There have been a lot of legendary names taken from us in 2016. Today we add another one to the list. Gene Wilder has died in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wilder began training to be an actor at the age of 13 and continued his studies until his education was interrupted briefly for Army service. Once discharged, he relocated to New York City to resume his training and eventually was trained at the Actors Studio.
His acting career began in the early 1960s with bit parts on television and the Broadway stage, One of his roles on Broadway was as the Chaplain in 1963’s Mother Courage and her Children. It was during that production that he came to know the play’s lead, Anne Bancroft, who saw Wilder as the perfect choice for the role of a nebbish accountant in a film her then-boyfriend Mel Brooks was writing.
That film would come to fruition four years later in 1967, and is known today as the cult classic The Producers. The film, along with a small role the same year in Bonnie and Clyde, would establish Wilder’s Hollywood career and he would earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as Leo Bloom in the film.
Wilder would move on to starring roles in Start the Revolution Without Me and Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx before taking yet another iconic role in a film that would become a cult classic, the titular character in the 1971 adaption of Roald Dahl”s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
He would reunite with Mel Brooks three years later for the one-two punch of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein The latter film was adapted from a script written by Wilder, writing that earned the actor his second and final Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, an honor he shared with Brooks.
Two years later, Wilder starred in Silver Streak. This would be Wilder’s first on-screen pairing with Richard Pryor (Pryor was a writer on Blazing Saddles) but not the last. The duo would share the screen three more times (1980’s Stir Crazy, 1989’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and 1991’s Another You).
Wilder met actress Gilda Radner while filming 1982’s Hanky Panky and developed a close friendship When Radner divorced her husband, Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith, the friendship turned into a romantic relationship. The couple would appear together on screen in 1984’s The Woman in Red and 1986’s Haunted Honeymoon, both written and directed by Wilder. The pair stayed married until Radner’s death from ovarian cancer on May 20, 1989. Wilder helped create Gilda’s Club, a support and awareness raising group, and the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles.
His last on-screen acting job for a small recurring role on the TV show Will & Grace. He provided a voice for the children’s show, Yo Gabba Gabba last year.