Gene Wilder Dies At 83

Gene Wilder

Actor Gene Wilder, who starred in classic films such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein has died. He was 83-years-old.

Wilder's nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, tells Variety that Wilder died of complications brought on by Alzheimer's disease.

"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 a parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the company of beloved ones."

Wilder (whose given name was Jerome Silberman) began his acting career in theater. His screen debut in 1962, with an appearance on Armstrong Family Theatre. His film debut came in 1967, playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde. His first major role was his Academy Award-nominated performance as Leopold Bloom in The Producers in 1968. The Producers was the first in a series of collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks. Wilder starred in and co-wrote the Brooks-directed films Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and both films earned Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Wilder's most iconic role was his turn as eccentric genius Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971. He then starred in four comedies with the late Richard Pryor – Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991) – and wrote and directed several more films thereafter.

Wilder's starred in three films with his third wife, Gilda Radner. Following Radner's death from ovarian cancer, Wilder became actively involved in promoting cancer treatment and awareness. Wilder himself was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1989.

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Wilder's last professional acting performance was an Emmy-nominated guest-starring role on two episodes of Will & Grace in 2002 and 2003. Wilder then took to writing, producing a memoir (Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art), a short story collection (What Is This Thing Called Love?), and three novels (My French Whore, The Woman Who Wouldn't, and Something to Remember You By).