Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Star Gene Wilder Dead at 83

Actor also starred in several Mel Brooks comedies including The Producers

By Mike Vulpo Aug 29, 2016 7:41 PMTags

Hollywood has lost another icon in the film industry.

Gene Wilder, who starred in several unforgettable movies including The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, died at his home in Connecticut Monday morning, his family confirmed to NBC News. 

"It is with indescribable sadness and blues, but with spiritual gratitude for the life lived that I announce the passing of husband, parent, and universal artist Gene Wilder," nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said in a statement. "It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him."

His nephew added that he died of complications from Alzheimer's disease, which he was quietly battling for three years. He was 83 years old. 

The comic actor, who was nominated for two Oscars over his long career, first got his start on the Broadway stage all the way back in 1961 when he starred in Roots.  His performance in the 1963 production of Brecht's Mother Courage would grab the attention of Mel Brooks who later helped him move to the big screen.

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"Gene Wilder—One of the truly great talents of our time," Mel shared on Twitter after learning of his passing. "He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship." 

As for how he got the iconic roll of Willy Wonka, one smart director immediately knew that Gene was the man for the role.

"He had been in The Producers, but he wasn't a superstar. I looked at him and I knew in my heart there could only be one person who could play Willy Wonka," director Mel Stuart shared with The Washington Post in 2005. "He walked to the elevator after he read and I ran after him and I said, ‘As far as I'm concerned, you've got it.'"

Gene always had an interest in arts and entertainment even as he was growing up. In high school, Gene played Willy Loman in his own adaptation of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman before graduating from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in theater.

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Throughout his decades in Hollywood, Gene would ultimately bring the laughs and memories to millions of fans including a few famous faces. 

"I saw Blazing Saddles 7 times at the cinema with my school friends. George St. Cows outside," Russell Crowe shared on Twitter. "Gene Wilder you were a genius. Rest in Peace." 

Gene is survived by his fourth wife Karen Boyer, whom he married in 1991 and his nephew. His sister Corinne, predeceased him in January 2016.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time. 

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