Gene Wilder, Comedy Legend of a Generation, Dead at 83
Gene Wilder, the actor immortalized by his role as Willy Wonka, has died at age 83, his family announced Monday. Some of Wilder’s most iconic roles were in the early films of Mel Brooks where he portrayed the nervous accountant Leo Bloom in 1968’s The Producers, the drunk cowboy who teams up with a black sheriff in Blazing Saddles, and Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Frahn-ken-steen) inYoung Frankenstein.
Wilder’s nephew told the Associated Press that the actor died late Sunday night in Stamford, Connecticut, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he first adopted the stage name Gene Wilder at age of 26.
“It is with indescribable sadness and blues, but with spiritual gratitude for the life lived that I announce the passing of husband, parent, and universal artist Gene Wilder, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut,” Wilder’s nephew said in a statement. “It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him.”
The family went on to say that the decision to conceal Wilder’s condition from the public until his death “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 was holding the hands of his family and listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when he finally passed.
Brooks, who was Wilder’s most enduring creative partner, posted a tribute on Twitter shortly after news broke of his friend’s death.