40 Years after the legendary comedy show's debut, it's stars reflect on two friends they lost

Updated February 14, 2015 02:15 PM
Credit: Everett

Endlessly talented and gone too soon; so is the story of two of Saturday Night Live’s founding cast members, John Belushi and Gilda Radner.

Belushi, known best on the show for his Samurai Futaba character and impersonations, enjoyed big screen success with Blues Brothers and other films, before tragically dying of an accidental drug overdose in 1982 at the age of 33.

Radner won an Emmy for her work on SNL after keeping viewers in stitches with her popular Rosanne Rosannadana character. She sadly died of ovarian cancer in 1989 at the age of 42.

Ahead of its upcoming 40th Anniversary show on Sunday, Feb. 15, NBC will re-air SNL‘s very first episode on Feb. 14., which, bolstered Belushi, Radner and others into comedic stardom. PEOPLE caught up with some founding cast mates who remember their friends fondly.

Chevy Chase“It’s not hard looking back. It would only be hard if I tried to forget them. I loved these people and it was unfortunate how they died but they were wonderful. John was like up to my shoulder but a brick, strong fella, but he had his issues, as you know. Gilda always had a pocketbook filled with candy. That’s all she ate, she loved it. She was loved by many. I think about the loss of Gilda and particularly the loss of John and think, that’s it, you’re never going to find them again, anything like them.”

Laraine Newman“One time during a rehearsal in Louisiana, Gilda and I were left in a room somewhere for four hours. No food or water, no bathroom. No way to communicate. Remember, cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. But, Gilda being Gilda, made it a party. The room had one of those little metal trash cans with a lid and foot pedal that lifted it. This became Gilda’s puppet and I interviewed it. And, for 4 hours, we howled. She was such a dear friend.”

Jane Curtin“We were all siblings. Let’s put it that way. And we were all very protective of each other.[Executive producer] Lorne [Michaels] and I, we didn’t blend well. We were like oil and water. So we would communicate through Gilda. One time he wanted me to rip my shirt open during Weekend Update, but he was scared to ask me. Gilda came to me and she said, ‘Lorne wants to ask you something but he’s too afraid.’ Losing John and Gilda was sad, but it’s not just them. We’ve lost many. Some of the memories are lovely, some are sad, some are funny. But you keep going back.”

The inaugural SNL episode airs Saturday Feb. 14 at 11:30 PM EST on NBC. The anniversary special airs Sunday at 8 PM.