R.I.P. Gene Wilder

Dammit, 2016, you need to let up already with all the celebrity deaths. There seems to be no end to them this year. The latest icon to leave us is beloved comedian Gene Wilder. He was 83.

Wilder will of course be remembered eternally for his signature role as the loony candy magnate in the classic children’s film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory‘. The carefully balanced mixture of childlike whimsy with dark undercurrents he brought to the movie made and continues to make an indelible impression on the generations of children who have grown up watching it since its original release in 1971. His will continue to be the definitive take on the Wonka character long after Johnny Depp’s goofy mugging in the big-budget 2005 remake is forgotten, if it hasn’t already been forgotten.

To my mind, Wilder’s work with Mel Brooks in the trio of ‘The Producers‘, ‘Blazing Saddles‘ and (especially) ‘Young Frankenstein‘ is an even greater artistic achievement. All three movies remain hilarious decades later, which is a very rare feat for any comedy, much less three produced in such a short period.

In 1976, Wilder teamed up with Richard Pryor for the raucous ‘Silver Streak’, and their chemistry together proved so infectious that it continued to pay dividends in the 1980s with their follow-ups ‘Stir Crazy’ and ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’. (A fourth collaboration, ‘Another You’, was less successful.)

Gene Wilder met ‘Saturday Night Live’ comedienne Gilda Radner in 1982 and fell instantly in love with her. They wed in 1984, but were married only five years before she died of cancer. The loss devastated Wilder, and his career slowed down after that point. His last major role was the lead in the short-lived sitcom ‘Something Wilder’ in 1994. A small supporting part in a couple episodes of ‘Will & Grace’ in 2002 and 2003 marked his final on-screen acting appearances, but also won him an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. After that, he focused on writing, charity work, and other interests.

Wilder had health problems in his later years, including his own bout with cancer. Although he was reported to be in remission from that since 2005, he looked quite frail in recent public appearances. Upon his death on Tuesday, Wilder’s family released a statement revealing that he had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for the past three years, and his passing was due to complications from that illness.

[Source: Entertainment Weekly]


  1. NJScorpio

    There are a handful of comedic actors who I feel formed my sense of humor, growing up watching movies in the 80’s. Some being movies I discovered on my own, many being movies from the decade prior that my mother showed me.

    Gene Wilder was a huge influence on my sense of humor, and when I have children myself, I’ll be sure to show them all his films.

  2. Csm101

    Young Frankenstein, Stir Crazy, Willy Wonka, and The Woman in Red are my favorite Wilder movies. My mother was a big fan of his, and I remember going to see Haunted Honeymoon in theaters when it was released, but I don’t recall too much about it. I see Kino is releasing it in September and I just may pick it up. We’ve lost some serious talent this year.

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