*Actor Gene Wilder, the title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and a co-star of Richard Pryor in four movies, died Monday at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 83.
His nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to Variety.
In addition to Willy Wonka, Wilder’s standout films include his 1967 debut “Bonnie and Clyde,” his first major role as Leopold Bloom in 1968’s “The Producers,” for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” under writer/director Mel Brooks.
His four films with Pryor – Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991) – represented a friendship that Wilder spoke about during a retrospective of his films in 2013.
Via the Stamford Advocate
The long history between the comedians began when Wilder was cast as the lead in 1974’s “Blazing Saddles,” co-written by Mel Brooks and Pryor. Although Pryor was originally supposed to co-star in the film, the part went to Cleavon Little.
As the audience pressed for more information, Wilder said he and Pryor got to know each other on the set of the 1976 comedy “Silver Streak.” He said they didn’t break up laughing, but they appreciated each other.
“Then we did `Stir Crazy’ and Richard was a bad boy,” Wilder said. “He would come to the set 15 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half late and it would bug all of us. I didn’t want to say anything because I wanted it to go on.”
At the time, Pryor was going through well-documented drug abuse. In 1980, the year “Stir Crazy” was released, Pryor set himself on fire after free-basing cocaine and drinking 151-proof rum. He died in 2005.
Wilder said Pryor was “an angel” on the set of “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and they improvised well together.
“He made up things and I made up things, and it went well,” he said.
When asked how he kept a straight face during all of the slapstick comedy scenes, Wilder wryly answered, “I wouldn’t want to have ruined that scene.”
While he had a great time with Pryor on the set, Wilder also credits the movie for bringing him together with his wife of 25 years. She worked with the hearing impaired and was hired to work with him on his character.
Wilder’s nephew Walker-Pearlman said in a statement Monday regarding his death from Alzheimer’s:
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.