Gene Wilder, star of 'Willy Wonka,' 'Blazing Saddles,' dead at 83

Tue Aug 30, 2016 6:27am EDT
 
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Gene Wilder, whose wild curls and startling blue eyes brought a frantic air to roles in the movies "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles," died on Monday at the age of 83, his family said.

Wilder, whose best work included collaborations with director-writer Mel Brooks and actor-comedian Richard Pryor, died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications of Alzheimer's disease, the family said in a statement.

Wilder's nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said the actor had chosen to keep his illness secret so that children who knew him as Willy Wonka would not equate the whimsical character with an adult disease.

Wilder's barely contained hysteria made him a go-to lead for Brooks, who cast him in "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein" and "The Producers" in the 1960s and '70s.

"Gene Wilder - one of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship," Brooks said on Twitter.

Besides his classic collaborations with Brooks, Wilder paired memorably with comedian Richard Pryor in hits "Silver Streak" and "Stir Crazy."

Wilder also was active in promoting ovarian cancer awareness and treatment after his wife, "Saturday Night Live" comedian Gilda Radner, whom he married in 1984, died of the disease in 1989.

He helped found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founded Gilda's Club, a support organization that has branches throughout the United States.   Continued...

 
American actor Gene Wilder (L) performs alongside compatriot Rolf Saxon, October 2, during the rehearsal of a scene from Neil Simon's 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor'.