Known for his iconic roles in everything from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Blazing Saddles to The Producers and Young Frankenstein, comedy great Gene Wilder passed away at his home in Stamford, Connecticut today after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Said Wilder’s nephew in a statement:
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.
As Variety notes, Wilder’s career got off to an incredible start and barely slowed down in the years since, even when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989. Wilder was nominated for two Academy Awards — one of which was for his hilarious turn in The Producers, just his second-ever film role — and “usually portrayed a neurotic who veered between total hysteria and dewy-eyed tenderness.” Wilder even took home an Emmy in 2003 for Outstanding Guest Actor on a Comedy Series for his turn as Will’s boss, Mr. Stein, on Will & Grace.
Wilder was 83 years of age and is survived by his wife, Karen Boyer.