I returned home from my vacation today to the news that one of my childhood favorites/hero's, the amazing Gene Wilder, had sadly passed away. Many famous people have died that have hit me personally but this one was different. So many films by Wilder were introduced to me by my father. I then later introduce them to my own son. Being able to introduce certain films (Clint Eastwood westerns, Mel Brooks films, Monty Python films, etc...) to your own child is almost like a right of passage. Both my son and dad responded to the news today of his passing with a great amount of sadness.
Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in June of 1933. He began his acting career on the stage before moving on to television in the 1962 TV series Armstrong Circle Theater. Gene made his film debut in the 1967's "Bonnie and Clyde" in which he played a hostage. His first major film role was also his first in a string of movies that he did with the great Mel Brooks, 1968's "The Producers". The Producers also earned Wilder his first nomination for an Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor.
Wilder went on to collaborate by acting in and co-writing with Brooks in "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein", both released in 1974. Young Frankenstein earned Wilder along with Brooks yet another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Wilder may be best known for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory". He also acted in four films with fellow comedian Richard Pryor during the 70's, 80's and early 90's that included Silver Streak in 1976, Stir Crazy in 1980, See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 1989 and Another You in 1991.
Wilder was married three times, most famously to his second wife Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live fame. The duo starred in three films together before her death from ovarian cancer in 1989. Due to the loss of his wife he spent much of his later life promoting cancer awareness and treatments. He founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in LA and also co-founded Gilda's Club. Gilda's Club is an organization for people living with cancer, their families and friends that provide's emotional and social support as a supplement to the medical treatments that the patients receive.
Wilder spent his later years as an author, rarely appearing in movies or on television. Wilder passed away at his home yesterday in Stamford, Connecticut. Wilder was 83 and had been suffering from Alzheimers.
RIP Gene and thank you for all the joy that you brought so many of us!
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