Legendary film actor Gene Wilder has died, his family announced Monday. Wilder’s nephew said that the iconic ‘Willy Wonka’ actor passed away late Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept his condition private so as not to disappoint his devoted fans. ‘He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,’ Walker-Pearlman said.
Gene Wilder started his acting career on the stage, but millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially from his collaborations with filmmaker Mel Brooks on ‘The Producers,’ ”Blazing Saddles’ and ‘Young Frankenstein.
‘One of the truly great talents of our time,’ Mel Brooks tweeted after news broke of Wilder’s death. ‘He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.’ Wilder frequently collaborated with the writer and director as well as stand-up comedian Richard Pryor.
Wilder was Oscar-nominated twice in his career. He was nominated for his writing efforts for Young Frankenstein shared with his long time collaborator Mel Brooks. He was also nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role as Leo Bloom in The Producers (1967)
Wilder first made his named on Broadway before transitioning to the silver screen for a brief role as a kidnapped undertaker in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). In 1971, he took on the role of one of his most beloved and iconic characters, Willy Wonka, in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Wilder forged a creative partnership with comedian Richard Pryor over the course of the 1970s and ’80s, working together on films like Stir Crazy, Silver Streak, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Wilder’s other well-known roles included the Waco Kid in the 1974 cult classic Blazing Saddles and Doctor Ross in Woody Allen’s 1972 film, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask.
Wilder was married four times. He met his third wife in 1982, while making the movie Hanky-Panky. It was there he fell in love with his co-star Gilda Radner, who was well known from her comedic roles on Saturday Night Live. They were married in 1984, and co-starred in two Wilder-penned films: The Lady in Red and ‘Haunted Honeymoon. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989 and Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research. He opened a support facility for cancer patients called ‘Gilda’s Place.’ In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer.
The year Radner died, Wilder met his future fourth wife Karen Boyer, a clinical supervisor for the New York League for the Hard of Hearing, who helped teach him lip reaching for his role in the film See No Evil, Hear No Evil. After the film, they reconnected and were married in 1991 and were together till his death.
Gene Wilder was a Milwaukee native and was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1935. His father was a Russian immigrant and his mother was of Polish descent. When he was 6, Wilder’s mother suffered a heart attack that left her a partly paralysed. He began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, this was the first indication of his immense talent. He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued performing and taking lesson through college. In 1961, Wilder became a member of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actor’s Studio in Manhattan.