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.
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