The legendary film actor Gene Wilder has died. Best known to children the world over as Willy Wonka, died late Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world, stated his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said.
Wilder started his acting career on stage, but it was his collaborations with Mel Brooks on The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein that brought the young actor’s to comedic prominence. Wilder was a member of Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio and was both on and off-Broadway. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene’s comedy The Complaisant Lover.
Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1935, Wilder took his professional name from Eugene Gant in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Back, Homeward Angel and his last name was clipped from playwright Thornton Wilder. He met Mel Brooks when he co-starred with Anne Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. Before starring in The Producers, he had a small role as the hostage of gangsters in the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde.
After The Producers Gene landed a part in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.
It was 1974 both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein came out. Wilder co-wrote Frankenstein with Brooks, for which he received an Oscar nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Wilder also began directing films around this time in his career, starting in 1975 with The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. The 1986 film haunted Honeymoon was the last film he directed.
Wilder found himself half of another Hollywood power duo when he starred with comedian Richard Pryor, Silver Streak. Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991) followed
His final major acting appearance came in 2003 when he played the boss of Eric McCormick’s character on the NBC show Will & Grace for two episodes, a role for which he won the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy. It was the only major award that Wilder ever won during the course of his career, though he was nominated several times.
Wilder was married twice before meeting Saturday Night Live actress
in 1981 while the two filmed Hanky Panky. Radner discovered she had cancer and in 1989 she passed away. For his beloved wife he founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and starting a support group to raise cancer awareness called Gilda’s Club.
Two years after Radner’s death Wilder married Karen Webb, who survives her husband. The two made lived in Stamford, Connecticut house where Wilder lived with Radner.
Gene Wilder – One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship,” Mel Brooks tweeted.