By KATHERINE NGUYEN
Whether or not he caught your attention as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or as Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein, there is no doubt that Gene Wilder is an iconic comedian that will forever be remembered as one of the greatest. Unfortunately, the world said goodbye to the actor on August 29th, after 55 years of being in the spotlight.
His last moments were spent in his home in Stamford, Connecticut. It was confirmed by his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, that his death was due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Walker-Pearlman added that Wilder had decided to keep the sickness private from his fans, especially the younger ones; the last thing he ever wanted was for them to see the reality of illness at such an adolescent age (Variety.com).
And that is exactly as the world remembers him; his comedy and warmth were not just essences of his characters, but of himself. He desired to inspire and touch audiences, always making sure to keep his comedy and roles genuine.
Starting as a military veteran, Wilder did not begin his acting career until he was 28. His first role as Leo Bloom in The Producers brought critics to their feet; his ability to manipulate comedy, satire, and sarcasm made him a household name. As his career set off, he played a variety of characters from ones of dark humor to those of child-like fantasies.
This was the legacy of Gene Wilder, and it is the reason why so many are attached to him. “I grew up watching his movies,” Kasey Kim (Sr.) said. “It’s so weird to think that he’s gone, and it’s even weirder to think that I’m never going to see him portray another great character.”
Wilder’s most recognizable roles include Dr. Frankenstein, Willy Wonka, Leo Bloom, Jim “the Waco Kid” in Blazing Saddles, George Caldwell in Silver Steak, and Skip Donahue in Stir Crazy. He was known to be the heart of these movies, demanding the attention of the audience and creating a new world with just his acting.
Though all these characters are quintessential to Gene Wilder’s reputation, his favorite of all was Dr. Frankenstein. “I didn’t even have to think about it. I think I was happier doing that film than any other,” Wilder said during the 2013 annual Avon Theatre’s Wilder’s Picks at the Avon in Stamford, CT.
While gracing both our big and small screens, Wilder never let go of his quiet passions.“I like writing books,” Wilder said in an interview with Tuner Classic Movie’s Robert Osborne in 2013. “I’d rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It’s not so bad. I am really lucky.”
“He…passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember,” Walker-Pearlman recalled in his tribute. Though we may never see him bring another role to life, Wilder will always live on in the characters he portrayed and the warmth he expressed.