“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
The tears of every child who loved Willy Wonka are falling.
The man behind the audacious character, Gene Wilder, passed away at the age of 83 in his Stamford home from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease earlier this month, his family has confirmed.
Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said he wished to keep his illness quiet so the children who knew him as Willy Wonka wouldn’t connect the quirky personality with an adult disease.
“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity,” his nephew wrote. “But more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him, ‘There’s Willy Wonka’ would not have to then be 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.”
Also known for his parts in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, it was his eccentricity that made him a go-to lead for the director behind these films, Mel Brooks.
In addition to his collaborations with Brooks, Wilder co-starred with comedian, Richard Pryor, in films Stir Crazy and Silver Streak.
Wilder was adamant that he wasn’t witty, despite his association with funny men Brooks and Pryor. “I am really not – except in a comedy film,” Wilder said in 2013.
Born Jerome Silberman, Gene Wilder acquired his professional name from a playwright he admired, Thorton Wilder.
He touched many throughout his blazing career, with countless people mourning his passing and sharing his legacy across social platforms.
One social media user recognised that Wilder will be able to rest in peace with his beloved wife, Gilda Radner, who died of cancer in 1989 – the same fate that took his mother when Wilder was in his early 20’s.
— pox doctor’s clerk (@poxdoctorsclerk) August 29, 2016
Karen Boyer was Wilder’s fourth and current wife. He was previously wed to Gilda Radner, Mary Mercier and Mary Joan Shutz.
The family released a full statement to the Associated Press.
Our thoughts are with his loved ones.