The comedy world has lost an icon in the truest sense of the title, as Gene Wilder has passed away at age 83. According to Variety, the man who captivated audiences as Willy Wonka and made fans laugh until it hurt in such comedy classics as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Milwaukee, Wilder made a memorable big-screen debut in Bonnie and Clyde. Wilder’s career was filled with celebrated titles and memorable performances, from his role as Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (the 1967 film that began a string of team-ups with Mel Brooks) to his portrayal of Theodore Pierce in 1984’s The Woman in Red, which he wrote and directed. Wilder was married four times, including a third marriage to Gilda Radner, whom he met on the set of the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky. Wilder and Radner co-starred in several films and Wilder helped create a pair of cancer charities, Gilda’s Club and the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center, after her death in 1989.
If there was ever a complaint about his work, it was that there wasn’t enough of it. After starring in Another You with Richard Pryor in 1991, Wilder’s work was limited to television, where he starred in several TV movies and his own short-lived series, Something Wilder. His final on-screen role was that of Mr. Stein on Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. (His very last role was as the voice of Elmer in The Yo Gabba Gabba! Movie 2.)
In recent years, Wilder’s return from retirement became sort of a wish to fans, as we’d most recently heard a rumor that Steven Spielberg was courting the actor for a role in Ready Player One. Wilder was the kind of guy whose name alone could simply excite fans, perhaps because they remember him so fondly as the man offering Charlie a new life in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or because he made us all laugh in those aforementioned unforgettable Brooks films.
Through personal relationships or simply by influence, Wilder has undoubtedly touched so many people working in Hollywood and beyond today. The outpouring for his passing will be considerable and absolutely deserved. We will post updates as they become available.