Gene Wilder, at the age of 83, has crossed over into that world of pure imagination.
Wilder’s agent confirmed the actor’s death. A statement from Wilder’s nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said he had died at his Connecticut home due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilder was a pillar of cinematic comedy from the late 1960s through the 1980s, starring in classics such as Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
Gene Wilder was born as Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1933. He cnaged his name to Gene Wilder at the age of 26, choosing his name out of admiration for the character Eugene Gant in “Look Homeward, Angel” and the playwright Thornton Wilder. He started acting at age 12 before attending the University of Iowa and the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England.
Following a stage career in New York, Wilder moved to Hollywood in the late 1960’s and soon secured roles in some of the most famous movies of the time. His first part was in 1967′s seminal “Bonnie and Clyde,” in which he played Eugene Grizzard. His second was in “The Producers.”
Wilder’s best known role, one that has made him a favorite among multiple generations of children and their parents, was in the 1971 musical adaptation “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” He played the mysterious, quirky proprietor of a chocolate factory, tricking spoiled children into ironic fates. Wilder’s performance of the song “Pure Imagination” is widely considered a classic film moment.
Wilder’s other famous screen collaboration, with comedian Richard Pryor, started with 1976′s “Silver Streak” and continued on through 1980′s “Stir Crazy,” 1989′s “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and 1991′s “Another You.”
After his then-wife, comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” star Gilda Radner, died in 1989, Wilder helped found Gilda’s Club, a charity which works to help cancer sufferers and their families find support and resources.
He’s brought joy to multiple generations of children and adults, and although he has passed on, the art he leaves behind will continue to make us smile.
He’s finally home with Gilda.