Gene Wilder, Star of Willy Wonka, Passes Away at 83
The comedy world has lost another beloved performer, in a year that has seemed to claim more legends than most years. The iconic Gene Wilder passed away earlier today, at the age of 83, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, revealed that the actor died due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.
The actor was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1943 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Jeanne (Baer) and William J. Silberman, who worked as a manufacturer of miniature whiskey and beer bottles. He made his professional acting debut in the 1961 off Broadway adaptation of Roots, before making his Broadway debut later that year in The Complaisant Lover. He won the Clement Derwent Award that year as the most promising newcomer. He also starred in the 1963 play Mother Courage and Her Children, alongside Anne Bancroft, who would become Mel Brooks' wife, which would change his life forever.
After meeting Gene Wilder during the play's production, Mel Brooks would become close friends with the actor. Gene Wilder continued to work on the stage in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dynamite Tonight and Luv, along with TV productions such as The Sound of Hunting, The Interrogators, Windfall and Death of a Salesman, before making his feature film debut as Eugene Grizzard in the 1967 classic Bonnie & Clyde. His second big screen performance would be his first collaboration with Mel Brooks, and one of his most iconic performances in the 1967 comedy The Producers.
Gene Wilder's performance as accountant Leo Bloom alongside Zero Mostel's Max Bialystock won Wilder his first Oscar nomination, which gave birth to his legendary movie career. He went on to star in Start the Revolution Without Me with Donald Sutherland and as the title character in Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, before landing his next iconic role as Willy Wonka in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The actor scored his second Oscar nomination for Blazing Saddles, and then went onto star in Young Frankenstein, which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks. The actor wrote, directed and starred in several of his own movies, such as The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, The World's Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red and Haunted Honeymoon, but none could match the success he had with Mel Brooks
Variety reports that the actor was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma back in 1989. He also starred in Stir Crazy, The Woman in Red, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Funny About Love and his own TV sitcom Something Wilder, which only ran for one season between 1994 and 1995. He had a two-episode guest starring arc on Will & Grace in 2002, which won him an Emmy Award. His last performance was voicing Elmer in an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba earlier this year. It was rumored that Steven Spielberg was trying to lure the actor out of retirement before his passing.