We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams.
The latest larger-than-life talent to pass away is actor Gene Wilder, who died at age 83 of Alzheimer’s Disease. I associated Wilder with the role of Willy Wonka — but you may have known him for his parts in Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, or something completely different. No matter the case you knew him as an actor who was quirky, magical, imaginative, legendary, and brilliant.
It may seem odd that a 27-year-old is writing a tribute about an actor whose height came in 1974, but that’s a large part of what made Wilder great. His comedy ranged from bone dry to slapstick over-the-top, and he made it all work. In fact, he made it work so well that it works across generations.
The first Wilder movie I saw was Young Frankenstein, because it was one of my dad’s favorite comedies ever and he was appalled when he realized I hadn’t seen it. I was maybe 12 when we first watched it together, so I didn’t understand all the jokes right away (Spoiler Alert: Knockers). As I got older, and watched the film a fourth and fifth time, I learned to appreciate everything about it.
Quality movies and actors bring people together. Gene Wilder did that by bringing eccentric and likable characters to life.
Although Young Frankenstein was the first movie of his I saw, for me Wilder’s genius starts with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That movie never goes 10 minutes without something funny, heartfelt, or memorable and Wilder is the centerpiece of it all.
“Help. Police. Murder.”, “Stop. Don’t. Come back.”, “The schnozberries taste like schnozberries!”, “You lose! Good day sir!”, and THAT CRAZY BOAT TUNNEL SCENE FROM HELL. Take your pick. These are all classic and quotable movie moments from a single 1 hour 40 minute, “G” rated Gene Wilder movie.
Oh yeah. You wanna talk about crossing generations? This is what Gene Wilder looks like, for anyone under the age of 22 reading this:
Gene Wilder praise
You can get a good idea of a person’s legacy from the company they keep and what their peers say about them. Wilder kept the company of movie royalty, evidenced on-screen by a dynamic relationship with Richard Pryor.
Behind the screen, the actor had well-known success with director Mel Brooks. The duo rose to fame together, which may be epitomized by Blazing Saddles. The western spoof had a budget of $2.9 million. It grossed $119.5 million at the box office. The two clearly had as good a relationship off set as they did on. Brooks memorialized his co-worker and friend on Twitter:
Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 29, 2016
The praise for Wilder has been plentiful among his peers as well – with thoughts of tribute, inspiration, and factoids.
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) August 29, 2016
I saw Blazing Saddles 7 times at the cinema with my school friends . George St. Cows outside.
Gene Wilder you were a genius. Rest in Peace.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) August 29, 2016
If you haven’t seen any one of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, or Blazing Saddles allow me to recommend them to you. Then head to Gene Wilder’s IMDb page and find some more to watch (because I haven’t even gotten to The Producers).
As is often the case after someone passes away, stories about Gene Wilder the man have come out. They have showcased the actor as an advocate to cure cancer, a man who got out of Hollywood because he didn’t like the business, and an actor who thought of his family and fans first. This shines through in his family statement:
But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted…He lived happily ever after.
Rest In Peace.
(feature image courtesy of The Daily Beast)