963 The Doctors Kate Harris Pilot episode [4][5]
1964 Rome Sweet Rome Guest Unsold television pilot on The New Phil Silvers Show [6][7]
1965 Flipper Tina Episode: "Bud Minds Baby"
1968–1970 Dark Shadows Amy Jennings, Nora Collins (1897), & Amy Collins (1970 PT) 71 episodes [2]
1971 The Neon Ceiling Paula Miller Made-for-TV movie directed by Frank Pierson [10]
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 130 episodes
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 [36]
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"


Title Role Location Dates Notes Ref.
Sherry! Ensemble Alvin Theatre March 28–May 27, 1967 Based on The Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart [37][38]
Our Town Rebecca Gibbs Anta Playhouse November 27–December 27, 1969 Metatheatrical three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder [37]



  1. ^ a b c Kilkenny, Katie (July 10, 2019). "Denise Nickerson, Violet in 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,' Dies at 62". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hamrick & Jamison 2012, p. 267.
  3. ^ a b c BBC News Staff (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson: Violet Beauregarde actress dies aged 62". BBC News. London: BBC. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Hamrick & Jamison 2012, p. 268.
  5. ^ a b Terrace 1985, p. 115.
  6. ^ a b Berard & Englund 2009, p. 398.
  7. ^ a b Berard & Englund 2009, p. 403.
  8. ^ a b c Hautman, Nicholas (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson Dead: Willy Wonka's Violet Beauregarde Dies at 62". Us Weekly. United States: American Media, Inc. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Reed, Ryan (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson, 'Willy Wonka' Actress, Dead at 62". Rolling Stone. United States. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Lowry, Cynthia (February 9, 1971). "Sensitive Portrayal: 'Neon Ceiling' Is Off-beat". Kentucky New Era. Hopkinsville: Paxton Media Group. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c "The Stars of Dark Shadows: Where Are They Now? Denise Nickerson".
  12. ^ Dominic McHugh, ed. (2014). Alan Jay Lerner: A Lyricist's Letters. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199949274.
  13. ^ a b Dahl, Roald (2016) [1964]. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. London (orig - New York City): Puffin Books (orig - Alfred A. Knopf). ISBN 978-0425287668.CS1 maint: location (link)
  14. ^ Nastasi, Alison (February 21, 2015). "The Actors Who Turned Down Controversial Movie Roles". Flavorwire. New York City: Bustle Digital Group. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Goldberg, Lee (1990). Unsold Television Pilots 1955-1989. Scotts Valley, California: CreateSpace. ISBN 9781511590679.
  16. ^ a b Meaker, M. E. (1974). If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?. New York City: Laurel-Leaf. ISBN 978-0440943204.
  17. ^ Hamrick & Jamison 2012, p. 275.
  18. ^ Hamrick & Jamison 2012, p. 274.
  19. ^ Mosby, Wade H. (October 17, 1973). "Drama Has Something To Say". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee: Gannett Company. p. 62. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  20. ^ Monaco 1992, p. 863.
  21. ^ a b Wiseman, Andreas; Evans, Greg (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson Dies: 'Willy Wonka', 'Dark Shadows' Actress Was 62". Deadline Hollywood. United States: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  22. ^ Hamrick & Jamison, p. 268.
  23. ^ a b Gonzalez, Sandra (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson, Violet in 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,' has died". CNN. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b
  26. ^ Fernandez, Alexia (July 11, 2018). "Willy Wonka Star Denise Nickerson Suffers Serious Stroke Leaving Her in the ICU". People. United States. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  27. ^ Savitsky, Sasha (July 10, 2019). "'Willy Wonka' actress Denise Nickerson taken off life support 1 year after stroke". Fox News. New York City: Fox Corporation. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  28. ^ Orfanides, Effie (July 11, 2019). "Denise Nickerson Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. Retrieved July 13, 2019. The family was clear in stating that Denise was not on life support and that she had a DNR — do not resuscitate — in place.
  29. ^ "Willy Wonka Actress Denise Nickerson Stopping Treatment in Hospital". TMZ. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. July 10, 2019. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  30. ^ DeSantis, Rachel (July 10, 2019). "Willy Wonka Star Denise Nickerson, 62, Taken Off Life Support After Suffering Severe Stroke". People. United States. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  31. ^ Dark Shadows: Behind the Scenes (release; made in 1991). MPI Home Video (VHS). Orland Park, Illinois: MPI Media Group. May 15, 2001. ASIN 6302275938. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  32. ^ Dark Shadows 30th Anniversary Tribute (release; made in 1996). MPI Home Video (VHS). Orland Park, Illinois: MPI Media Group. May 15, 2001. ASIN B00005BK3T. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  33. ^ J.M. Kenny (November 2, 2009). Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory 1971 Region Free. Warner Home Video (Blu-ray) (40th Anniversary ed.). Burbank, California: Warner Bros. ASIN B002GJI758. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  34. ^ J.M. Kenny (October 18, 2011). Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Warner Home Video (DVD) (40th Anniversary ed.). Burbank, California: Warner Bros. ASIN B005F96UJ6. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  35. ^ Celluloid Bloodbath: More Prevues from Hell. Virgil Home Video (DVD). New York City: Virgil Films and Entertainment LLC. October 9, 2012. ASIN B008JEJSDO. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  36. ^ Peck, Richard (1975). The Ghost Belonged to Me (1st ed.). London: Viking Children's. ISBN 978-0670337675.
  37. ^ a b Hamrick & Jamison 2012, p. 276.
  38. ^ Mermelstein, David (April 25, 2004). "THEATER; A Musical Flop Does a Flip". The New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2019.


External linksEdit