Actor Gene Wilder dies at 83

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New York (AP) – Gene Wilder, the frizzy-haired actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in “The Producers” and the mad scientist of “Young Frankenstein,” died last Sunday.  He was 83.

Actor Gene Wilder is shown in this Dec. 27, 1977 file photo. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Actor Gene Wilder is shown in this Dec. 27, 1977 file photo. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Wilder’s nephew said that the actor and writer died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.  Jordan Walker-Pearlman said that Wilder was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.

Wilder started his acting career on the stage, but millions knew him from his work in the movies, especially his collaborations with Mel Brooks on “The Producers,” ‘’Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.”  The last film — with Wilder playing a California-born descendant of the mad scientist, insisting that his name is pronounced “Frahn-ken-SHTEEN” — was co-written by Brooks and Wilder and earned the pair an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay.

“Gene Wilder, one of the truly great talents of our time, is gone,” Brooks wrote in a statement.  “He blessed every film we did together with his special magic and he blessed my life with his friendship.  He will be so missed.”

With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in “Young Frankenstein” or bilking Broadway in “The Producers.” Brooks would call him “God’s perfect prey, the victim in all of us.”

But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozing gunslinger in “Blazing Saddles” or the charming candy man in the children’s favorite “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”  His craziest role: the therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.”

Tweeted Jim Carrey: “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form.  If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.”

Wilder was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas — Wilder uptight, Pryor loose — were ideal for comedy.  They co-starred in four films: “Silver Streak,” ‘’Stir Crazy,” ‘’See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You.”  And they created several memorable scenes, particularly when Pryor provided Wilder with directions on how to “act black” as they tried to avoid police in “Silver Streak.”

Wilder wrote several screenplays and directed five features, including “The Woman in Red” and “Haunted Honeymoon,” in which he co-starred with his third wife, Gilda Radner.  The two met while making the 1982 film “Hanky-Panky” and married in 1984.

After Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder spent much of his time after promoting cancer research and opened a support facility for cancer patients.  In 1991, he testified before Congress about the need for increased testing for cancer.

That same year, he appeared in his final film role: “Another You” with Pryor.

Wilder worked mostly in television in recent years, including appearances on “Will & Grace” — one of which earned him an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor — and a starring role in the short-lived sitcom “Something Wilder.” In 2015, he was among the voices in the animated “The Yo Gabba Gabba! Movie 2.”

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, whom he married in 1991, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Katherine, from whom he was estranged.