While the 1971 film adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory did not have Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and his Grandfather being blasted into space as happened at the end of the book (regretfully the film sequel of the book Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator which also presciently included a “Space Hotel USA” was never made), it did have Gene Wilder in the role of strange genius confectioner Willy Wonka – part of the reason for the film’s subsequent cult success. Sadly we report here that comedy actor Gene Wilder (nee Gerome Silberman) has passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 83.
Wilder was in many memorable film comedies in which he usually played slightly pathetic everyman parts included the excellent Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980) in which he starred with Richard Pryor. He also made movie comedies with Mel Brooks including The Producers (1968), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Blazing Saddles (1974) in which he starred as a failed gunslinger “the Waco Kid” alongside a black sheriff as played by Cleavon Little.
Blazing Saddles, which was co-written by Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, regularly appears in listings of the top ten funniest films. In spite of Blazing Saddles being both a comedy take off of Westerns and a satirical send-up of casual racism, nevertheless, this movie looks set to be one of a kind. The film’s writer and director, Mel Brooks, has noted that the onset of political correctness has meant that a lot of its comedy and language (especially the “N-word”), despite being well intentioned, would make it virtually impossible to make today.
Gene Wilder directed films himself and had lesser film and television acting roles well into the early 1990s. However, with the death from cancer of his third wife, comedy actress Gilda Radner in 1989, he spent more time writing his subsequently published memoirs and novels, and promoting cancer charities instead.
Nevertheless, despite a foreshortening of his film career, we salute Gene Wilder for making us all laugh and give our condolences to his family.