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Gene Wilder dies aged 83: Star of The Producers and Young Frankenstein passes away

Published 29/08/2016

Publicity photo of Gene Wilder for film Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), also known as Two Times Two
Publicity photo of Gene Wilder for film Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), also known as Two Times Two
Actor Gene Wilder, known for his roles in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and many other films, died of complications from Alzheimers disease August 29, 2016 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83. London June 07: Actor Gene Wilder poses as he signs copies of his autobiography "Kiss Me Like A Stranger", at Waterstone's, Oxford Street on June 7, 2005 in London, England. The memoirs give an insight into Wilder's failed love life, his experiences of working with stars such as Richard Pryor and Woody Allen, his fight with, and victory over, cancer, and his time in the UK studying acting at the Bristol Old Vic. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
FILE - AUGUST 29: Actor Gene Wilder, known for his roles in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and many other films, died of complications from Alzheimers disease August 29, 2016 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83. NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 05: Gene Wilder and his wife Karen Boyer watch as Shahar Peer of Israel takes on Anna Chakvetadze of Russia during day ten of the 2007 U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 5, 2007 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
File photo dated 02/10/1996 of Gene Wilder as Max Prince during rehearsals for Neil Simon's "Laughter of the 23rd Floor", at Queen's Theatre in London as the actor has died aged 83, his family said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 29, 2016. See PA story DEATH Wilder. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 07/06/2005 of actor Gene Wilder who has has died aged 83, his family said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 29, 2016. See PA story DEATH Wilder. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
File photo dated 06/06/1996 of actor Gene Wilder who has has died aged 83, his family said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 29, 2016. See PA story DEATH Wilder. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 06/06/2005 of actor Gene Wilder who has has died aged 83, his family said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 29, 2016. See PA story DEATH Wilder. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 07, 2013 shows actor Gene Wilder watching Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic play against Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka during their 2013 US Open men's semifinals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. Hollywood star Gene Wilder, who delighted audiences with his comic turns in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and several Mel Brooks classics including "Blazing Saddles" and "The Producers," died August 29, 2016 at age 83, Variety magazine reported. The weekly trade journal quoted his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman as saying the actor died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in Connecticut. / AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNANDEMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 7, 1984 shows US actor and director Gene Wilder poses with his wife Gilda Radner, during the 10th American Film Festival of Deauville. Hollywood star Gene Wilder, who delighted audiences with his comic turns in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and several Mel Brooks classics including "Blazing Saddles" and "The Producers," died August 29, 2016 at age 83, Variety magazine reported. The weekly trade journal quoted his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman as saying the actor died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in Connecticut. / AFP PHOTO / Mychele DANIAUMYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images
FILE - AUGUST 29: Actor Gene Wilder, known for his roles in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and many other films, died of complications from Alzheimers disease August 29, 2016 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83. NEW YORK - MARCH 15: Gene Wilder signs a copy of his new book "My French Whore" at Barnes & Noble, March 15, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
FILE - In this March 16, 2005 file photo, actor Gene Wilder speaks about his life and career at Boston University in Boston. Wilder, who starred in such film classics as "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and "Young Frankenstein" has died. He was 83. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE - AUGUST 29: Actor Gene Wilder, known for his roles in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and many other films, died of complications from Alzheimers disease August 29, 2016 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83. WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 17: Actor and author Gene Wilder autographs copies of his new book 'The Woman Who Wouldn't' at Barnes & Noble Bookstore at The Grove on March 17, 2008 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 7, 1984 shows US actor and director Gene Wilder of the movie "The Woman in Red" during the 10th American Film Festival of Deauville. Hollywood star Gene Wilder, who delighted audiences with his comic turns in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and several Mel Brooks classics including "Blazing Saddles" and "The Producers," died August 29, 2016 at age 83, Variety magazine reported. The weekly trade journal quoted his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman as saying the actor died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in Connecticut. / AFP PHOTO / Mychele DANIAUMYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images

Actor Gene Wilder has died aged 83, his family said.

Wilder's nephew said on Monday that the actor and writer died late on Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

"He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world," Mr Walker-Pearlman said.

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.

"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."

With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in Young Frankenstein or bilking Broadway in The Producers. Brooks would call him "God's perfect prey, the victim in all of us".

But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozy gunslinger in Blazing Saddles or the charming candy man in the children's favourite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.

He was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas - Wilder uptight, Pryor loose - were ideal for comedy.

They co-starred in four films: Silver Streak, 'Stir Crazy, 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You. And they created several memorable scenes, particularly when Pryor provided Wilder with directions on how to "act black" as they tried to avoid police in Silver Streak.

Oscar nomination

In 1968, Wilder received an Oscar nomination for his work in Brooks' The Producers. He played the introverted Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers the liberating joys of greed and corruption as he and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) conceive a Broadway flop titled Springtime For Hitler and plan to flee with the money raised for the show's production.

Matthew Broderick played Wilder's role in the 2001 Broadway stage revival of the show.

Though they collaborated on film, Wilder and Brooks met through the theatre. Wilder was in a play with Brooks' then-future wife, Anne Bancroft, who introduced the pair backstage in 1963.

Wilder, a Milwaukee native, was born Jerome Silberman on June 11 1935. His father was a Russian emigre, his mother was of Polish descent. When he was six, 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 lessons 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.

He used his new name, Gene Wilder, for the off-Broadway and Broadway roles.

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 Bancroft in Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, and met Brooks, her future husband.

"I was having trouble with one little section of the play, and he gave me tips on how to act.

"He said, 'That's a song and dance. He's proselytising about communism. Just skip over it, sing and dance over it, and get on to the good stuff.' And he was right," Wilder later explained.

Before starring in The Producers, he had a small role as the hostage of gangsters in the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde. He peaked in the mid-1970s with the twin Brooks hits Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

He went on to write several screenplays and direct several films. In 1982, while making the generally forgettable Hanky-Panky, he fell in love with co-star Gilda Radner. They were married in 1984, and co-starred in two Wilder-penned films: The Lady In Red and Haunted Honeymoon.

After Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research.


He opened a support facility for cancer patients called Gilda's Place. In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer.

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991.

Tributes

Mel Brooks tweeted: "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."

Comedian and presenter Dara O Briain tweeted: "Gene Wilder has died. Sad news, but such a life well lived. For me, Young Frankenstein just pips Wonka, but so many wonderful performances.

"Expecting to hear people were fans of Blazing Saddles, Producers and Stir Crazy, but amazing number going for See No Evil, Hear No Evil."

Stephen Fry tweeted: "Farewell #GeneWilder, comic genius. Thank you for all those happy happy hours."

Actor Zach Braff posted a short clip from the Willy Wonka film and wrote: "RIP to the legendary Gene Wilder. 2016 has been painful so far."

This year has seen a long list of celebrity deaths including David Bowie, Ronnie Corbett and Victoria Wood.

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