Gene Wilder dies at 83


Sam Falb, Sam Falb, and

In the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) vaults the young protagonist, Charlie Bucket, into a world of imagination and gumdrops, and in the process not only captures Charlie’s heart, but the hearts of millions of fans worldwide for decades to come. After a short but turbulent battle with illness last month, Wilder finally succumbed to complications of his disease on August 23rd, and with his passing, ended a long, powerful era of film.

“A nephew, the filmmaker Jordan Walker-Pearlman, confirmed his death in a statement, saying the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Daniel Lewis of the New York Times.

Dubbed Jerome Silberman at birth on June 11th, 1933, Wilder was quick to commence his acting career. At age 13, he began to study under a local teacher and at 15, Wilder assumed his first role, as Balthasar in his school’s performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He later went on to study theatre at the University of Iowa and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where, after six months, he would become the first freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship. He later served in the military and began his professional acting career at the Herbet Berghof Studio in New York City, where he would play the Second Officer in Twelfth Night.

After a series of small-time films and odd jobs as a limousine driver and fencing instructor, Wilder was finally cast as the star of the now classic film, The Producers. From this role, and with a little luck, he was launched forward across the film industry.

Throughout his career, Wilder contributed to the American film industry like few others can claim. In his first large-scale role, Wilder played Leo Bloom, the lead of The Producers, a comedy about theater producers wishing to create a play that will ultimately fail by design and bring them large profit in the process. The film earned an Emmy and Academy award soon after and became a cult comedy-classic.

“A hilarious satire of the business side of Hollywood, The Producers is one of Mel Brooks’ finest, as well as funniest films, featuring standout performances by Gene Wilder…” according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Wilder later starred as Willy Wonka, the head of an enormous, intricately fashioned chocolate factory that changes the lives of a few extraordinary children. While Roald Dahl, the author of the original book the movie was based on, was severely disappointed with the film, it still became very successful, even bringing about nominations for Academy and Golden Globe awards.

“I loved it when I was younger… [Wilder] was the perfect balance between creepy in a mysterious way and also really cool,” said Junior Shalinee Maitra.

With a life of large-scale success and excitement now behind him, Wilder has surely left his mark in the world and will be remembered with the exuberance of Dr. Frankenstein and the mysterious twinkle of Willy Wonka’s eyes.