Gene Wilder, the man who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in The Producers and chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka, has died at 83.
Wilder’s nephew said on Monday that the actor and writer died late on Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.
“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Mr Walker-Pearlman said.
Wilder started his acting career on the stage, but millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially his collaborations with Mel Brooks on The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
The last film – with Wilder playing a California-born descendant of the mad scientist, insisting that his name is pronounced Frahn-ken-Shteen – was co-written by Brooks and Wilder.
With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in Young Frankenstein or bilking Broadway in The Producers. Brooks would call him: “God’s perfect prey, the victim in all of us.”
But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozing gunslinger in Blazing Saddles or the charming candy man in the children’s favourite Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.
Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Katherine, from whom he was estranged.