Actor Gene Wilder is dead at 83 years old, the Associated Press reports. Wilder’s nephew said today that he died late Sunday at his home in Stamford, Conn., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilder, born in Milwaukee, Wis. as Jerome Silberman, started his career onstage. His first onscreen role was in the seminal film Bonnie and Clyde, in which he played a hostage. He was perhaps best known for his collaborations with writer and director Mel Brooks. “One of the truly great talents of our time,” Brooks tweeted. “He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”
Wilder’s first collaboration with Brooks was also his first major film role, in 1968’s The Producers. Wilder was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role. Following this, he starred and co-wrote in both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles with Brooks. All of these films demonstrated Wilder’s talent for comedy, but also his incredible ability to produce insightful commentary through his work.
In addition to his work with Brooks, Wilder was known for portraying Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and for his work alongside Richard Pryor, including films like Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Wonka might be Wilder’s most iconic role, and it’s one which allowed him to demonstrate his ability to mix sheer wonder with actual drama. Wonka is a conflicted genius, and only a talent like Wilder was capable of bringing him to life.
Wilder’s third wife was actress Gilda Radnor. He starred in three films alongside her before her death from ovarian cancer in 1989, which also led to his active involvement in promoting cancer awareness. Later in life, Wilder began writing, producing a memoir titled Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, as well as several novels. He is survived by his wife, Karen.
Wilder’s career is a template that comedic actors still emulate today. His work in founding and fighting for cancer awareness ensures that the actor has a legacy, even outside of his extraordinary career. He was an actor of incredible talent, and, while it’s impossible to distill an actor down into a single sentence, this one will have to do: “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
Find a series of interviews with Wilder from the late ‘70s below, via the Paste Cloud.