Gene Wilder – beloved actor, director, screen writer, and author – passed away today in his Stamford, Connecticut home due to Alzheimer’s complications at the age of 83.
in 1955, he started studying at the University of Iowa where he adopted the stage name ‘Gene Wilder’ in honor of Thomas Wolfe’s character Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River, and the playwright Thornton Wilder.
The actor went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards and is renowned for stealing the show in such adored films as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers.
He only accepted the role as Willy Wonka on the condition that he could portray the fabled candy maker‘s first appearance in front of crowds as a charade where he pretends to be crippled– after limping forward with a cane, he wanted to fall forward into an elegant somersault, thus bringing the audience to tumultuous applause. When the director asked why, he replied “because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
His nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman also released a statement on his uncle’s death:
“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then 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.”
Walker-Pearlman told NPR that Wilder’s favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, at the moment of his death, was heard playing from a random playlist in the room, singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’
“He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the the company of beloved ones.”
In 2005 he released his memoir, Kiss Me Like A Stranger, My Search for Love and Art.
(WATCH a CNN tribute and a beautiful illustrated Gene Wilder interview below)
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