Comedic icon Gene Wilder, perhaps best known for his role as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has died at the age of 83. Wilder, who also starred in films such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers, passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Stamford, Connecticut.
Jordan Walker-Pearlman, Wilder’s nephew, issued a statement saying, “We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — 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. 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. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
Wilder’s nephew continued, “He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. 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 the company of beloved ones.”
Wilder was Oscar-nominated twice: once for Best Supporting Actor in The Producers in 1969, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Blazing Saddles in 1975. He took home an Emmy award in 2003 for a guest role on Will & Grace. Wilder’s legacy will undoubtedly live on for years to come as we continue to appreciate the work that he has left behind.