Willy Wonka star Gene Wilder hailed a ‘comic genius’ after his death aged 83

Sheringham Little Theatre film clubs - Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka

Sheringham Little Theatre film clubs - Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka - Credit: Archant

Actor Gene Wilder, known by many for his role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has died aged 83.

Gene Wilder, left, and Richard Pryor are shown in this Dec. 1980 handout photo. (AP Photo)

Gene Wilder, left, and Richard Pryor are shown in this Dec. 1980 handout photo. (AP Photo) - Credit: AP

Mr Wilder's nephew said on Monday the actor, who was twice-nominated for an Oscar, died at his home on Sunday night in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement that his uncle was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

'He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world,' Mr Walker-Pearlman said.

The star first made waves on Broadway before transitioning to the silver screen for a brief role as a kidnapped undertaker in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.


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But he took on his best-known role as zany Willy Wonka in the cult 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

He was also known for his partnership with actor and comedian Richard Pryor - in films including Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You - and roles in other films including The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

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In 1968, he received an Oscar nomination for his work in Brooks' The Producers. He played the introverted Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers the liberating joys of greed and corruption as he and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) conceive a Broadway flop titled Springtime For Hitler and plan to flee with the money raised for the show's production.

Mr Wilder, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1989, is survived by daughter Kathryn, who he adopted in 1967, and wife Karen Boyer.

His friend Mel Brooks, who directed The Producers, said on Twitter: 'Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.'

Comedian and presenter Dara O Briain tweeted: 'Gene Wilder has died. Sad news, but such a life well lived. For me, Young Frankenstein just pips Wonka, but so many wonderful performances.

'Expecting to hear people were fans of Blazing Saddles, Producers and Stir Crazy, but amazing number going for See No Evil, Hear No Evil.'

Stephen Fry tweeted: 'Farewell Gene Wilder, comic genius. Thank you for all those happy happy hours.'

Actor Zach Braff posted a short clip from the Willy Wonka film and wrote: 'RIP to the legendary Gene Wilder. 2016 has been painful so far.'

This year has seen a long list of celebrity deaths including David Bowie, Ronnie Corbett and Victoria Wood.

Mr Wilder, a Milwaukee native, was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1935. His father was a Russian emigre, his mother was of Polish descent. When he was six, his mother suffered a heart attack that left her a semi-invalid.

He soon began improvising comedy skits to entertain her, the first indication of his future career.

He started taking acting classes at age 12 and continued performing and taking lessons through college. In 1961, he became a member of Lee Strasberg's prestigious Actor's Studio in Manhattan.

That same year, he made both his off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. He won the Clarence Derwent Award, given to promising newcomers, for the Broadway work in Graham Greene's comedy The Complaisant Lover.

He used his new name, Gene Wilder, for the off-Broadway and Broadway roles.

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