Actor of stage and screen Gene Wilder passed away on August 29, 2016 at the age of 83. The comedian died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis he had kept private, “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,” his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman told NPR.
Wilder is best known for the title role in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, playing a whimsical yet lonely confectioner who is looking to give away his factory to the next generation. He is also known for his roles in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Start the Revolution Without Me. The actor’s final film was 1991’s Another You, but his final role was on the show Will & Grace. The reason? He told Turner Classic Movies in 2013 he didn’t like the kinds of films that were being made, but if the right screenplay had come along, he might have considered it. Wilder was a talented screenwriter and novelist, continuing his literary work until 2013.
Many are still reeling from the news. Director and long-time friend Mel Brooks tweeted “Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.” Jim Carrey wrote “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.” Coldplay even payed tribute to the actor by singing “Pure Imagination” at their Denver concert.
2016 has seen the deaths of many iconic entertainers, including Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince, Kenny Baker, Juan Gabriel, Garry Marshall, Jack Riley, and David Huddleston. Wilder is survived by his wife of 25 years, Karen Boyer. Wherever he may be, he probably has them all rolling in the aisles by now.