Legendary comedic actor Gene Wilder, best known for his roles in films like Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, passed away Monday after a struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The actor was twice nominated for an Academy Award, one for his role in The Producers and the other as co-writer with Mel Brooks for Young Frankenstein. Wilder first gained attention in a production of Off Broadway’s Roots in 1961. He then continued working in television and on Broadway for a number of years, where he first caught the eye of filmmaker Mel Brooks. The actor starred in a production of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 before teaming up with Brooks for his breakout role in The Producers, which earned him his first nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Wilder as Willy Wonka performing Pure Imagination in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Perhaps Wilder’s most famous film appearance was as the magical factory owner in Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The film, retitled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was not an immediate hit but has gone on to become one of the most beloved family films ever made. Wilder went on to work with Mel Brooks in a number of productions including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, the latter of which earned him another Oscar-nomination but as a screenwriter. He then went on to produce several films himself, though none of them earned the level of success he had experienced with Brooks. A teaming-up with Richard Pryor in the mid-70s, however, would turn his career around again. He and Pryor starred in Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980), both which were hugely successful films.
Wilder and cast-members Marty Feldman and Teri Garr hilariously play a game of Charades whilst Wilder (as Frankenstein) is nearly strangled to death by his creation, The Monster (played by Peter Boyle).
Wilder then met and married his third wife Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live in 1982. The couple starred in a number of films together, including Wilder’s most renowned directing project The Woman in Red (1984), but after her diagnosis with cancer, Wilder took a step back from acting, and all but retired after her death in 1989. His last acting project was as a guest star on Will & Grace. Wilder won an Emmy for his performance in as Mr. Stein. His memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art was published in 2005. Wilder will be missed not only for his charismatic acting and soft-spoken nature, but also as a great supporter of medical research. He is followed by his current wife Karen Boyer and his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman.