RIP Gene Wilder
One of cinema’s favorite sons, Gene Wilder, died yesterday at the age of 83.
To list a few of Mr. Wilder’s most popular film credits:
- The Producers (1967)
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
- Blazing Saddles (1974)
- Stir Crazy (1980)
To illustrate the impact of an actor, whose acting portrayals far precede my birth, is a challenging task. How did Gene Wilder forever bring joy and fuel an imaginative engine inside the hearts and minds of children (now adults), especially those of us who did not even experience his cinematic works of comedy until a decade or more after the initial release?
The only explanation I can muster is revealed in bright colors, accompanied by a beautiful song in a scene from the 1971 masterpiece Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. This film not only defined a decade, but flipped the switch on who an adult could be in the eyes of a kid: a childlike dreamer.
If that nostalgic trip down Wonka’s way doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, get your tissues ready.
“There were times we would go out to dinner as a family and children would light up at the sight of him and smile. And because he never lost his instinct or sense or sensibility, it occurred to him that if that disease were made public … that then after that smile, some parent may then say something about disease or sadness. And he was such that he could not bear to be responsible for one less smile in the world.”
–Gene Wilder’s nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman on his uncle’s choice not to reveal he had Alzheimer’s disease.
I’ve said on a few occasions that when I finally have a house with a family, on Halloween, I will dress up like Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and decorate my house like the Wonka factory, ready to hand out world-altering chocolate and candy.
That was Gene Wilder’s everlasting gift: Pure imagination.
RIP Gene Wilder.