The world of comedy and the world of cinema lost a true legend today when it was revealed that actor and comedian Gene Wilder passed away at the age of 83. Gene starred in classics like Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, and even Stir Crazy. According to his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman, he passed away from complications of Alzheimer at his home in Stamford, CT. His nephew released a statement saying:
We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.
He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the the company of beloved ones.
I remember the first time I ever saw Gene Wilder in a film and it was actually Hear No Evil, See No Evil with Richard Pryor. I thought it was the greatest and funniest film when I was kid and I wanted to see more from him. Then I was completely blown away by his performance in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which to me is untouchable. Gene in his career was nominated for two Oscars with one being for his role in The Producers and the other for co-writing Young Frankenstein. He did however win an Emmy in 2003 for his guest work on the TV show Will & Grace. He made his debut on Broadway starring in the off Broadway play Roots before forming a friendship with Mel Brooks in 1963 after Brooks saw him in Brecht’s Mother Courage (Anne Bancroft was Brook’s wife and she was in the play as well). He did win an award on Broadway as he won the Clarence Derwent Award for promising newcomer.
One of Wilder’s better runs was when he co-starred with Richard Pryor in films like 1976’s Silver Streak, Stir Crazy (which was a big hit), and the lesser of the hits like Hear No Evil, See No Evil, and Another You with Richard Pryor. While filming Hanky Panky, he met his third wife, the legendary Saturday Night Live alum Gilder Radner. She would star in his most successful directing effort The Woman In Red in 1984 and she was in his other film Haunted Honeymoon before she grew ill with ovarian cancer. He devoted a lot of his time to taking care of her, but after her death he barely worked at all. His last real acting gig was for Will & Grace in 2002/03 before he left for good. Gene will definitely be missed as the world mourns the loss of another legend. R.I.P. Gene Wilder (June 11, 1933 – August 28, 2016).