Gene Wilder, Star Of ‘Willy Wonka’ and ‘Young Frankenstein,’ Dies | WBEZ
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Gene Wilder, Star Of 'Willy Wonka' and 'Young Frankenstein,' Dies

Actor and writer Gene Wilder, who brought his signature manic energy to films such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and the role that forever ensconced him in the collective memory of a generation of children, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, has died, Wilder's nephew said. He was 83.

Wilder died today at his home in Stamford, Conn., of complications from Alzheimer's disease, according to a statement from his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman.

"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," the statement read. "He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

As the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, Wilder tempered the onscreen hysterics for which he was known with a slyly mysterious quality that lent the children's film an edge of menace. Famously, he refused to take the role unless his character could make his entrance limping out of the factory, planting his cane in the ground, and doing a somersault. When director Mel Stuart asked him why, Wilder said, "Because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth."

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