Far too many times it seems like this month has been a time where this blogger has had the unhappy duty to say goodbye to celebrities that have, in some form or another, touched my life profoundly.
It is with a heavy heart that it was reported on social media that actor Gene Wilder - perhaps one of my all-time favorite comedy actors, and certainly one of the greats in that field - passed away on Monday the 29th of this month due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 83 years old.
Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Wilder began studying to become an actor at age 13, and had his first performance onstage at age 15.
He took the professional name Gene Wilder after graduating from the University of Iowa and starting his decades-long acting career beginning with stage productions and his first film role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
In 1971, Wilder's film career took off with his portrayal of the eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) - a film based on the excellent book by Roald Dahl, which did not gross very well at the time of the film's release (Dahl himself disowned the final product and didn't care for Wilder's preformance), but grew in popularity over the next decade with repeating broadcasting on television.
|Wilder is perhaps best remembered for his role as the eccentric |
Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
In 1974, Wilder would work with legendary comedy director Mel Brooks in two films that would be among his best remembered comedy roles.
The first was the satirical Western comedy film Blazing Saddles (1974), where Wilder played a recovering alcoholic gunslinger named Jim (aka The Waco Kid) as a sidekick character to actor Cleavon Little portrayed as the town's unpopular black sheriff Bart. In the film, the duo would work together to gain the acceptance of the townspeople and stop badguys from destroying the town.
|Wilder alongside actor Cleavon Little in Mel Brooks' |
Western comedy film Blazing Saddles (1974).
Later the same year, Wilder starred as another eccentric comedy character in Brooks' horror comedy film Young Frankenstein (1974) where he plays a descendant of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus - later shortened to just Frankenstein.
In Young Frankenstein, Wilder played alongside actress Teri Garr as Inga his lab assistant and actor Marty Feldman as Igor (pronounced "eye-gor" in the film). Wilder and Feldman would both team up again a year later in the musical comedy film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) in Wilder's directorial debut.
|Wilder as Victor Frankenstein in Mel Brooks' Young Frankentein (1974) |
with Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, and Cloris Leachman.
A year later Wilder would team up with legendary comedy actor Richard Pryor in the comedy thriller film Silver Streak (1976). The two actors would play a duo in two other comedy films: Stir Crazy (1980) where they played a pair of wrongly accused men sent to prison, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) where Wilder played a deaf man to Pryor's blind man who both work together to thwart murderous thieves.
|Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor worked together |
on three films between 1976 - 1989.
Wilder was married four times. His third wife was actress Gilda Radner, with whom he starred in three films. Her 1989 death from ovarian cancer led to his active involvement in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda's Club.
Rest in peace Jerome Silberman, aka Gene Wilder.
Thank you for all the memories, sir. You will not be forgotten.