Gene Wilder, the actor known for roles in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and “Blazing Saddles,” has died at age 83.
Wilder died Monday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. According to a statement from Wilder’s nephew, Wilder died as a recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”–one of his favorite songs–played in the background.
He had all but retired from the industry at the time of his death, with his last credited on-screen role coming in a few episodes of “Will & Grace” back in 2003. He also lent his voice to an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba” in 2015.
Wilder’s onscreen career began back in the 1960s, when he appeared on a number of TV shows in small roles. His breakout year was 1967. He appeared in the small but memorable role as undertaker Eugene in the classic film “Bonnie and Clyde,” followed by a star-making turn in Mel Brooks‘ Oscar-winning comedy “The Producers.”
“The Producers” marked the first of several collaborations Wilder would do with Brooks. Wilder would go on to play the gun-slinging “Waco Kid” Jim in the seminal 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles” opposite Cleavon Little as Bart, a black sheriff who must deal with prejudice in a small frontier town.
Wilder went on to co-write and star in “Young Frankenstein” with Brooks directing and also writing. “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” are all ranked among AFI’s Top 100 Comedies of All Time.
Wilder also starred in several films with Richard Pryor, including “Silver Streak,” “Stir Crazy” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil.”
Wilder was married four times in his life, including to fellow comedy legend Gilda Radner from 1984 to 1989. He had no children of his own, but adopted his second wife’s daughter in 1967.
He was nominated for two Oscars in his career, for Best Supporting Actor in “The Producers” and for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Young Frankenstein.” He won an Emmy in 2003 for his role on “Will & Grace.”
Despite his often wild and over-the-top roles, Wilder was known to be a very quiet and reserved man off screen. In his free time, he enjoyed watercolor painting and published six books, including a memoir entitled “Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art.”