Gene Wilder has died. Wilder - the man who unequivocally was the Willie Wonka (I'm not even sorry, Johnny Depp) - was 83 years-old.
It is reported he died from complications due to Alzheimer's, a condition kept private by his family until the time of his death. And, in fashion with Wilder's unassuming and quiet manner, keeping his battles from the press was for the comfort of others. In a statement yesterday, his nephew said:
“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. 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. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.
He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the the company of beloved ones.”
For our generation, Wilder is best remembered for the charmingly off-centre characters he portrayed in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (1974), and as Mr. Stein during a stint on Will & Grace (2003). Gene Wilder was married several times, which to me is not a call for critique but rather a confirmation that he loved and was loved. He was most famously married to Gilda Radner from 1984 until her passing in 1989 from ovarian cancer, and his wife Karen now becomes his widow after 25 years of marriage.
We'll all grow old, if we're lucky. May we do it with the same grace and humour as did Wilder, similarly surrounded by families who take into account not only our physical comfort but the protection of our legacies.