Actor Gene Wilder has died. Perhaps best known for his role as Willy Wonka in the 1971 hit Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder was a very popular actor in the 70s and 80s. According to TMZ, the 83-year-old is survived by his wife, Karen Boyer, 66, and his daughter, Katharine, whom he adopted in 1967 with his then-wife, Mary Joan Schute.
Gene Wilder’s family has confirmed the news that he has died. According to CNN, Wilder was diagnosed with a “unique form a Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” in 1997 but he told Larry King that he was in remission in 2002. His agent told TMZ that he died of “complications from Alzeimer’s disease,” which he was diagnosed with threAlzheimer’so. Wilder and his family kept his struggle with the disease private because he didn’t want children who recognized him as Willy Wonka to “ask questions about [his] illness.”
Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, released the following statement, confirming that his uncle passed away at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, according to People Magazine.
“He was eighty-three and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember. As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London Bistro some years ago that are among each or cherished possessions. She was singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ as he was taken away.”
Wilder — whose birth name was Jerry Silberman — was married to Mary Mercier for five years in the early 60s. He then was married to Gilda Radner from 1984 until she passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989. Two years later, Wilder married his fourth wife, Karen Boyer.
As People Magazine points out, Gene Wilder got his start in theater and eventually became great friends with Mel Brooks, the man who directed many films starring the actor.
“Wilder was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Jewish Russian parents. The budding star made his first big break in the business partaking in an off-Broadway production of Arnold Wesker’s Roots. Soon after, the talented actor went on to Broadway where he starred in The Complaisant Lover, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The White House, Luv, and Mother Courage and Her Children – where he met actress Anne Bancroft. Bancroft introduced the actor to her boyfriend Mel Brooks, creating a long-lasting friendship.”
As mentioned earlier in this post, Gene Wilder played Mr. Wonka, an eccentric chocolate factory owner who invited children to his factory for a day of interesting events. He ended up choosing one of the kids, Charlie Bucket, to run his factory. Check out the clip from the film below which depicts one of Wilder’s most iconic moments from the film.
Gene Wilder also starred in Young Frankenstein, which was released in 1974. In the film, Wilder played the role of Dr. Frankenstein, who travels to Transylvania where he finds out how to reanimate a dead body. You can see him acting in the Mel Brooks film in the YouTube clip below.
Fans have been posting their condolences on social media since the sad news of Gene Wilder’s death broke earlier this afternoon.
Gene Wilder is gone? Oh dear. What a sad thing to hear :(
— C:TinyPixelBlock (@TinyPixelBlock) August 29, 2016
Gene Wilder R.I.P. will be truly missed but never forgotten.
— Daz G (@HongKPhooey71) August 29, 2016
Very sad to hear the news of Gene Wilder’s passing.
— Cap’n Trashbeard (@Lt_JerkFace) August 29, 2016
RIP #GeneWilder you’ll always be the best Willy Wonka ????
— AquariusBeautyxo (@EllysseNicholas) August 29, 2016
— Aaron Peterson (@kaz_peters) August 29, 2016
[Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images]