STAMFORD, Conn., Aug. 29 (UPI) — Gene Wilder, the zany, wild-haired and soft-spoken comedian who appeared in nearly 30 films and several stand-up routines, died at his Connecticut home Monday at the age of 83.
Wilder, born as Jerome Silberman in 1933, died as the result of Alzheimer’s Disease at his home in Stamford, his family said.
“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones,” nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement. “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.”
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.
According to family members, Wilder had been ill for an undisclosed period of time but opted to keep his condition private.
“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more 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,” Walker-Pearlman added. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
Wilder became known for his mild-mannered and unassuming performances in several cult films, including Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), Stir Crazy (1980) and Silver Streak (1976) — and paired up four times onscreen with fellow comedian Richard Pryor, successfully, as a counter balance to his brash and flamboyant characters.
Fellow funnyman and film director Mel Brooks, who collaborated multiple times with Wilder, expressed his sadness upon hearing the news Monday.
“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,” Brooks said.
He is best known by most, however, for his energetic and vibrant portrayal of the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — a quirky and irreverent British adaptation of the famous children’s book by Roald Dahl.
“Sad day,” Rain Pryor, Richard’s comedienne daughter, said on Twitter on Monday.
He breathed life joy into everything he touched. Rest in peace, Gene Wilder. pic.twitter.com/r7ufUDbyMq
— 20th Century Fox (@20thcenturyfox) August 29, 2016
20th Century Fox/Twitter
“2016 has been painful so far,” actor Zach Braff added, referring to other unexpected deaths this year, including superstar musician Prince.
“He breathed life and joy into everything he touched. Rest in peace,” the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation said in a tweet.
Wilder, who married four times, is survived by his wife of 25 years, Karen Boyer.
“He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen,” Walker-Pearlman wrote. “He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the company of beloved ones.”