Wonka’s Final Goodbye


Hans Peters / Anefo

On August 23, Gene Wilder died in his home in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 83, after a three year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, explained that the actor chose to keep his illness a secret to protect his fans.

“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,” stated Walker-Pearlman.

Wilder was an actor, screenwriter, author, and director. Although Wilder’s successful career spanned several decades, most people remember him for his legendary portrayal of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

gene_wilder_1Gene Wilder was born Jerry Silberman on June 11, 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He began his career on stage before moving on to television and film. Wilder made his Broadway debut as Hotel Valet in “The Complaisant Lover” in 1962, a performance which won him a Clarence Derwent Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Nonfeatured Role.

Wilder made his film debut in a small role in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. Just one year after his film debut, Wilder landed a lead role in The Producers which premiered to not-so-stellar reviews or box office numbers, but went on to become a cult classic.

In 1971, Wilder auditioned for the film that would change his career, an adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Director Mel Stuart became fond of his portrayal of the candy maker, telling the actor that if it was solely up to him, the role would be Wilder’s.

Willy Wonka, as we all know, has become a classic which showcased Wilder’s comedic chops and cemented him as a beloved children’s icon.

Gene Wilder continued to act, in both television and film, until 2003, when he retired from acting after a final role on Will & Grace. He explained his retirement from performing in 2008 saying, “I don’t like show business, I realized. I like show, but don’t like the business.”

After ending his acting career, he focused on his writing, publishing his third and final novel, Something to Remember You By: A Perilous Romance, in April 2013.

Gene Wilder’s wondrous life ended peacefully on August 23, 2016, with him surrounded by his loved ones. Wilder was a remarkable actor whose talent prevailed the changing times of Hollywood. He touched many lives, both those who grew up with him and new generations alike, and will not be forgotten anytime soon.


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