Gene Wilder, comedy titan who played 'Willy Wonka' and 'Young Frankenstein,' dead at 83



 LOS ANGELES — Gene Wilder, the visceral, wild-haired comedic actor and writer who played Willy Wonka and starred in dozens of films including the Mel Brooks classics Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, has died, his nephew confirmed in a statement Monday. He was 83.

Wilder died of complications from Alzheimer's at his home in Stamford, Conn., according to the statement from Jordan Walker-Pearlman. Wilder had chosen to keep his illness private, Walker-Pearlman said, because he "simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

Though he started out as a stage actor, Wilder's break came in 1968 with the role of Leo Bloom in The Producers, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
 A few years later, he reluctantly took the title role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, one of those turns that the passage of time — with a little help from the omnipresent "Condescending Wonka meme — have rendered all the more beloved.

Wilder was a frequent collaborator with the greatest comedy minds of his time, including the late Richard Pryor. Beginning with Silver Streak, the two appeared in four films together including Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and their 1991 reunion Another You.
But it was his relationship with Brooks — which began via an introduction via Brooks' girlfriend, which eventually led to the Producers role — that produced what are widely considered the greatest comedy films of all time. (In fact, in a Vanity Fair interview published just hours before news of Wilder's death Monday, Brooks calls Blazing Saddles the "funniest movie ever made.")

On screen, Wilder balanced a madcap, wild-eyed physicality with the sense that he was the smartest guy in the room — elements that often sparked off one of his many signature freak-outs. It was that chemical reaction that always made him unpredictable, a live-wire who was as ferocious as he was playful and irreverent. 
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Wilder took a writing credit on nine of his films, including Young Frankenstein, but insisted in a 2013 interview — one of his last — that he was never much of a comedian.

"I'm really not [funny], except in a comedy ... in films. I make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special. But I don't think I'm that funny. I think I can be in the movies," he said.

Wilder's acting career slowed down significantly in the late 1980s, which he largely attributed to a direction in movies that he didn't much care for.

"The swearing and the loud bombing ... every once in awhile there's a good film, but not very many," Wilder sad during the 92nd Street Y interview. "If something comes along that's really good, and I'm good for it, I'd do it. But not too many came along. A bunch came along for 15, 18 years, but then not too many."


Wilder's nephew said that Alzheimer's began to take hold three years ago, but that he retained much of his faculties until the end:
 Wilder was married four times, including to Saturday Night Live alum Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. He is survived by Karen Webb, a clinical supervisor who coached him on lip-reading for his role in See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and whom he married in 1991.
 Walker-Pearlman's statement concluded:


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