Gene Wilder Dead: 'Willy Wonka' Actor Dies At 83

The star of hit films such as "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory", "Young Frankentstein", and "Blazing Saddles" was 83 years old.

The Hollywood veteran who had been secretly battling Alzheimer's for the last three years was 83.

According to Wilder's nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, the 83-year-old had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for almost three years before it finally took his life - but very few people knew about it.

Gene Wilder was nominated twice for an Oscar for her role in The Producers (1968) and for co-wrote the screenplay for Frankenstein (1974), two films by Mel Brooks which he was a favorite actor.

The frizzy-haired actor was often cast as characters that showed signs of neurotic or hysteric behaviour.

"My quiet exterior used to be a mask for hysteria", Telegraph quoted the late actor as saying.

After Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time promoting cancer research and opened a support facility for cancer patients. Wilder only worked infrequently after she died.

He tied the knot again in 1991 with Karen Boyer and returned briefly to television in the United States with the sitcom Something Wilder in 1994 and won an Emmy in 2003 for a guest role on Will & Grace.

Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933, Wilder grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his first audience was his sickly mother. The family's doctor told the then schoolboy to "try and make her laugh" to take her mind off the pain she suffered.

Wilder's nephew recounted how one of the actor's favourite songs by Ella Fitzgerald played at the time of his death. "And I was always a great admirer of Thornton Wilder".

Off-screen, Wilder's life was no comedy. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene's comedy "The Complaisant Lover". Brooks also encouraged Wilder to become a director himself.

Starring in Willy Wonka was Ostrum's first and only film role, as he left the business to become a veterinarian.

Speaking to the Press Association Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, said: "We knew that Gene wasn't in great health but he's a very private man, very dignified, so it's not entirely a surprise, but it's still a very, very sad day".

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Katherine, from whom he was estranged.

  • Salvatore Jensen