It is a sad day in Hollywood today, with the news that legendary comic actor Gene Wilder has passed away at the age of 83. The beloved star of Blazing Saddles (1974) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) is said to have died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. A man who gave his all to everything he did, bringing smiles to the faces of even the most stoic among us, Wilder will be greatly missed. There is no greater legacy to leave than his charm, warmth and heart, all of which will live on for generations to come. Sadly, Wilder joins a long list of notable artists, actors and athletes who the wider world has lost this year, including Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Anton Yelchin, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammed Ali and Garry Marshall.
Seemingly destined for stardom, Wilder started his career on stage and television, before breaking out in Arthur Penn’s legendary picture Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and regular co-conspirator Mel Brooks’ crazed film The Producers (1967). From there the roles came thick and fast, thanks to his daring, offbeat physical comedy, with iconic performances in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (1974). Continuing to hone his craft he also notched up a few directing nods too, with The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975), The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), The Woman in Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986). Following the passing of his wife Gilda Radner, he took a step away from the spotlight, but he never disappeared entirely, making guest appearances and forever encompassing the lovable maestro of Dahl’s definitive novel.
Upon the announcement of his death today, Wilder’s nephew made a statement on behalf of the family, which read in part; ‘The decisions 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 exposed to an adult referencing illness or cause delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.’ Well, Mr Wilder, thank-you for leaving us in a world of pure imagination. Here’s hoping you found the same.
It is with great sadness that much of the world woke today to the heartbreaking news that Anton Yelchin had passed. The actor, best known for his work in the rebooted Star Trek (2009) franchise, was tragically killed in a freak motor vehicle accident in his Studio City home, at the young age of 27. He has been remembered as a kind, compassionate and giving soul, who touched the lives of many. Yelchin was born in Russia to Soviet figure skaters, who immigrated to America looking to give their son a better life. The acclaimed actor got his first big break in the film The Man is Mostly Water (2000), before going on to star in 65 other credits, including Alpha Dog (2006), Charlie Bartlett (2007), Star Trek (2009), Terminator Salvation (2009), Like Crazy (2011), Fright Night (2011), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and Green Room (2015). At the time of his death Yelchin still had five films listed as either completed, in post-production, or in pre-production, including next month's Star Trek Beyond (2016).
A statement from the LAPD regarding the incident said: 'A fatal traffic collision happened in Studio City. On Sunday, June 19 at 1:10 in the morning, a fatal traffic collision occurred. It was the result of the victim’s own car rolling backwards down his steep driveway, pinning him against a brick mailbox pillar and security fence. The victim was on his way to meet his friends for a rehearsal. When he didn’t show up, his friends went to his house, where they found him deceased by his car. It appeared he had momentarily exited his car leaving it in the driveway in neutral.'
Tributes from Yelchin's many friends flooded social media in the wake of his death, with Paramount, the studio he worked under regarding the Star Trek series stating; 'All of us at Paramount join the world in morning the untimely passing of Antony Yelchin. As a member of the Star Trek family, he was beloved by so many and he will missed by all. We share our deepest condolences with his mother, father and family.' Original franchise director JJ Abrams also took to Twitter, posting his thoughts in a handwritten letter on his Bad Robot production company page. 'Anton - You were brilliant. You were kind. You were funny as hell, and supremely talented. And you weren't here nearly long enough. Missing you - JJ.' While many have been left devastated and numb by today's news, there has also been a celebratory tone of the actor's array of achievements. Best friend, thoughtful, gifted, generous, passionate, courageous, talented, wise, and humble, are all words since attributed to him.
“There’s a Starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” In the wake of the late, great, David Bowie’s tragic passing this week at the age of 69 from cancer, there is perhaps no greater or more appropriate line to associate with the musical mastermind than this. For as sad and shocking as the news is, these lines will forever be a reminder of not only his ability to amaze us, but of the glorious legacy he leaves behind. Musician. Fashion Icon. Film Star. Activist for those struggling with their sexuality and identity. You name it, Bowie achieved it, and he did it all in style.
Born in Brixton, South London in 1947 to a working class family, Bowie scored his first hit at the tender age of twenty-two, with Space Oddity. What followed were career defining hits as glorious and eccentric as 'Life on Mars', 'Starman', 'Heroes', 'Let’s Dance', 'Rebel Rebel', and 'Changes'. And that’s without even mentioning his renowned collaboration with Queen on 'Under Pressure', which went on to claim the number one position on the UK charts in 1981. It wasn’t just the world of music that Bowie owned either though, with a move into films in the 1976 critically acclaimed feature The Man Who Fell to Earth, followed by ambitious and impressive turns in The Hunger (1983), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and of course the beloved Jim Henson picture Labyrinth (1986). With his role in the 1980 Broadway production of 'The Elephant Man', Bowie finally solidified his star as one of stage, screen, and song.
Ever since he began in the business in the 70’s, Bowie distinguished himself through not only the constant re-invention of his music, but in the lasting influence he had on the way the industry itself came to function. As pop became punk, and that flowed into new wave, hip-hop and electronic, Bowie’s mark was ever-present, as indelible as his sales numbers. Even his decision to change his name to avoid confusion with another icon of the time - Davy Jones of the Monkee’s, played into this re-invigoration, pushing him on to bigger and better monikers like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Zane. Pictures we will never forget. Persona’s that will never die.
It is a struggle, therefore, to find words to do a man of his standing justice. For in death, just as in life, Bowie owned his actions, unafraid and unrepentant of the secret he kept for over eighteen months. While many will go on to criticise him for not using his status to shed light on an important issue, others still will find comfort in the words of Tony Visconti, producer of his final album Blackstar, who stated; “He wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art.” So as we mourn this loss, let us also celebrate a life well-lived. A legacy that survives in the hearts of his family Iman Abdulmajid, Duncan Jones, and Alexandria Jones, and in those who will continue to listen to his music and watch his films. So Starman, return to space, and know that we’re glad you came and met us and blew our minds.
Most performers, when looking back over their life, have trouble finding even one distinguished role. This was a hardship veteran actor Alan Rickman never faced. The second British great to pass this week from cancer, strangely enough also at the age of 69, Rickman was a tour de force in the cinematic arena from the day he began as the infamous Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), all the way until his final performance in the drone-thriller Eye in the Sky (2015). Throughout this time he filled our world with the smoothest and snarkiest bass tenor ever put to screen, and made us realise even the worst in people in the world can be somewhat lovable. For that, we will be forever grateful.
Born in Acton, West London as the second of four children, Rickman was a late bloomer into the world of the silver screen. His father tragically passed away from lung cancer when he was only eight years old, leaving his single mother Margaret, to take care of the family. In his early days Rickman showed a keen interest in graphic design, obtaining a degree in the area from the Royal Academy of Art, before setting up his own company and design studio called Graphiti. As a 26-year-old Rickman's focus changed though and he entered a world he would never return from, applying to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and eventually working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His breakout came just a few years later when he tread the boards in the Tony Award nominated play 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'. It was his casting as the smooth and sly German terrorist Hans Gruber though, in one of the biggest blockbusters of that era - Die Hard (1988), which solidified his innate talent and unique charm. Most notably in his showdown on set over a refusal to throw actress Bonnie Bedelia to the floor, thus challenging the "woman as eternal-victim" stereotype Hollywood was prone to accept.
He continued this pro-active stance and thoughtfulness in a long and heralded career, breathing life into characters as vast and varied as cinema itself. From stealing hearts in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), to maniacally wielding swords against swashbuckling heroes in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), the acclaimed British thespian found fans flocking to join his corner. He even served his time in cult classics such as Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999), and the weird and wacky Galaxy Quest (1999). If there was ever a point that Rickman's career came to a head though, it was with the decision to take on the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter (2001 - 2011) series. Eight films, ten years, and what feels like the blink of an eye passed, as Rickman became the icon for a generation of kids who felt more at home in the world of wizards, than they did in reality. Many have raised a wand in honour of their fallen hero in the last few days, and many a wand will continue to be raised in the years to come, as they introduce their kids, and grand-kids to the wonderful world he so graciously helped create.
So I leave you with one of the questions that have plagued fans since they heard the news of his passing just days ago. What do you say when the death of a beloved actor, who helped define your childhood, makes you realise that we all grow up, we all get old, and we all must say goodbye? So if there is anything that Alan Rickman should be remembered for, it is that he chose his roles not to stand-out, to show-off, or to invite glory upon himself. Instead he chose them because every character deserves a good performance - even the bad (Hans Gruber), the depressed (Metatron), or the misunderstood (Snape) ones. Because every character deserves some magic.
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