Gene Wilder dies at 83

Tributes paid to the star of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.

by Jennie Kermode

Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

"One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship," said Mel Brooks this evening upon hearing the death of his friend and Producers co-star Gene Wilder. The charismatic star, who was much loved for his role in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, has passed away at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Wilder, who suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the past 27 years, died on Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut, where he lived with wife Karen Boyer. He leaves behind a legion of fans, with films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein acquiring a cult following which has endured for decades. He had a memorable role in Woody Allen comedy Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask), and in later life turned to television work as well as writing several books.

"We have been among the lucky ones," said his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman. "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." He went on to say that Wilder had deliberately hidden his illness because he didn't want it to upset the children who enjoyed his work.

"He was always able to make us smile, and that is no small feat," said George Takei, while Russell Crowe reminisced about watching Blazing Saddles seven times at the cinema with his school friends, and Rob Lowe described him as one of his earliest heroes.

Having always said that he preferred the entertainment to the business of making it, Wilder will be remembered for his sly sense of humour, his remarkable energy and showmanship. As his Willy Wonka said, "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams."

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