Willy Wonka star and all-round comedy great Jerome Silberman – better known to you and I as the inimitable Gene Wilder – has passed away following complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, confirmed that the stage and screen icon had died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut on Monday, August 29. Wilder had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 1989. Further details are not currently available at this time.
Before landing his defining role as the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder enjoyed his screen debut through the Armstrong Circle Theatre TV series. That was in ’62, before holding a bit-part in Bonnie and Clyde five years later; it wasn’t until 1968, however, that Wilder made his first major breakthrough with the Leopold Bloom film.
What followed was a string of landmark collaborations with two writer-directors: Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks. The latter of whom helped fire Gene Wilder to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Producers, before the creative pair followed that with Blazing Saddles in 1974 and and Young Frankenstein. Meanwhile, Pryor and Wilder found success toward the latter stages of Wilder’s career, joining forces for Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991).
Wilder’s legacy is perhaps best surmised by his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman:
“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.”
To Gene Wilder – acting icon and all-round comedy genius, thanks for the memories.