Gene Wilder died

I was going to end the day (late) with something lighthearted, invariably an animal video, but just got the news that Gene Wilder died. I had no idea he was 83, and the BBC said he died of “complications from Alzheimer’s disease.” He was, of course, Willy Wonka, but I’ve never seen that; I have seen the two films that garnered him an Academy Award nomination: “The Producers” (Best Supporting Actor), and “Young Frankenstein” (co-nominated with Mel Brooks for Best Adapted Screenplay).

His birth name was Jerome Silberman, so of course he was Jewish, and he was also married to Gilda Radner, another Jew. What I remember most about Wilder was how deeply he loved Radner, who died of 42 of ovarian cancer, and how movingly he wrote of their relationship and her death. Sadly, I can’t remember where I read it.

Two great comedians gone—and missed.



  1. Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    What?! No! I swear, if any more loved celebrities die this year…
    That’s come as a complete shock to me. He was a childhood icon!

  2. rickflick
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed him in “Young Frankenstein”. I laughed so hard it hurt.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Simply a classic. People such as these cannot be replaced, just remembered.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      He was genius as Frankenstein. Sorry to see him go.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha! I did the same!

      • Nwalsh
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        “Walk this way”

        • merilee
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink


        • nickswearsky
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          I was amazed to read that the movie was inspiration for the Aerosmith song. Steve Tyler went to see the film and the rest is history.

  3. James Walker
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Very sad😦 I never saw Willy Wonka as a child. For me he was always Viktor Frankenstein (Fronkenshteen!) and Jim from Blazing Saddles.

    • Paul S
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      I was nine when Willy Wonka came out. Even now I’ll watch it if I catch it on TV, and sing along, to my wife’s dismay.
      My uncle worked for Willy Wonka candy in Itasca, IL, sadly there was no chocolate river.

      • James Walker
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        I was 4 or 5 when it came out. I remember it being on TV but my parents not letting me watch it for some reason. I didn’t see it until I was in university.

  4. Woof
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Proof of NO GOD:

    Gilda Radner, dead at 42.
    Lucille Ball, dead at 77.

    • George
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Don’t knock Lucy. Gilda and most of the female comedians of her era adored Lucy.

      • Woof
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        Sorry… I just never could stand Lucy. Scratch that – I never could stand the characters she played. Or the way she played them. Whatever!

    • rickflick
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Gowd works in missssterious waauys.

  5. Dawn Oz
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    He was a much loved actor in Australia as well – The Twelve Chairs. All that wit and charm.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Whoops – meant ‘The Producers’

  6. Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Tragic indeed.

    My favorite line of his was from Hear no Evil See No Evil with Richard Pryor

    ”Men’s rear! But I used a condom.”

  7. George
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Well this sucks. Is this a bad year or is it my advancing age? Ali, Prince, Bowie et al and now Gene Wilder.

    I cannot help but smile whenever I think of Wilder. Even in his film debut as a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde. His first two films with Richard Pryor, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. But the best are with Mel Brooks – The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974).

    Of those, Blazing Saddles is the most special. After 42 years, it is still a brilliant depiction of race in America. My favorite scene in the movie is when Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) and the Waco Kid (Wilder) trap the Klansmen when Bart asks them “Where the white women at?”

    It is the funniest movie I have ever seen. Not the best American comedy – that would be Some Like It Hot, which is as close to perfect as any movie ever made. But Saddles is the most gut busting hilarious.

    BTW, did Gene borrow Billy Wilder’s last name?

    Wilder did his best work with others. The stronger the cast, the better he was. Especially Young Frankenstein – Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn. Just brilliant.
    You will be missed – you “Jewish-Buddhist-Atheist”.

  8. airbag moments
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget my beloved “Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother!”

    Wilder is probably my most beloved actor, especially delightful to me in my childhood.

    Come. On. And…HOP, HOP,
    Come and do the kangaroo HOP! HOP!
    It’s the only dance to do!
    If you’re over 80 you can waltz a little while,
    But hoppin’ around the parlor is the very latest style!

    I miss Marty Feldman & Madeline Kahn so much also.

  9. Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    So many great roles and movies. I absolutely love Willy Wonka and Wilder is pitch perfect in it. It’s still one of the strangest, funniest, craziest “children’s” movies ever. And when it’s on TV, I’ll be singing the songs for days.

    “If you want to view paradise…”

  10. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    That’s a shame. I went out of my way to re-watch The Producers a couple of months ago – wasn’t there a pathetic re-make recently, or rumour of a re-make?

    • George
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Brooks turned The Producers into a Broadway play (2001) with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. A film (2005) was made of the musical. The play was good, the movie so-so.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        The movie is one of several I could mention that tries to squeeze a 3-hour stage play into a 2-hour movie and doesn’t quite cut it.
        Tim Burton’s film of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” suffers similarly, IMO.

  11. Vaal
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    This one really got me.

    I worship Gene Wilder’s performances, especially in Young Frankenstein and Wonka.
    He was such a fantastic actor and the humor came through his acting rather than simply acting to be humorous.

    No one has ever done “the guy caught in a sticky situation and trying to fake his way out of it” than Gene Wilder.
    And just the way his eyes would look around in subtle WTF confusion whenever confronted by another character’s odd behaviour. His expressions kill me every time.

    And of course, his final blow up scene at the end of Wonka is a classic. “Good-day, sir!!!”

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I had no idea Wilder was 83 either! Mostly I know him from being married to Gilda Radner, who I really liked because she was so funny and was a funny woman in a world that doesn’t really appreciate funny women (I consider myself hilarious). I should read her biography, It’s Always Something. Ovarian cancer scares the bejesus out of me because there’s no real screening and by the time you have symptoms it’s often too late. Radner may have been an ashkenazi Jew and carried the nasty BRCA deleterious mutations.

    • Martin Levin
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Gilda Radner was definitely an Ashkenazi Jew. I also want to point out a couple of other terrific Wilder roles: opposite Zero Mostel in a version of Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros,’ and, especially, ‘The Frisco Kid,’ a very funny movie. Wilder is a Polish rabbi sent to San Francisco. When he asks where it is, the elder rabbis say “By New York.” Also with a young, and funny, Harrison Ford.

  13. Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I remember seeing an interview with him after Gilda died and he talked about some of the things that were problems when she was sick.

    He said she thought that he saw her as unattractive after she lost her hair to chemo, and that one of his mistakes was to never tell her that she was wrong, that he thought those little tiny hairs on her head were very sexy… But never told her and he regretted it very much.

    They loved each other very much.

  14. Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I found the article,,20115242,00.html

  15. Christopher
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    He was a favorite of mine, up there with Tom Hanks, Steve Martin (both, thankfully still with us) and Robin Williams in my personal favorite actor category. I will need to go back into his catalog to fill in any gaps I missed or any movies I saw as a kid and didn’t fully understand.

    His Young Frankenstein was on constantly when my son was young. He laughed at and loved what he understood, I laughed at and loved what he didn’t. Willy Wonka, like so many others have mentioned, was another frequent film on the dvd player for us. He was kinda scary and confusing when I first saw him, but at least he didn’t come across as a paedophile like Depp’s horrid version. Because My son loved that movie so much, we then dove head-first into Roald Dahl’s original version, and followed it with just about everything else Dahl wrote, all because of Wilder. And of course I loved Blazing Saddles, which my mother rented for me when I was 18 and recovering from jaw surgery and I don’t remember it hurting even though I was laughing so hard. I think laughter made that ordeal tolerable.

    I will certainly miss him, but I feel like I’ve been missing him for some time. He just stepped out of the frame and wasn’t really heard from for so long. I don’t think he was ever the same without Gilda, and the world won’t be the same without him…

  16. Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Ah, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with the bizarre images in the tunnel of the chocolate river, complete with beheaded chicken.

    I liked The Frisco Kid also, Wilder with of all people, Harrison Ford.

  17. frednotfaith2
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I recall as a kid seeing Willie Wonka in the theater — great performance! Also saw Young Frankenstein on a double bill with Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, featuring Sharon Tate (it was made in 1967 but I saw it in 1974 at a theater in Salt Lake City). At that time I had no idea who Sharon Tate was or of her horrid murder — I think it wasn’t until 1976 that I read Helter Skelter. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are among the greatest comedies ever. I hadn’t previously heard he had Alzheimer’s.
    He did seem to fade from the public eye after Gilda’s death, perhaps understandably. He brought some joy to the world with his talents but endured losses as is the standard lot in life. Gone though they are, Gene & Gilda will live on in the memories of those they entertained along with those who personally knew and loved them.

  18. merilee
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Very sad. Loved them both. Loved Gene in Young Frankenstein and Silver Streak (where he was HIlarious with Richard Pryor,another guy I miss).

  19. merilee
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    and sub

  20. noname
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Through your sincere and riveting acting on screen, you gave me inspiration in this life…I know that sounds strange, but it is true. I really wish that I could have met you to thank you. Peace Jerry

  21. Alan GE
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    And Juan Gabriel!

  22. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    First Juan Gabriel, and now Gene Wilder??? damn…

  23. neil
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Can i point you towards his role as The Fox, in the 1974 film of The Little Prince?
    A strange, hallucinatory film, which also features the genius Bob Fosse as The Snake (and you can see where Michael Jackson stole all his routines from…)

  24. Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    My first memory of Wilder was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    He was a great actor.

    My favorite films of his were: Stir Crazy and Silver Streak (neither of which I’m sorry to say aged very well for me.)

    I know I am going against the grain with this group (WEIT readers), but I never could stand anything by Mel Brooks. I got a few yuks from Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles — but not enough to justify the time spent. His style is just not very funny for me. (Though Wilder always had good performances.)

  25. mfdempsey1946
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    “Start The Revolution Without Me” should not be overlooked.

    In particular, Gene Wilder’s tremendous ability to go from utter mildness to roaring rage in a few seconds (visible in this trailer) is one of his best comedy shticks.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Oh man, Gene Wilder in his excitable screaming mode never fails to crack me up.

      • Merilee
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        Loved when Richard Pryor “black-faced” Gene with shoe polish in Silver Streak so that he could escape someone – the cops?? And showed him how to cooly carry the boombox on his shoulde. That scene was filmed in Toronto’s Union Station.

  26. mfdempsey1946
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Oops. Embedded. Didn’t do it right. Technologically challenged. Sorry.

  27. Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t remember seeing many of his movies, but I still do like _Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory_. I remember first seeing that in projection-style at some local community centre or something as a kid – when it was already 10-15 years old or so.

  28. Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:44 am | Permalink


  29. bric
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    A little late, but here is Mark Kermode’s tribute to Gene Wilder

    “What great knockers!
    (simpers) “Thank you doctor

  30. Posted September 20, 2016 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately he passed away a lil too early before the development promising treatment methods.. Just last week the Harvard University discovered some ways to help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, you can find out more in my medical blog at

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