Actor Gene Wilder of Willy Wonka fame has passed away from complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 83. Wilder was in his Stamford, Connecticut home when he died.
His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, released the following statement:
“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 recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. 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 continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as a parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the company of beloved ones.”
Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman. He first began acting on the live stage before transitioning to the silver screen in his 1967 film debut in Bonnie and Clyde. His role in Bonnie and Clyde was a minor one, but he followed it up with a major one a year later in The Producers playing Leopold Bloom. From there he went on to star in a number of films working alongside writer and director Mel Brooks, including Academy Award-winning Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
Wilder’s most famous role was starring as Willy Wonka in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. He remained active clear through the 90s and early 2000s.
Wilder is survived by his fourth wife, Karen Boyer, and his nephew.