Hollywood, California — As a child, I grew up watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so this story hits real close to home. Mr Wilder, thank you for sharing your talents with us and for bringing joy to my childhood and the countless childhoods of people all across the world — past, present, and future. May you now rest in eternal peace.
1Actor Gene Wilder Dies Aged 83 from Complications of Alzheimer’s Disease
Beloved actor Gene Wilder died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on August 29th, 2016 at the age of 83. The actor was known for his loud, vibrant, and often neurotic characters, although he was always highly renowned for the charisma he brought to every role.
Best known for his starring roles in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stir Crazy, and Blazing Saddles as well has his frequent collaborations with director and comedian Mel Brooks. His professional career began on stage however, having performed in various Broadway productions during the 60s.
2In a Poignant Statement, His Nephew Revealed Wilder Decided to Keep the Illness a Secret
Wilder’s nephew released a heartfelt statement where he explained the actor’s decision not to reveal his illness until after his death, as well as touching on how Wilder lived out his last few years. The statement read:
“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. 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 to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the company of beloved ones.”
3He is Survived by His Wife and Adopted Daughter
Wilder is survived by his wife Karen Boyer and an adopted daughter from a previous marriage with Mary Joan Schutz. He was married four times in total, first to Mary Mercier in 1960, then to Mary Joan Schutz in 1967, followed by actress Gilda Radner in 1984.
He met Boyer when preparing for the role of a deaf man in See No Evil Hear No Evil when she helped him learn lip reading. After his then-wife Radner died from cancer, he would reconnect with Boyer and eventually marry her in 1991. She was said to be holding his hand at the time of his passing.
4Wilder First Found Success in Acting in 1968’s The Producers and Had Several Iconic Roles Thereafter
Wilder was finding much success with his roles in Broadway during the 1960s, leading him to land the role as Leo Broom in The Producers in 1968.
This would be the first of many collaborations with writer and director Mel Brooks, as the two would go on to work together in some of their greatest works, including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (which he co-wrote with Brooks).
The role landed Wilder an Oscar nomination and he would get one of his most iconic roles shortly after this, being cast in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971.
He would also work frequently with fellow comedic actor Richard Prior. Together they performed in four different movies, perhaps most famously with 1980’s Stir Crazy.
5He Would Retire from Acting in 2003 but Remained Active by Authoring Memoirs and Short Stories
Although his last appearance in film was shortly after his wife Gilda Radner died in 1991, he would continue to appear in various television productions, including guest appearances in the sitcom Will & Grace in 2003 that won him an Emmy Award. It would prove to be his last ever on-screen role, as Wilder retired shortly after.
He did remain busy in his later years however, having penned several novels and short stories. He also released his personal memoirs in Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art in 2005, which detailed much of his life from childhood up to Gilda Radner’s death in 1989.