Actor Gene Wilder, known for displaying comedic genius in such Mel Brooks classics as “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “The Producers,” as well as tender moments, “pure imagination” and a fine singing voice in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” died at 83 at his Stamford, Connecticut home Monday.
Wilder died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to 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,” Walker-Pearlman said in a statement.
“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,” he continued.
Wilders’ friend and long-time co-worker Brooks tweeted:
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
“Saturday Night Live” comic Gilda Radner, the undisputed love of his life whom he married in 1984, predeceased him, prompting Wilder to become a strong proponent of ovarian cancer research and screening.
Although Wilder maintained that he wasn’t a comedian, he turned to comedy at an early age to keep his mother, who was suffering from heart disease, uplifted and free of stress through laughter.
“My mother was suffering every day of her life, and what right did I have to be happy if she was suffering?” Wilder told the Washington Post in 2005. “So whenever I got happy about something, I felt the need to cut it off, and the only way to cut it off was to pray. ‘Forgive me, Lord.’ For what, I didn’t know.”
Tragically, his mother died in her early twenties of the same disease that took Radner decades later — ovarian cancer.
Wilder received to Academy Award nominations, both in Mel Brooks comedies. The first for his supporting role in “The Producers,” and the second for co-writing “Young Frankenstein,” in which he also played the title role.
Wilder is survived by his fourth wife Karen Boyer and his nephew.
Here’s the full statement from Gene Wilder’s family regarding his death: pic.twitter.com/oGv1TsiCX5
— Austin Hunt (@AustinHunt) August 29, 2016
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