Gene Wilder, b. Jerome Silberman: 11 June 1933 – 29 August 2016
Gene Wilder, best remembered for his role as Willy Wonka in the timeless classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, passed away in the wee hours of the morning. From the New York Times:
“Gene Wilder, who established himself as one of America’s foremost comic actors with his delightfully neurotic performances in three films directed by Mel Brooks; his eccentric star turn in the family classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”; and his winning chemistry with Richard Pryor in the box-office smash “Stir Crazy,” died on Sunday night at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 83.
Eric Weissmann, who was Mr. Wilder’s lawyer for many years, confirmed the death. A nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said that the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Wilder’s rule for comedy was simple: Don’t try to make it funny; try to make it real. “I’m an actor, not a clown,” he said more than once.
With his haunted blue eyes and an empathy born of his own history of psychic distress, he aspired to touch audiences much as Charlie Chaplin had. The Chaplin film “City Lights,” he said, had “made the biggest impression on me as an actor; it was funny, then sad, then both at the same time.”
Mr. Wilder was an accomplished stage actor as well as a screenwriter, a novelist and the director of four movies in which he starred. (He directed, he once said, “in order to protect what I wrote, which I wrote in order to act.”)”
What can be said that hasn’t been said already, or will be said by those who knew him and loved him best? All I can say is, this man was a genius. His comedies have kept me laughing through the years, from when I was barely potty-trained through my early 20s. The first movie I saw him in was the one he’s best known for. I enjoy the newer version starring Johnny Depp, since it is truer to the book, but Gene Wilder will always be “the REAL” Willy Wonka in my eyes! I loved him alongside Richard Pryor in the movie “Silver Streak,” and he was hilarious in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” along with Marty Feldman and Madeline Khan. Those three, together, guaranteed laughter from the first scene of any film they were in. Another movie that my brothers and I watched, when the ‘rental units were out of the house, was “Start the Revolution Without Me,” with Gene co-starring with one Donald Sutherland – it was one of the funniest things I recall seeing in my young life.
He was married four times, but I recall his third wife the best and most fondly: Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Her death got him actively involved in promoting the awareness and treatment of cancer, and he founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles; and co-founded Gilda’s Club.
I have no words…I just want to remember the laughter he brought to millions. I’ll close with three of the best clips from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Rest in peace, good man…your light will always shine brightly in my universe.