Photo courtesy of the 92nd Street Y
It’s hard to believe Gene Wilder, who passed away today at 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s, had spent decades living quietly just across the state line in Stamford, CT, largely eluding the spotlight and keeping a low profile belying his lion-like status as one of the 20th century’s great comedic actors. And that’s no exaggeration. The Producers, Young Frankenstein, his myriad collaborations with Richard Pryor and, of course, the indelible image of Wilder in velvety top hat and tails as the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory help illustrate how, despite his atypical leading-man looks and silent-era expressiveness, Wilder found a niche as a quirky but charismatic chameleon who was also box-office gold.
Fittingly, Wilder’s last documented TV or film role was a voiceover for gonzo kids’ franchise Yo Gabba! Gabba!, though he’d spent much of his later life as an author and novelist. And as anyone who spoke with him during his final years can attest, Wilder—despite his illness—maintained a caustic wit to match his welcoming calm. Condolences to those who’ve lost him as a loved one. And in tribute, the below, brief clip, one of countless that come close to bringing his singular appeal into full dimension.