Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Gene Wilder’s family and celebrities pay tribute to a comedy icon

gene-wilder-tribute.jpg

Over the weekend, it was announced that Gene Wilder – the twinkle-eyed, softly-spoken star of films including Willy Wonka, Blazing Saddles and The Producers – had passed away aged 83.

In a statement written on behalf of Wilder’s family, the actor’s “nephew/child” Jordan Walker-Pearlman delivered the news of his death “with indescribable sadness and blues, but with spiritual gratitude for the life lived”, adding: “It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him.”

Wilder died at home in Stamford, Connecticut, holding his family’s hands “with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember,” said Walker-Pearlman. He said that one of Wilder’s favourite songs – Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Ella Fitzgerald – played in the background as he died.

The legendary actor had been experiencing complications from Alzheimer’s, according to his family. The news that Wilder had been suffering from the disease for the last three years came as a surprise to many: the actor, who retreated from the public eye in his later years, had largely kept his illness a secret. 

gene-wilder

Gene Wilder with his wife of 25 years, Karen Boyer, in 2007. The actor described the beginning of their relationship as “like a flower that’s blooming”.

“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 of trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion,” said Walker-Pearlman.

“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”

But even when Wilder’s Alzheimer’s was at its worst, Walker-Pearlman said, he didn’t lose his sense of self – nor his ability to remember his loved ones.

“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones,” he said. “This illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognise those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality.”

The twice Oscar-nominated Wilder was known predominantly for his comedic roles, usually playing gentle, wide-eyed neurotics. Upon learning of his death, comedians and actors including Mel Brooks – who directed Wilder in films including The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein – and Jim Carrey payed tribute on Twitter to a comedic hero. 

Image: Getty

Related

song a minute man viral.jpg

Father and son Carpool Karaoke for Alzheimer’s Society goes viral

hero.jpg

Couples together for over 50 years share their secrets

LP42009t.jpg

The greatest wisdom from Roald Dahl books for grown-up life

More

Blake Lively expertly uses Ryan Gosling to get revenge on her husband

Just flawless trolling, all day long

by Kayleigh Dray
24 Oct 2017

Anna Faris: I didn’t blame Jennifer Lawrence for Pratt romance rumours

“The coverage was making me feel insecure”

by Kayleigh Dray
24 Oct 2017

Oscar-nominated director accused of sexual harassment by 31 women

“He told me he'd love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes”

by Susan Devaney
23 Oct 2017

Rebecca Black on the “intense nastiness” and abuse of her early fame

She was just 13 years old when her music video went viral

by Nicola Colyer
23 Oct 2017

Chrissy Teigen is a Clueless fangirl just like the rest of us

She did what we’d all do

by Susan Devaney
23 Oct 2017

Bridget Jones star Sarah Solemani: women need protection in auditions

The Bad Education actor recalls being asked to act out intimate scenes

by Amy Swales
23 Oct 2017

Kate Hudson on the unique harassment faced by women in Hollywood

“It feels horrible. It’s degrading. It’s dismissive. So much needs to change”

by Moya Crockett
23 Oct 2017

Jennifer Aniston reveals the £18 secret behind her iconic hair

And it's extremely low-effort

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Oct 2017

This is why Paloma Faith has never revealed her baby’s name

She welcomed her first child in December 2016, but has chosen not to publicise its name or sex

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Oct 2017

This massive star was very nearly in Hocus Pocus

Oh sisters, how very different things could have been

by Nicola Colyer
20 Oct 2017