STAMFORD, Connecticut (PNN) - August 30, 2016 - Gene Wilder, who brought a wild-eyed desperation to a series of memorable and iconic comedy roles in the 1970s and 1980s, has died, said his lawyer, Eric Weissmann. He was 83.
Wilder is best known for his collaborations with director Mel Brooks, starring as the stressed-out Leo Bloom in Brooks' breakout 1967 film The Producers, and later in the monster movie spoof Young Frankenstein. He also portrayed a boozing gunslinger in Blazing Saddles.
For many people, Wilder might be best remembered for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, playing the mysterious candy tycoon in the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl's book.
In a statement to CNN on Monday, Brooks called Wilder, "One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship," Brooks wrote.
Wilder died due to complications from Alzheimer's disease, which he struggled with for three years, his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement.
Wilder chose not to disclose his illness, the statement added.
"He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world," Walker-Pearlman said. In the years after Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder continued to star in numerous comedies, with less consistent success. That included several films with Richard Pryor, including Stir Crazy and Silver Streak, as well as solo vehicles like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and The World's Greatest Lover, which he also directed.
In a 2005 interview with CNN, Wilder discussed how he met Brooks, having been cast in a play opposite the director's then-girlfriend, Anne Bancroft.
"That led to The Producers and Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, because I was miscast in a play," Wilder said, "and it changed my life."
He said he was happy to be cast in primarily comedic roles throughout his acting career. “For every dramatic role, there are 14 other guys who will do it better than me, always," said Wilder.
He was married to Saturday Night Live regular Gilda Radner for five years until her death in 1989.
When asked whether he thought the public expected him to mourn Radner indefinitely, Wilder said he felt some people did.
Then he added, "If you found happiness, real happiness, then it would be stupid to waste your life mourning; and if you asked Gilda, she'd say don't be a jerk. You know, go out, have fun. Wake up and smell the coffee."
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Karen Wilder.
Wilder's friends, co-workers and admirers were quick to pay tribute to the actor after the news of his death.
"Bless you for all these years of laughter and love, such warmth and humanity," wrote film critic Leonard Maltin.
Debra Messing, former star of Will & Grace, a show on which Wilder guest-starred, said,
"A man who lit up the world with his joy and genius. I can't say what it meant to act with him and get to know his heart."