After an unpublicized battle with Alzheimers, famed American comic actor Gene Wilder has passed away at the age of 83. First appearing as a hostage in acclaimed 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder went on to star in many films over his illustrious career including a well-regarded working relationship with filmmaker Mel Brooks and fellow comic actor Richard Pryor.
While most may remember him for his time as a screen actor, he was a man of many talents, also being a stage actor, screenwriter, director and author. While he kept his struggle with Alzheimers secret to the public, the reason he had in doing so, as explained in a statement released by his nephew: “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.” We here at Chattr decided to honour his legacy with a look back at some of his major roles in his fruitful career.
The Producers (1968)
The Producers was the first film starring Wilder in a major role. It was written and directed by Mel Brooks and was the first taste for many of the brilliant comedic timing of Wilder. The role also garnered him his first Academy Award nomination. While it received a mixed reception on release, the film has been re-evaluated in years since and is now recognised as one of the greatest comedies of all time, due in part to its re-envisioning as a Broadway play.
Son of Frankenstein (1974)
Not only starring in the title role of Victor Frankenstein’s descendant, Wilder also wrote the film and pitched it to director Mel Brooks on the set of film Blazing Saddles. Deftly lampooning while also honouring the tradition of the original classic Frankenstein films, the film was a huge success, both at the box office and critically with many critics highlighting Wilder’s performance.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Still subversively whacky in 2016 as it was when it first aired, Blazing Saddles is a crazed satire of westerns, helped in no small part by Gene Wilder’s star turn as Jim “The Waco Kid”. Partnering up once again with Mel Brooks, the film made rousing comment on race, film making, and movies in general, famously becoming so chaotic it breaks “the fourth wall.” While once again being derided on its original release, it has become cherished over time, ranking no.6 in the AFI’s top 100 comedies of the 20th century.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
What can be said of Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka that hasn’t already been said? Bringing an eccentrically manic but quietly maudlin quality to his version, the film centred around his deft and alluring performance. It was also Wilder’s idea to introduce Wonka in such a mysterious manner as, “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” It was these interesting elements that elevated the movie beyond a mere kids film to a movie with a strong moral message while also being wonderfully entertaining.