Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, passed away on Sunday at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilder died Sunday night in the company of his loved ones in his home in Stamford, Connecticut. The iconic actor had been fighting against Alzheimer’s disease for three years. His condition was kept in private as a consensus between him and his family. The event was announced by his nephew, who remembered the last moments alongside Wilder as he gave his last breaths. They were listening to music, specifically to Ella Fitzgerald, who Wilder got to know and cared about dearly.
“The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family. We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones,” stated his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman.
A man who made others laugh and cry
Gene Wilder started his career at Broadway, starring in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Luv and Complaisant Lover. Wilder starred in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, while he also nourished his partnership with filmmaker Mel Brooks. It was on Brooks’ film The Producers where Wilder was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor.
He was also nominated for adapted screenplay on 1974’s Young Frankenstein. In 1997, Wilder was diagnosed with lymphoma, but he announced completely fending off the disease in 2002.
Wilder is more frequently recognized by his stellar role as Willy Wonka in a film considered to be a milestone in the history of filmmaking. For his role, Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best motion picture actor.
Brooks would cast Wilder for roles that needed a man with unkempt hair and maddening thoughts. Once as a mad scientists’ descendant in Young Frankenstein and also as the diabolical mastermind and creator of havoc in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate factory, Brooks would call Wilder “God’s perfect prey, the victim in all of us.”
Artists and celebrities wrote their condolences on Twitter, remembering a funny man with nothing but smiles and good thoughts as his legacy. Jimmy Kimmel called Gene Wilder simply “the best,” while Jim Carrey remembered Wilder’s funny and sweet attitude and assured that there would be a Golden Ticket for him to go to heaven.
Curiously, Wilder stated in 2013 that he was not a comedian:
“But when people see me in a movie and it’s funny then they stop and say things to me about ‘how funny you were.’ But I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be in the movies.”
Wilder was married from 1991 to the time of his death to Karen Boyer. He also had a daughter, Katherine Wilder, who he officially adopted in 1967 after marrying his first wife Mary Joan Schutz. They got divorced after seven years of marriage under the belief that Gene had an affair with his Young Frankenstein co-star Madeline Kahn. Wilder stated in interviews that his daughter had not forgiven him and “lost her a long while ago,” when she was 22 or 23.
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.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 29, 2016