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On Monday, Gene Wilder passed away at his Stamford, CT home at the age of 83. The cause of Wilder’s death was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the actor’s nephew.
To say Wilder was an iconic comedic figure might be underselling his impact. He portrayed several indelible characters in his illustrious career, including Leo Bloom in The Producers, The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles and Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Wilder also teamed up with the late, great Richard Pryor in films such as Silver Streak and Stir Crazy.
Although best known for his movie work, Wilder made some notable appearances on the small screen. Wilder starred in the short-lived NBC sitcom Something Wilder and made an Emmy-winning guest-starring turn on Will & Grace. As it turned out, his portrayal of Dr. Stein on that latter show would be the last time audiences would get to see Wilder on screen.
Wilder went into semi-retirement in his later years, devoting himself to such pursuits as writing and painting watercolors. He also raised money for cancer research in tribute to his beloved wife Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer. Wilder was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago but, true to his private nature, wanted to keep the news to himself until the end.
According to a statement from Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, the actor wanted to leave his fans with the lasting, pleasant memory of who he was.
“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,” the statement reads in part. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”