Gene Wilder, the actor best known for his headlining roles in such films as Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, Stir Crazy, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers, died today at his at home in Stamford, CT, of complications from Alzheimerâ€™s disease, according to Variety. He had also been diagnosed with non-Hodgkinâ€™s lymphoma in 1989.
Wilder was the star of many beloved classics and helped pave the way for “pure imagination” to many of today’s creative artists, whether they are directors, actors, or music performers.
Here is a statement released by his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman:
â€œWe understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones â€” 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 wasnâ€™t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him â€œthereâ€™s Willy Wonka,â€ 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 couldnâ€™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.â€
Here’s what long-time collaborator and friend Mel Brooks said on Twitter about Wilder’s passing:
Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.
In addition to Young Frankenstein, the Milwaukee, WI-born actor (born Jerome Silberman) starred in two other Mel Brooks comedies, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers. The comedic actor also appeared alongside Richard Prior for four comedies, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, Another You, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. But perhaps his most notable performance comes from 1971’s Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, the film adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), where he played the candy-curating title character who sang and danced his way into our childhood hearts.
Aside from films, the two-time Oscar nominee also appeared on stage multiple times and in a handful of episodes on television, including Will & Grace for which he won an Emmy. Just before his passing, the actor was rumored to be courted by Steven Spielberg to play a role in the upcoming adaptation of Ready Player One.
In 1984, Wilder married his third wife, Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radner, who he was with up until her death from ovarian cancer in 1989. After her passing, he co-founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles, as well as Gilda’s Club support group to raise cancer awareness. He is survived by his survived by his wife of 25 years Karen Boyer, and his nephew. His sister, Corinne, passed away earlier this year.
As sad as Wilder’s passing is, let’s celebrate some of his great works, as there were many.