Gene Wilder, the beloved writer, director, and/or star of countless classic comedies and family films, has died. The AP broke the news this afternoon.
After training on the stage and small screen, Wilder made his film debut with a brief but memorable appearance in Bonnie and Clyde. But his breakthrough role came the following year, with his starring turn in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, as hilariously nebbish accountant-turned-Broadway producer Leo Bloom. That film was Brooks’ directorial debut, and the pair re-teamed for two classic comedies, both released in 1974: Young Frankenstein (which Wilder co-wrote), and Blazing Saddles.
Brooks wrote Saddles with comedian Richard Pryor, whom Wilder would team with for 1976’s Silver Streak, the first of four memorable on-screen team-ups. But Wilder’s most iconic turn may well have been the title role in the 1971 family favorite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a role he imbued with an indelible mixture of sweetness and strangeness.
Wilder also wrote and directed four features of his own: The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. The latter two co-starred Wilder’s wife, Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, whom he met when they worked together on the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky. After she succumbed to cancer in 1989, Wilder was a vital force in the founding of the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles, and Gilda’s Club, a cancer awareness and support organization.
Following her death, Wilder starred in only two more films before effectively retiring from the screen, making increasingly infrequent television appearances in the years that followed.
Wilder was 83.