Gene Wilder, the comedy actor who shone in such movies as Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Stir Crazy, has died aged 83.
Variety reports that his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Stamford, Connecticut on Monday.
Wilder, whose third wife Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer, was treated for lymphoma in 2000.
He made his name in movies with his portrayals of neurotics and eccentrics in such comedy hits as The Producers, for which he was Oscar-nominated for the role as hyper-tense and sensitive accountant Leo Bloom.
He also charmed a whole generation in the lead role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and went on to co-write the anarchic spoof Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks.
Wilder also appeared in the comedies Start the Revolution Without Me and Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, both in 1970.
Blazing Saddles, Silver Streak and The Frisco Kid followed and in Woody Allen’s 1972 romp Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, he appeared in a sequence in which he played a doctor who falls in love with a sheep named Daisy.
Wilder’s final screen appearances were in the sitcom Will and Grace in 2013 and the TV series Yo Gabba Gabba in 2015.
Wilder made his professional acting debut in Off Broadway’s Roots in 1961, followed by a stint on Broadway itself in Graham Greene’s comedy The Complaisant Lover, which won him a Clarence Derwent Award as promising newcomer.
Mel Brooks spotted Wilder in a 1963 production of Brecht’s Mother Courage, in which Wilder starred with Brooks’ future wife, Anne Bancroft.
Wilder’s stage work also included One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1963 and Dynamite Tonight and The White House the following year.
He was cast as The Fox in the 1974 version of The Little Prince.
After various appearances on television, including a 1966 production of Death of a Salesman, he won acclaim as Eugene Grizzard, a kidnapped and rather manic undertaker in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
He was acclaimed for his turn as The Waco Kid in Brooks’s third film, the spoof Western and box office smash Blazing Saddles.
The 1974 movie shot down the myths perpetuated about the American West, pouring light on closeted racism, but it is also stacked full of gags and is often listed among critics’ top 10 comedy films.
Wilder was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas – Wilder uptight, Pryor loose – were ideal for comedy. They co-starred in four films: Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You.
But Wilder would insist in a 2013 interview that he was no comedian, saying it was the biggest misconception about him.
“What a comic, what a funny guy, all that stuff! And I’m not. I’m really not. Except in a comedy in films,” Wilder said.
“But I make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special. But when people see me in a movie and it’s funny then they stop and say things to me about ‘how funny you were.’ But I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be in the movies.”
His last major role was in a TV film version of Alice in Wonderland in the late 1990s, which also starred Ben Kingsley and Martin Short.
On Monday, Mel Brooks tweeted: “Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”
Actor Jim Carrey also paid tribute, saying: “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.”
Editor’s Note: Wilder’s Wonka is one of our all-time favourite acting performances, and Wilder is one of our absolute favourite actors. His pure warmth shone through in every film; his undying imagination and genuine soul will live on through an extraordinary tableau of work. It’s sad that we’ll never again be able to marvel at a Gene Wilder performance, but what he left us with is beyond amazing. Thank you, Mr. Wilder. You truly are a star.