Gene Wilder, who became Hollywood’s one of the most iconic comic actors with his delightfully funny performances in films directed by Mel Brooks has passed away. He was 83.
Wilder made his own name in the industry with films like “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein”, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, and “Stir Crazy” passed away early Monday morning at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. His nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Born as Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1933, he chose Gene Wilder as his professional name at the age of 26, out of admiration for the character Eugene Gant in “Looking Homeward”, “Angel”, and the playwright Thornton Wilder. He started acting at age 12 before attending the University of Iowa and the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England. His professional debut came in Off Broadway’s “Roots” in 1961, followed by a stint on Broadway in Graham Greene’s comedy “The Complaisant Lover”, which won him a Clarence Derwent Award as promising newcomer. His performance in the 1963 production of Brecht’s “Mother Courage” was seen by Mel Brooks. The two went on to deliver some classic comedies of 20th century. In 1967, the comedy star essayed his first memorable big screen neurotic, Eugene Grizzard, a kidnapped undertaker in Arthur Penn’s classic “Bonne and Clyde.” The next was “The Producers”, in which he played the hysterical Leo Bloom, an accountant lured in a money bilking scheme by a theatrical producer. Directed and written by Brooks, the film brought Wilder an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.
In 1971 came ‘Willy Wonka’, one of his most beloved characters. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl. ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ the film follows Charlie, who clinches a golden ticket to gain access to the enchanting factory, and is joined by other lucky children.
Wilder played the mysterious, Mephistophelean factory proprietor of the title, dumping spoiled children into ironic fates. His performance of the song “Pure Imagination” is wildly considered a classic film moment.
He got full-fledged film stardom with two other Mel Brooks comedies, both in 1974: Western spoof “Blazing Saddles” and a wacko adaptation of Mary Shelley’s most famous book entitled “Young Frankenstein”, in which he portrayed the mad scientist with his signature mixture of hysteria and sweetness.
Apart from the director, Wilder frequently collaborated with comedian Richard Pryor. The two starred together in films like “Silver Streak” and “See No Evil Hear No Evil”. Wilder was survived by his fourth wife Karen Boyer, whom he married in 1991 and his nephew.