Gene Wilder, ‘Willy Wonka’ Star, Dies At 83

gene wilder
Warner Bros.

Gene Wilder, star of such classic movies as Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein died on Monday in his Stamford, Connecticut home due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

The death of the 83-year-old was confirmed by his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, in a statement. According to Walker-Pearlman, Wilder hid his illness as to not distress children and other fans of his work who still saw him as Willy Wonka. He said:

“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. The decision 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 then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the the company of beloved ones.”

In 1989, Wilder was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The actor leaves behind a massive catalog of work, including two Oscar nominations for his role in The Producers and the script he penned with Mel Brooks for Young Frankenstein. Wilder was known portraying neurotic characters that had a tender, kind interior, often masked by hysteria.

Wilder’s last film was the early ’90s comedy Funny About Love. He then moved to TV starring in the failed series Something Wilder and the A&E mysteries The Lady In Question” and “Murder in a Small Town,” which he also helped write. Wilder’s last role was his Emmy-winning performance as Mr. Stein in Will And Grace. 

After retiring from acting, he focused his efforts on writing. In 2005, Wilder published a memoir entitled Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search For Love And Art followed by 2007’s novel My French Whore, 2008’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t, a collection of stories called What Is This Thing Called Love and a 2013 novella titled Something To Remember You By: A Perilous Romance.

Wilder is survived by Karen Boyer, his fourth wife who he wed in 1991, and his nephew.

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