On Wednesday, July 10, her family announced her passing on Facebook.
“She’s gone,” the simple message read.
Nickerson had been doing well over the past year after suffering a massive stroke in June 2018. However, some unforeseen circumstances caused a medical emergency this week and Denise passed away.
Nickerson landed her first acting gig on the television series Dark Shadows. She then went on to play Violet in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before she starred on The Electric Company. She has also starred in several movies, including If I Love You and Zero to Sixty.
After she retired from the Hollywood scene, she worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office before becoming an accountant.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Her Family Had Been Posting Updates on Facebook & Announced Denise Had a DNR in Place
Several hours before Denise passed away, the Nickerson family took to Facebook to update fans on her condition, revealing that Denise was taken off of machines — “like the IV drip with antibiotics and anti-seizure meds, and a very strong oxygen pump.” The family was clear in stating that Denise was not on life support and that she had a DNR — do not resuscitate — in place.
A DNR is also known as “no code” or “allow natural death.” It is a legal order that indicates that a person does not want to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if their heart stops beating. In most cases, a DNR would prevent a patient from being placed on life support.
“Denise was not taken off life support. 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). We stopped the use of those at 4 am because it wasn’t helping her,” the post read.
“She was declining just as fast with the machines running as she has without them running. They were just making her uncomfortable and were unnecessary to stop or fix the problems she’s having. She’s surviving at a base level, while much longer than anticipated, she’s not suffering but also not being ‘rushed’ along,” the post continued.
2. Denise’s Family Said She Got Into Her Medicine & Took ‘as Many as She Could’, Causing a Medical Emergency
Denise was left alone for a short amount of time — about 7 minutes — while her son drove her daughter-in-law to a doctor appointment. In the time they were gone, Denise took several pills, her family says.
She had “[gotten] into her medicines and took as many as she could,” according to a post on GoFundMe. Further details about how or why Denise took these medications were not made clear.
When Denise’s son Josh returned to the house, he found his mom in rough shape and he immediately rushed her to the hospital. Over the next two days, Nickerson’s health declined rapidly.
3. Denise Nickerson Had Several Seizures & Was Diagnosed With Pneumonia Prior to Her Death
After what sounds like an overdose, Denise suffered several seizures in the hospital. Her body was in distress and her organs started failing.
“Denise had a major medical emergency yesterday morning. We spent all day in the ER and she was finally moved into the ICU last night. She’s had seizures this morning and is in pulmonary and respiratory distress. The doctors have found that she aspirated and has developed pneumonia. They have upped her oxygen. She’s under a DNR order so they aren’t putting her on a ventilator or feeding tube and right now we just have to wait for updates,” read an update from the Nickerson family.
Another update revealed that Nickerson had been having trouble breathing.
“So, after the seizure and because of the pneumonia, she’s not really breathing on her own. Specifically, she’s not exhaling. Her lungs and brain activity are too weak. As it stood earlier today, she had too much CO2 in her blood and she’s in almost a coma-like state. She will respond to being shaken and open her eyes but there’s not really [acknowledgment] of any kind. Since we got here, they ran another venous gas test and the CO2 level in her blood has increased, so she’s getting worse. The doctor is playing it by ear basically. They’re just keeping her comfortable but it’s just matter of time at this point,” the post read.
4. Denise Nickerson Suffered a Massive Stroke in June 2018
Last July, TMZ reported that Nickerson suffered a massive stroke the month prior. The stroke left her in critical condition.
“It’s a waiting game. It’s the worst. She’s breathing on her own but they can’t remove the ventilator today because they don’t think she has the strength to cough and not aspirate,” Denise’s daughter-in-law Jasmine wrote on Facebook at the time.
Denise was released from the hospital and spent the last year at home. She seemed to be doing well, according to regular family updates that had been posted on Facebook over the past several months.
“Denise had her doctor’s appointment today,” the update in the Facebook post above begins. “The doctor is so impressed with her progress and he has submitted to remove her peg line from her stomach! She’s eating full meals again and maintaining her weight. She walked the entire time we were out instead of using her wheelchair. We’re so proud of her progress.”
5. The Nickerson Family Has set up a GoFundMe & Has Received More Than $10,000
Denise Nickerson is survived by her only son, Josh, and his wife, Jasmine. Josh’s dad is Mark Willard, who was married to Denise from 1995 through 1998. Denise was previously married to Richard Keller from 1981 until 1983.
Josh and Jasmine are expecting their first baby together next month. The couple set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for the medical bills that have been accumulating over the past year.
“Jasmine quit her job to stay at home with her full-time so she didn’t have to live in a nursing home. We gave up over half of our income at that time and have done everything we can to survive. Joshua works a second job to float us for groceries and necessities. We found out in January we are pregnant with [our] first child, due August 26th,” reads part of the GoFundMe’s description.
So far, the family has exceeded its $10,000 goal by $2,000.