Gene Wilder though largely quiet the last few years is a talent that will remain ever present in the entertainment world. According to reports he passed today August 29, 16 from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Creation is the realest form of magic we have and he was a wizard. So great was his presence that after only appearing in 37 titles across his 83 years audiences will never be the same. Consider that fact for a moment. He only acted in roughly forty films/television shows and irrevocably changed cinema.
Wilder invested everything he was in what he did. He committed to the joke every time and never phoned in a performance. With piercing blue eyes and hair to mach his name, (wilder) he bounced on screen and out-shinned almost every other actor in the frame. Literally from day one on his first movie set Bonnie and Clyde (1967) he stole every scene. His sophomore outing was the absolute game changing Mel Brooks smash hit The Producers. When collecting his Oscar for Producers Brooks thanked the following three people, “Gene Wilder, Gene Wilder, and Gene Wilder”.
He would collaborate with Mel again as both a writer and actor in Blazing Saddles (1974). This gem challenged both racial and social standards of the time. Brooks and Wilder centered a major Hollywood production on the idea that racism is ridiculous. Their means of accomplishing this was to use every uncouth and uncivilized slur they could think of. By placing them in the mouth of their dumbest characters the message was received. Ignorance is always wrong and damaging.
Collaboration seemed to bring out the best he has to offer. After parting with Mel he teamed with comedy legend Richard Prior. They starred together in four feature films Silver Streak (1976), and later, Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991). Wilder directed the last two of their films proving he is a triple threat. Few actors can successfully make that leap from actor to writer to director without loosing an inch of creativity. In fact he improved with every outing.
Perhaps his most famous and memorable performance was that of the reclusive and slightly mad Willy Wonka. In fact his first appearance on screen is a metaphor for his entire entertainment style. At first he limps down the road before dropping all pretense and exploding into a summersault fueled by pure energy. He has that every man charm, which disarms the public allowing them to enjoy his crazy brilliance. For evidence I offer you that psychedelic boat ride.
My personal favorite was his turn as Dr. Frankenstein in the Mel Brooks classic Young Frankenstein. Naturally, Mel and Gene turned this story right on its ear and making it unforgettable. This time they added Marty Feldman as Wilder’s sidekick Igor (eye-gore). He hand Feldman go on to generate some of the most hilarious banter in recorded history. Spoofing the famous “It’s Alive!!!” scene from the original, Gene delivers an equally manic summoning to life of his creation.
The world will miss this genius. He blessed us with invention and the gift of humor. After a long time apart he is finally reunited with the love of his life and comedy equal Gilda Radner. Heaven is about to see some of the funniest films to ever pass through those pearly gates.
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