Gene Wilder, the frizzy-haired actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in “The Producers” and the deranged animator of “Young Frankenstein,” has died at age 83 on August 28, 2016. Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said in a statement that his uncle died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Stamford, Conn.
Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Mel Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in “Young Frankenstein” or bilking Broadway in “The Producers.”
Photo: Gene Wilder played the part of the grandson of the original Frankenstein, with Peter Boyle (on table) as the new monster in “Young Frankenstein.”
Wilder, a Milwaukee native, was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933. His father was a Russian emigre, his mother was of Polish descent. When he was 6, Wilder’s mother suffered a heart attack that left her a semi-invalid. He soon began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, the first indication of his future career.
He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued performing and taking lesson through college. In 1961, Wilder became a member of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actor’s Studio in Manhattan.
That same year, he made both his off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene’s comedy “The Complaisant Lover.”
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”
He used his new name, Gene Wilder, for the off-Broadway and Broadway roles at the start of his career. He lifted the first name from the character Eugene Gant in Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Back, Homeward Angel,” while the last name was clipped from playwright Thornton Wilder. A key break came when he co-starred with Anne Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage,” and met Brooks, her future husband.
Photo: Gene Wilder as the charming candy man in the 1971 children’s favorite “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”
Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn
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.
Photo: Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn in a scene from the 1974 “Young Frankenstein.”
In 1968 Gene Wilder starred with Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’ comedy “The Producers,” about a shifty theatrical producer who enlists the aid of a neurotic accountant in a scheme to defraud investors in a sure-fire flop.
Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel and Lee Meredith in “The Producers.” Wilder earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Gene Wilder Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx
Eileen Colgan and Gene Wilder in the romantic comedy, “Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx” (1970), costarring Margot Kidder.
"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex"
Gene Wilder finds true love in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask)“ (1972).
Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in the hit western comedy from Mel Brooks, “Blazing Saddles” (1974).
“One of the truly great talents of our time,” Mel Brooks tweeted. “He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”
Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in “Blazing Saddles.”
Gene Wilder shared an Oscar nomination with Mel Brooks for the screenplay of “Young Frankenstein.”
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor
Gene Wilder, left, and Richard Pryor, seen here in December 1980, were close friends - they were co-writers of “Blazing Saddles” - and their contrasting personas (Wilder uptight, Pryor loose) were ideal for comedy.
As a team they created several memorable scenes on-screen, particularly when Pryor provided Wilder with directions on how to “act black” in order to avoid police in “Silver Streak “ (1976).
They later co-starred in three more films: ‘’Stir Crazy,” ‘’See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” and “Another You.”
"The Frisco Kid"
A scene from the 1979 comedy-western, “The Frisco Kid,” with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford.
“The Woman in Red”
Gene Wilder received two Academy Award nominations - for Best Supporting Actor for “The Producers,” and for Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with Mel Brooks) for “Young Frankenstein.”
Photo: Wilder in “The Woman in Red” (1984), one of nine films he wrote or co-wrote.
Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner, left, and Gene Wilder are shown in a scene from the film “Hanky Panky,” directed by Sidney Poitier, Aug. 27, 1981.
Wilder was married four times. While making the generally forgettable film, Wilder fell in love with co-star Radner. They were married in 1984, and co-starred in two Wilder-penned films: “The Lady in Red” and “Haunted Honeymoon.” Radner died of cancer in 1989.
After Radner, his third wife, died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research and opened a support facility for cancer patients. In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer. That same year, he appeared in his final film role: “Another You” with Pryor.
Gene Wilder Haunted Honeymoon
Gene Wilder in the horror-comedy “Haunted Honeymoon” (1986), which also starred Gilda Radner, Dom DeLuise and Jonathan Pryce.
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” released in 1989.
Gene and Karen Wilder
Wilder married Karen Boyer in 1991. The two are seen in this photo before Wilder received the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Culture and Tourism at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., April 9, 2008. Wilder was one of four recipients of the award given by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
Gene Wilder and Rolf Saxon
Gene Wilder performs alongside compatriot Rolf Saxon, during the rehearsal of a scene from Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” in New York, October 2, 1996.
Wilder as an author
Actor and writer Gene Wilder signs a copy of his debut novel, “My French Whore,” at Waterstones in London on May 11, 2007. In 2006, his memoir “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” was published.
Actor and author Gene Wilder poses as he autographs his new book “The Woman Who Wouldn’t” during a book signing session in New York, March 26, 2008.
Wilder worked mostly in television in recent years, including appearances on “Will & Grace” (which earned him an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor) and a starring role in the short-lived sitcom “Something Wilder.”
As for why he stopped appearing on the big screen, Wilder said in 2013 he was turned off by the noise and foul language in modern movies.
“I didn’t want to do the kind of junk I was seeing,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t want to do 3D, for instance. I didn’t want to do ones where there’s just bombing and loud and swearing, so much swearing... can’t they just stop and talk instead of swearing?”
Photo: Gene Wilder at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Sept. 14, 2009.
Wilder would insist in a 2013 interview that he was no comedian. He told interviewer Robert Osborne it was the biggest misconception about him.
“What a comic, what a funny guy, all that stuff! And I’m not. I’m really not. Except in a comedy in films,” Wilder said. “But I make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special. But when people see me in a movie and it’s funny then they stop and say things to me about ‘how funny you were.’ But I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be in the movies.”
Photo: Gene Wilder speaks about his life and career at Boston University, March 16, 2005.
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