Gene Wilder is a name associated with the best comedy films of all time. His die-hard fans see him in the same league as Charlie Chaplin, his inspiration. Wilder, 83, passed away on August 29, due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.
Throughout his career, he has portrayed eccentric, neurotic, hysterical characters, each with its own quirk that Wilder essayed with perfection. He was praised as much for his comic timing as for his ability to play characters with extreme behaviour (as the mad-hat Willy Wonka, for instance).
His nephew, director Jordan Walker-Pearlman, announced his death through a statement explaining why the family decided to keep news of his mental illness a secret: “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. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
Besides being immortalised as an internet meme, here are five other ways that the world will remember the comic genius of Wilder:
As the classic, eccentric Willy Wonka
Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka could easily be one of his most recognisable performances. The 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a classic based on Roald Dahl's story, directed by Mel Stuart. Wilder had reportedly agreed to do the film subject to one condition—that he could do his improvisation of the 'grand entry' of Willy Wonka. It worked wonders, becoming one of the most memorable scenes in the film. He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actor in the musicals category.
As a hysterical accountant in the satirical hit The Producers
Wilder played Leo Bloom, a worrisome accountant who teams up with a sleazy producer (played by Zero Mostel) to purposely create a play that will flop. Being just his second film, The Producers quickly became a crowd favourite and his skills as a comic actor were praised to no end. The performance earned him an Oscar nomination for the best supporting actor that year. The 1967 film was directed by Mel Brooks, whom he would go on to collaborate with four big hits such as Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974).
As a writer of satire and comedy
In 1974, Wilder co-wrote Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks, turning it into a hilarious parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He then wrote and directed The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother in 1975, another parody and satire that cemented Wilder's position as the king of classical comedy among his contemporaries. He also wrote and directed lesser known films such as Woman In Red, Haunted Honeymoon and The World's Greatest Lover.
As Richard Pryor's comic partner
A film with Wilder and Richard Pryor is one that will tickle you till you cry, and then some more. The two complement each other well—one being calmer than the other—and their performances have naturally improvised on each others' lines. Of their five collaborations, Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980) stand out as the best. In real life, however, the duo were reportedly never good friends.
And finally, in his last role as another oddball
After a slew of hits and misses, he appeared for the last time on the silver screen in Another You in 1991, which bombed at the box office. Almost a decade later, a two-episode appearance in the television series Will & Grace marked Wilder's final moments in front of the camera. His role as Will's boss, a curious oddball, comes as a fitting ode to a career of hilarious, uninhibited performances.