Gene Wilder, 83, Dies

On August 29, the actor Gene Wilder, 83, died. His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, reported that he had died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. Wilder was best known for his roles in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971), “Blazing Saddles” (1974), and “Young Frankenstein” (1974).

He was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee; his father was a Russian immigrant. He adopted the stage name “Gene Wilder” when he was 26. He made his professional debut as an actor in 1961 when he had a major role in the Off-Broadway production “Roots.” He concentrated on stage and television roles at first and made his movie debut in 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde.”

During the 60s, he also met Mel Brooks, who cast him in “The Producers” (1968). His performance as Leo Bloom netted him an Academy Award nomination. Brooks and he made several films together, which inspired Wilder to try his luck as a director. His first foray behind the camera was 1975’s “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.”

Wilder also made several movies with Richard Pryor. The first two, “Silver Streak” (1976) and “Stir Crazy” (1980), proved to be major hits.

Wilder was married four times to Mary Mercier, Mary Schuiltz, Gilda Radner, and finally to Karen Webb. After Radner, another comic known for her appearances on SNL, died from ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder became involved in cancer awareness. He helped found the non-profit Gilda’s Club in her honor, and the organization continues working with cancer patients and their families.

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