With the recent news of the passing of Gene Wilder, I felt it was appropriate that we take a look back into his life and remember why we came to love this man in the first place. But first, 2016 has not been a forgivable year when it comes to our favorite actors and singers. Among Gene Wilder, we’ve lost David Bowie, Prince, and Doris Roberts, just to name a few. This could just be a result of living in the generation that sees these actors getting older before our very eyes, but it’s still shocking and saddening to watch our favorite actors pass on into the afterlife.
While some have had unbelievably fantastic careers, others weren’t remembered for much, but in Gene Wilder’s case, he was known as possibly one of the nicest actors in Hollywood, and on top of that, he had quite the arsenal of movies under his belt that he excelled in. He always put his unique twist on his roles and he would make them his own.
It wasn’t just a role to him, it was an experience that he wanted the audience to see and engage in. He accomplished that time and time again, and I’m going to talk about a number of times that we saw this man’s genius in action.
15. Willy Wonka
With my generation, Gene Wilder became most famous for his role of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not only did Gene Wilder fit the role of Willy Wonka perfectly, he also took his genius and turned the movie into an experience. Along with his musical numbers and cute dances around the factory, he made sure that every turn he took, he had something new to show the audience. He knew he was not only involved in a movie, he was involved in making a story for everybody to enjoy.
14. “Come With Me and You’ll Be In a World of Pure Imagination”
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory was chock full of musical numbers, so when it came to music, Gene Wilder was no stranger. Throughout Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you hear him singing a variety of songs, some that are extremely memorable, but one that always stuck out as being one of the most memorable moments in the entire movie was his rendition of “Pure Imagination.” Originally written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for this movie, Gene Wilder took this song and turned it into something truly memorable and magical.
13. Nicest Guy in Hollywood
Nowadays, when you think about Hollywood stars, you think about the people that are stuck up and in it for the money. Gene Wilder is the exception to that case because not only was he a great actor and comic, he was also extremely nice and generous. He had the same prowess as Robin Williams in the sense that he could just walk into a room, or on set and make everyone laugh. His career shows that as some of his best roles were done in a comedic fashion. He certainly made his good nature and comedy something to remember him by forever.
12. Reading of “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory”
Back in October 2001, Gene Wilder held a special performance to aid the families affected by the September 11 attacks by reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was done at the Westport Country Playhouse, and was done during his time in retirement. The book was the inspiration for the movie so to be able to hear the man who played the main character read the book would not only create a wonderful atmosphere, but also unforgettable. In that same year, he was also known to have donated his collection of scripts and documents to the University of Iowa Libraries.
11. Mel Brooks Films (Blazing Saddles / Young Frankenstein / The Producers)
Even back then, Mel Brooks was known as “the weird guy” and would put out movies that were not only bizarre, but also hilarious. A common trend in these movies was the choice of Gene Wilder on his cast, and every single time Gene Wilder was cast, he would turn the movie into something to be remembered, whether it was him playing the crazy guy, or the silly man. While again, he was most famous for his role as Willy Wonka, a lot of people remember him for his other famous roles as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Jim, “The Waco Kid.” This was a good use of Gene Wilder’s comedy as it let him do the role in the way that he felt worked the best.
10. Television Appearances
Even in the later part of his career, Gene Wilder considered himself semi retired, which meant even though he wouldn’t take part in the movie business as a whole, he would still star in television shows and television films, most notably known as The Mock Turtle in the television film Alice In Wonderland, and Mr. Stein in a few episodes of Will & Grace. He never really fully settled down in his later years, but given his background, he seems to have enjoyed the life he lived.
9. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Billy Bibbit)
Back in the younger days of his career, Gene Wilder actually became a well known presence on the theatre stage, even on broadway, with works under his belt such as Mother Courage and Her Children for which he had the lead role, and Billy Bibbit in the broadway production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. During this time, he met Anne Bancroft’s then boyfriend Mel Brooks, which prompted roles in Brooke’s movies such as Bonnie and Clyde. This led to him being pushed to other roles and his first leading role in The Producers.
8. Final Quote on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
The big thing you have to remember about Gene Wilder was that he could express his emotions through the work of cinema, and it’s nearly impossible to find the most defining quote that Gene Wilder said during his career, but one that I’ll always remember was during the final scene with Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where he announced he was giving Charlie his chocolate factory and leaving it at “Oh, And Charlie? Do not forget about the guy who got everything he wanted!…”He lived happily ever after.” Though, to the movie’s credit, it’s full of notable Gene Wilder quotes.
7. Relationship with Gilda Radner and the Promotion of Ovarian Cancer Research
With them marrying on September 14th, 1984, people consider the love story of Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner to be something special. Both were married to other people at the time of meeting one another, but during that time, they became the closest of friends until they finally married each other. Unfortunately, Gilda Radner had been fighting with ovarian cancer until her death on May 20th 1989, which prompted Gene Wilder to promote the cancer awareness through the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center. This prompted more branches of this awareness to span across the country.
6. Fashion Sense
There’s just something about a man that can dress well. Gene Wilder, on top of being a top notch actor and comic, he was also a man of good fashion. In almost every single picture and movie you see him in, he’s either sporting a button up shirt, a sports jacket, or a costume that he wore in a movie. His ability to look good in pretty much anything he wore is of course top notch. Even in his old age, he didn’t subject himself to the “old guy” fashion sense. And even if he had, or did, he’d make it look cool.
5. Silence About His Sickness
It says a lot about someone when they can continue to be modest no matter how successful they get. Gene Wilder was the man when it came to modesty. Although he had won awards for his leading roles, or even when he had starred in big films, he never really shoved it in people’s faces, but instead, went about it casually and intellectually. Up until his last day, he had kept his condition with Alzheimer’s quiet, even though he was diagnosed with the disease three years prior to his death. His main reason for this was so he wouldn’t upset his fans.
Of course, on top of being a fashion aficionado, a great actor, and a great comic, he was also an author. Whether he was a good author or not, I’m not sure, however, during his time as an author, he wrote a personal memoir titled Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, which covers everything you’d ever want to know between his childhood and Radner’s death. The memoir has gotten a consistent 4-4.5/5 star ratings across multiple platforms.
3. “Willy Wonka Is A Cripple” Scene
I’d hope this isn’t an unpopular opinion, but Gene Wilder was a genius when it came to movies. Specifically talking about a scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if you were to look at it without knowing anything about the actor or the thought process, you’d think it was just a gimmick. However, the truth behind the scene is that Gene Wilder wanted people to question whether he was crippled or not. He made sure the director would include this in the movie before he accepted the role as Willy Wonka.
2. Awards and Nominations
Although Gene Wilder was nominated for a few awards such as an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor” for The Producers in 1968, the Golden Globe Award “Best Actor” for Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in 1971 and the Academy Award for “Writing Adapted Screenplay” for Young Frankenstein, he actually only won two awards. One being the Clarence Derwent Award for his role in The Complaisant Lover back in 1962 and the other being the Primetime Emmy Award for his guest appearance as Dr. Stein in an episode of Will & Grace back in 2003.
1. Semi-Retirement And Aspirations To Be A Great Man
Even though we’ve discussed his introduction into becoming an author, on top of the other things for charity he did during his semi-retirement, he still managed to keep his name alive by showing up at radio shows, interviews, award shows, and anything else you can imagine. To anybody that saw him in his later years would have nothing but good things to say about him. Up until his death, he remained the way he lived, modest, and full of character. There’s truly a lot to love about Gene Wilder, and although he is no longer with us, his history in films and comedy and television will go down in history as some of the best.
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