A brilliant, eccentric, comedic master and a truly one-of-a-kind man passed away Aug. 29.
Gene Wilder lived to the age of 83 but suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last three years of his life, unbeknownst to the public. His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, recently shared this information in a public statement, revealing that his uncle “simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
The world knew him for his bizarre, yet wonderful roles he portrayed on-screen, such as the original Willy Wonka in the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in 1974 film parody “Young Frankenstein.” His face has even inspired the “condescending Wonka” meme that has grown in popularity within recent years.
However his success goes far beyond an Internet trend. His earlier years were ablaze with many accomplishments. He was being nominated for awards such as a Golden Globe, Academy Award and Emmy (which he won for his role of Dr. Stein in the comedy series “Will and Grace”). Yet there was much more to this mysterious and inspirational man than what lay on the surface.
He had various interests and talents in addition to acting such as singing, dancing, screenwriting, directing and writing. He ended his acting career years ago in 1991, and he later stated in an interview on June 12, 2013 with Turner Classic Movies (his last before his death) that modern films nowadays are “just bombs and loudness.” It is clear that he has left a lasting impression in our pop culture world, so here are a few facts about Gene Wilder that are not as popular and widely known.
Did you know…?
He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
His birth name is Jerome (Jerry) Silberman; he states in his book “Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search for Love and Art” that he chose to create an alias after deciding that “Jerry Silberman in ‘Macbeth’” did not have the “right ring to it.”
While studying at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England, he became the first freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship after only six months of practicing fencing.
He was drafted into the army in 1956.
According to a Good Housekeeping article, he only agreed to play the role of Willy Wonka if the director would allow him to make his grand entrance while carrying a cane and walking with a limp, then proceeding to collapse the cane into the ground and continue into a somersault, after which he would stand up straight and without difficulty; this scene’s purpose would establish him as the antagonist and would demonstrate to the viewer that he was a character not to be trusted completely.
While he had four wives throughout his lifetime, his third (Gilda Radner) was considered by many to be the true love of his life. She was a talented and famous comedienne of her time, starring as one of the original cast members in NBC’s comedy skit “Saturday Night Live.” She was 42 when she died of ovarian cancer, and Wilder carried out her wish that information about her illness would be shared in order to aid others. He co-founded “Gilda’s Club” in New York in 1995, an organization that aided the community of cancer patients and their families.
Wilder taught the ropes of acting to Peter Ostrum, the actor who played Charlie Buckett alongside Wilder’s Wonka. Variety Magazine reported that Ostrum said Wilder’s death is like losing a parent. “You know it’s going to happen, but it’s still a shock.”