The actor, who created many iconic roles, died at his Connecticut home, aged 83, while surrounded by family.
It was announced yesterday that the actor Gene Wilder has died from complications relating to Alzheimer’s disease.
He was probably best known for his role as Willy Wonka in the 1971 musical version of Roald Dahl’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but he also appeared in a range of comedic roles, often directed by Mel Brooks, or appearing with long-time co-star Richard Pryor.
His startling blue eyes, unkempt hair and sing-song voice brought an easy air of dark comedy to other acting roles including Leo Bloom in The Producers and the mad scientist in Young Frankenstein.
In a statement released by his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman, they explained why he chose not to disclose that he had Alzheimer’s disease:
‘The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease with which he co-existed for the last three years. The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family. 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 recognise those that were closest to him, not took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. It took enough, but not that.
‘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.
‘He was eighty-three and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember.’
The news of his death prompted a range of statements from well-known actors and directors who had either known and worked with him, or simply been touched by his films.
Director Mel Brooks, who directed him in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and The Producers, tweeted:
‘Gene Wilder, one of the truly great talents of our time, is gone. He blessed every film we did together with his special magic and he blessed my life with his friendship. He will be so missed.’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.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) 29 August 2016
Comedy actor Steve Martin tweeted: ‘Goodbye, Gene Wilder. You were one of the great screen comedians. Original and surprising every time.’
Goodbye, Gene Wilder. You were one of the great screen comedians. Original and surprising every time.
— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) 29 August 2016
Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, told the Press Association:
‘We’re all very, very sad. He was very much the father figure of our family.’