In Memoriam: The Unique Genius of Gene Wilder, Golden Globe Nominee, 1933-2016

by Ana Maria Bahiana August 29, 2016
Actor Gene Wilder, Golden Globe nominee

HFPA Archives

Two-time Golden Globe nominee Gene Wilder has died in the early hours of Monday August 29, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. The master comedy actor left his mark on movies such as Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Producers and Blazing Saddles, proving to be the perfect partner for writer/director Mel Brooks’ intensely zany pieces. “Mel Brooks worked for years to raise the money for Springtime for Hitler, which later became The Producers.", Wilder told the HFPA in the 1970s. "That started our relationship, then there were Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and we became very close. I consider him the only authentic genius that I've ever worked with by my standard and I love him as a member of my family."

Wilder had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989 but his death, according to his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman, was due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.

Born Jerome Silberman in a Russian Jewish family from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wilder started out in the New York theater, quickly rising from bit player to main attraction. In 1963, while working on a production of Mother Courage and Her Children, Wilder met Mel Brooks through cast mate Anne Bancroft, who at the time was dating Brooks.

In 1967, after a small but notable part in director Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde, Wilder got his big cinematic break as the panicky Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’The Producers. From there Wilder would go on in a succession of hits that included two more successful projects in partnership with Brooks – Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, both in 1974 – and his two Golden-Globe-nominated performances, for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971 and Silver Streak in 1976.

With his unique blend of manic energy and sweet disposition, Gene Wilder created some of the most memorable comedic performances of the 1970s. His last work as an actor was in 2015, in the children's avant-garde TV show Yo Gabba Gabba. Steven Spielberg had reportedly offered Wilder a part in his latest project, the sci-fi thriller Ready, Player One.