Mel Brooks was a key reason we even knew who Gene Wilder was. Brooks wrote The Producers, Wilder’s breakthrough role, and the pair had a longstanding working relationship from then on. Now, following Wilder’s death from complications relating to Alzheimer’s, Brooks took to The Tonight Show to remember his partner.
As Brooks explained, he knew that Wilder was sick, but it didn’t lessen the shock of his passing. “I expected he would go,” said Brooks. “But, I don’t know. When it happens, it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock. I’m still reeling from no more Gene. I can’t call him. He was such a wonderful part of my life.”
Brooks then recalled how the pair first met when Wilder was working with Brooks’ wife Anne Bancroft. The two became fast friends, and Brooks promised to put him in The Producers, the film he was working on at the time. Wilder was skeptical about whether they’d receive funding. When they did, Brooks decided to deliver the news in person.
“I took the script, and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money. We’re going to make the movie. You are Leo Bloom,’” Brooks explained. “He burst into tears and held his face and cried. Then I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
Wilder would go on to receive the only acting Oscar nomination of his career for the role of Leo Bloom, which is a travesty in and of itself. Check out the full clip above to watch Brooks’ great tribute to one of the defining talents in cinema history.